Whodunnit? MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT Review

Whodunnit? MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT Review

MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT is an investigative game that tries many different mechanics but succeeds in very few of them.

You play as Ronan, a detective who is thrown out of a window and shot at the start of the game. From there he must figure out who killed him and why before he can leave the in-between plane on earth. Ronan gets assistance from a young girl named Joy, a medium who witnessed his murder. Between her account of the events and a symbol left at the scene of the crime, he suspects a serial killer dubbed the Bell Killer took him down and must follow his trail around Salem, Massachusetts. It sounds like a thrilling concept but was somehow so boring that I kept skipping cutscenes in a story-based game. In case you haven’t realized by now, that is unheard of for me.

There are two main reasons I couldn’t stomach the narrative. One Ronan is unlikable and barely redeemable as a protagonist. His only personality trait is TOUGH, a postmortem cigarette always in hand. His only backstory is that he’s a bad boy who reformed for his now-dead wife and joined the police force. There’s nothing about him that makes me want to make sure he reunites with his wife on the other side. Besides being one-dimensional and boring, he is mean. The young girl Joy who is helping him is also looking for her missing mother. When she says halfway through the journey that her priority is to find her missing mother because there’s a chance she’s, you know, not a ghost, he calls her a bitchy teen. What’s worse? She apologizes for being too harsh. At that point I went from uninterested to wishing I could make sure he lost in the end.

Along with a leading man I couldn’t stand, the story is entirely too predictable. MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT makes the common noir mistake of using predictable red herrings. They are supposed to throw you off of the real suspect’s trail, but I never believed one of the misdirections for a minute. On the other hand, the ending was still satisfying. I saw neither the real culprit nor his or hers motive coming. If the writers had left out all the false flags, the story would have been strong. It wasn’t predictable from the start, so why the need to try so hard?

Outside of the story, the gameplay and mechanics didn’t do much to draw me in either. The investigations felt less like I was playing a detective novel and more like I was playing a glorified hidden object game without a word bank. All you do is run around the area in third person and hope a keyboard prompt pops up. At no point do you get to reconstruct the crime scene or try to make sense of the clues after you find them. Instead you sometimes answer the question, “Which clue is relevant?” Um, I like to think they all are since I spent a half hour searching the room for them. Other times you are asked to determine the order of events, but the events given have no logical time stamp on them. They are regular clues that happened in no particular order, leaving you to click on everything and using trial and error to figure out the solution.

Outside of the investigating, you spend a lot of time hunting down collectibles that contain extra story bits, and somehow this is a lot more fun. While both used the same mechanic–searching aimlessly in a limited area–not collecting every piece of lore didn’t hold up my progression for a half hour. Not finding the clue hidden behind a picture that I swear wasn’t clickable the first ten times I looked does.

Now one of my biggest pet peeves not only in games but in everything with a story is something that doesn’t keep its own rules. At the beginning of the game, tutorial Wednesday Addams tells you that you can walk through walls, but not into buildings without an open window or door, but sometimes you can, and sometimes there are ghost walls you can’t walk through even though they have the word ghost in them, and are you getting my point? You never know where you can go and when because MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT wants to pretend it has some logic to it when really the developers didn’t want to abide by any set of rules. For example you can walk through mausoleums without anyone letting you in, but not other places around town. Why? You tell me.

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See, I wasn’t exaggerating.

Also while the game has no map, you do get waypoints that lead you to your destination, making me wonder why there couldn’t be a map in the first place. Ronan is a local, so why you have to wander around Salem like a tourist who spilled Gatorade all over her map is completely illogical. I wish the developers had at least taken on the approach that large-scale RPG makers do where locations become available on a map as you explore them. Backtracking to find collectibles was nearly impossible because everything in town looks the same, and the waypoints constantly rubber-banded in terms of how far away I was from my destination. The moment you got only a few meters away, you were either met with an impassable obstacle or the distance suddenly went back up to thirty or so meters.

Now I know Salem’s residents weren’t the brightest back during the Witch Trials, but they haven’t seemed to get any smarter. To keep the town from feeling empty, the developers programmed NPCs to wander around the streets in the same pattern over and over again. Considering the game takes place in the middle of the night while a serial killer is on the loose, deserted streets would make sense. Instead we get a bunch of insomniac townspeople with no sense of self-preservation.

My last complaint is specific to the PC version. The menus and inventory were hard to navigate because every time you opened them up, you never knew whether you need the keyboard or the mouse to move around. I would spend minutes throwing my mouse around before I realized it wasn’t working and needed to use the arrow keys. the bane of a right-handing PC gamer’s existence.

In case you can’t tell, I couldn’t wait for this game to end after playing for only an hour. It was full of ideas that were never fleshed out, and an impossibly impossible story. It’s frustrating and not worth your time.

Stay tuned.

Did She or Didn’t She? Her Story Review

Did She or Didn’t She? Her Story Review

Her Story is a nonlinear narrative detective game that experiments with story the same way some of my favorite books and movies do.

When you open the game, you find yourself faced with a ninties-era desktop with a few Readme documents that explain the only mechanic: the database. Detectives have pulled old interview tapes from 1994, but they are in small segments and out of order. Luckily the police tagged the films with keywords you use to sift through the evidence. The system limits each search to the first five entires though, so as you listen, you must find ways to narrow down the results.

Now all the clips are multiple interviews with a woman whose husband turned up dead. When you first pull the database up, it suggests you start your search with the keyword “murder”. From there you will discover names, places, and other clues that will help you piece together what really happened to the victim, Simon.

The game gives you a couple of different ways to organize what you find. You can tag each fragment with your own keywords if you start to notice a pattern. You can also use the “Add to Session” function in the database to try to place clips from the same interview in order.

But despite these two mechanic’s usefulness, they in no add to your progress in the game or the story–it’s what makes this game different from other detective games. Not only is the story nonlinear and its interpretation up for debate (Seriously, the Reddit is getting heated over this), but it also has no formal ending. After you uncover certain video clips, you get the option to end the game yourself, an instant message popping up to ask you if you found everything you are looking for.  Because in the real world you get no certainty. You might have all the DNA, confessions, and other kinds of proof, but you know the validity of neither the evidence nor your conclusions. Reality is never simple.

When reading previews and articles about Her Story, one of the biggest discussions is about whether this title is a game or experience. While a game’s definition is subjective, I feel this is definitely one. Though the win state is nontraditional, it still exists. The developer made the player responsible for the ending of the game, and for that I am grateful.

Stay tuned.

Logical Leaps and Bounds: Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Mummy Review

Logical Leaps and Bounds: Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Mummy Review

Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery and the Mummy is the first Sherlock Holmes game, and that should say enough in itself. Some of the more recent games aren’t exactly the pinnacle of game design, but this one clearly shows its age. With its confusing point-and-click/first-person hybrid, constant game of find-the-right-pixel, and terrifying animation and audio, this inaugural installment of the Sherlock Holmes PC games needs a nip and tuck.

Holmes is at a friend’s mansion who is an avid collector of everything Egyptian. He then spends the rest of the game solving nonsense puzzles and making alarming deductions with logical valleys deeper than your local chasm (that’s a thing, right?). Yes, that glass was broken by something delicate. No, you don’t know it’s by a woman’s shoe. It all consists of finding every clue and using them in all the right places. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if not for its impossibility:

  • Sherlock’s hand controls all the clicking, and the differences between the icons for move forward and pick something up are indistinguishable. One is a slightly pointed finger with a cupped hand as if you are trying to signal to your rescuers without tipping off your kidnappers. The other is only a barely cupped hand. That’s it. No differences. I would love to show you some screenshots, but the Steam overlay I use for capture wasn’t compatible with this title, and I was too frustrated at the time to think of a backup plan; I wanted out as soon as possible. Instead here’s a link to a video that also has the most annoying water-dripping music loop I have ever encountered so you can see what I mean. Video credit goes to AdventureGameFan8

     

  • In these detective-style point-and-clicks, usually the games use books, NPC dialogue, hidden notes, and other believable mechanics to help the player solve the mystery by dropping subtle hints. You make the player work until each clue they have found has a purpose. While not realistic when compared to the real world, this strategy is tradition for a reason. Here not every piece is used and some lack any kind of connection to one another. Oh, those two staffs go in that statue down the hall? Cool. I guess he held left out with his those empty hands and my pockets overflowing with nonsense.
  • Over the last month or so (and for most of my gaming life), I’ve lived one rule: if an adventure game is frustrating your, take to the Internet. If a walkthrough fails you, that’s when you’ve really got trouble. When using an item, the developers made the correct place to click only a few pixels big. Instead of looking up what to do with an item or where to use it, I was scouring message boards for advice on the precise location to click. Even on the puzzles I figured out on my own, I ended up having to look some part of the puzzle up. Nothing takes the hot air out of my ego like using a walkthrough for an entire game.

Overall, I only enjoyed the game out of loyalty. As someone who has played and owns boxed copies of all thirty-something Nancy Drew games (don’t look at me like that), I was expecting some issues with the first game. It obviously had no idea what it wanted to be besides a game that featured Sherlock Holmes. Sadly they fumbled it. They clearly got better with time which is all you can ask. Now onto the next Sherlock Holmes game where you can, believe it or not, talk to people.

Stay tuned.

Baby Boggy in the Shallow, Green Swamp: Detective Grimoire Review

Baby Boggy in the Shallow, Green Swamp: Detective Grimoire Review

Detective Grimoire is a PC port of a mobile adventure game developed by SFB Games. Its art style, voice acting, and pacing are spot-on, making the exceedingly easy gameplay a lot easier to swallow.

You play as Detective Grimoire (obviously) as he investigates the murder of the owner of Boggy’s Bog, a tourist attraction smack dab in the middle of the creature by same name’s habitat. Somehow the founder ignored all things logical and ecological and transported the swamp and all of its spookiness to the middle of nowhere, and now the employees are capitalizing on it despite many others disagreeing with the practice. Therefore it is no surprise when the owner turns up dead, and everyone is a suspect.

I know I have complained about mobile ports to PC before (and if you didn’t know, look here), but this is an instance where it works. The basic touch controls translate perfectly to a point-and-click system. The only oddity is the puzzles as they are clearly meant to let the players mess with the touch screen than actually have anything to solve. They are not just easy by adventure game standards–they are easy period. For once I even turned off hints and highlighted areas to amp up the difficulty, and I don’t usually shy away from any help with this genre.

All you have to do is make sure the handles don't cross the middle. That's it. Nothing else.
All you have to do is make sure the handles don’t cross the middle. That’s it. Nothing else.

From simple mazes to mixing primary colors, the puzzles work more like tasks, never making me pause for a moment to think about the solution. There really weren’t very many, keeping it from hindering the gameplay; instead the focus was on conversation.

Usually conversing with NPCs is one of the most tedious parts of the genre, but here it was the highlight of the entire experience. Outside of a few set dialogue options, you are free to present clues and the profiles of other suspects as you please. You can either take the efficient path where you try to only ask about relevant evidence (how I started) or ask them about anything and everything you have in your trenchcoat’s pockets (how I ended up playing).

 

The requisite joke about video games.
The requisite joke about video games.
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The inexplicable logic of inventory systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The interrogations are the best part. By asking questions and uncovering clues, you get a dialogue option called, “Challenge,” for each suspect. Here you can ask them a series of questions that will catch them in a lie, get them to tell the entire truth, or make them remember something important, OF course these are in line with the game’s overall easy difficulty, working like a multiple choice test where you get an infinite number of retakes. Sometimes you get to choose your own witty banter between important conversations, letting you decide what kind of smartass detective you want to be.

If you are a completionist, this game’s default interface will get you excited. It’s littered with percentages for you to max out, and your notes have blank spaces for every piece of evidence you have yet to find.

100 percent has never come so easily.
100 percent has never come so easily.

 

And every time you do find a new clue, you get a chime. Actually, the entire game’s sound design is spot on. All the noises for right and wrong answers and the variations in the score are as beneficial to the mood and setting as the writing and art style. The few chosen moments of silence are expertly done, the screen going dark, the font turning read, and the character’s voice deepening ever so slightly.

Overall Detective Grimoire was a quirky piece of noir I was hoping for, and not even the lack of challenge could bring it down. If you are looking for a few hours of oddities worthy of modern-day Cartoon Network, check it out. Now for you to wait and find out when I will ever get off of this adventure game kick. Stay tuned.

A Family Curse: Blackwell Legacy Review

A Family Curse: Blackwell Legacy Review

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was excited to find more to play from Wadget Eye Games, the publisher of A Golden Wake, and I had Blackwell Legacy waiting in my library. Like the former, it is a traditional point-and-click only this time with a lot more ghost hunting and dense puzzle solving.

The story revolves around Rosangela Blackwell whose aunt has just passed away. She grew up with practically no one and took care of herself, but all the pity in the world wouldn’t make me want to spend more than a short elevator ride with her. And although she works part-time for a newspaper, and her social anxiety and pessimism is exaggerated to the greatest degree.  Also her character traits are the reason for the impossibility of the game’s very first puzzle. Rosangela refuses to approach her neighbor in the park because she is surrounded by people, so you have to walk back and forth until you’ve tangled the leash of the neighbor’s dog around the lamp-post it’s tied to. This forces her neighbor to leave the crowd of three whole people to talk to her. For a title that presents itself with 2-D environments, this 3-D logic kind of solution is hard to figure out–especially in the very first puzzle! I’ve said before your success in adventure games is often based in your ability to interpret the developer’s kooky logic, but I was hoping for some kind of learning curve–not an impossible wall to climb. Here you can’t even use prior knowledge to understand. After nearly a half-hour of going everywhere and clicking on everything, I had to look it up. It’s an ego blow to avid point-and-click fans.

After this confusing start, Rosangela gets a call from her editor asking her to report on the suicide of a local college student right after she discovers her family’s ghostly secret. I won’t get into the details because it is explained fully so far into the game that I don’t want to ruin it, but mainly she comes from a line of mediums and has a paranormal partner. Your goal is what you’d expect: help the restless spirits make peace.

As for the rest of the frustration, I was the only person to blame. Not doing things in the right order will keep dialogue options from activating. I would miss objects I could click on, leaving me without the literal pieces of the puzzle. It hurt to have so much trouble with these because they were often my favorite mechanics. For example, the notepad with all of my information and what I use to talk to all the NPCs made me feel like a real reporter and detective, and if there is something I love, it is to live out my Nancy Drew dreams. Once I finally figured it out, it made sense, but I didn’t get the full immersion I was hoping for due to my confusion.

Between the story and the mechanics, the story is what shone here, or what there was of it. I expected the length, but it felt like a tutorial or prologue to a game. I got enough time to get to know the two main characters and the basic style. A series with five games over eight years, and it feels like the developers were already planning sequels. Unlike the common cash grab motive you suspect with many companies, here it is as if they knew they had a greater story to tell. I just wish a little more of it was realized ahead of time and put in the first installment. And the side characters were flatter than the coast. They were either caricatures or bland with few exceptions. The recently deceased collegiate’s roommate was great–a typical anti-establishment shell filled with normal and varied human reactions. I caught her in a small lie, and her defenses crumbled, turning her into a real person. The same isn’t true for the others. The RA was nothing but a vehicle for jokes about guys with girl names. The girls at the center of the mystery were all empty canvases with one trait a piece to give them a semblance of personality–and even the choice to give them any characteristics serves the mechanics more than the story.

I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the game, but I did. I didn’t get enough time to truly enjoy the good parts, and I don’t have any more games from the series waiting in my Steam library. I highly recommend playing it, but maybe try to get the series all at once; then you can get a fuller experience. But if you are happy with a three-hour introduction to the world, go right ahead and try Blackwell Legacy. It’s great fun.

Stay tuned.

The Mighty Girl Sleuth the Second

The Mighty Girl Sleuth the Second

Well I finished the other Nancy Drew. I don’t know what’s happened to me. Though these games have never exactly been lengthy, I at least used to savor them. It just feels like I reach this point that is usually right before the penultimate chain of events where all I want to do is hurry up and get done. Despite truly enjoying this installment’s puzzles and characters, this was no different for Labyrinth of Lies.

Here Nancy is in Greece working at a museum when she arrives to see that her boss has run off to track down some missing jewelry for an exhibit. For the thousandth time, she is given relatively high security clearance for a teenager with complete access to the exhibits and artifacts. But this means I get to do one of my favorite parts of these games: chores!

That might sound sarcastic, but it’s really not. I’m speaking earnestly.

The one part of these games that keeps me convinced that school-aged children are a large part of their intended demographic is the subtle doses of learning. Each game takes place in a different location that lends itself to history, science, and mythology. More often than not, Nancy is simultaneously working and sleuthing in these games, meaning she has a to-do list each day. With too many examples to count, let’s talk about this game. It has all three!

History: Well, more specifically, art history. Considering you’re at an art museum, this is a given. But to be able to complete the work your boss, Melina, wants you to do in her absent, you have to read certain books and glean the useful information from them. Here you need to learn about the different styles of temples and vases so that you can prepare their corresponding exhibits. Obviously these tasks are a mix of deducting and puzzling, but these are wrapped with an educational ribbon.

Science: For someone who can tell you nothing about the subject, this was my favorite part of the game. You are asked to authenticate a few pieces of jewelry in the museum, and in the office are some guidelines. You get to see how you can tell if different gemstones and metals are real. Sadly you only get to do this process three times. Often you get to do optional versions of past puzzles for kicks, and I wish this had been an option. With the funny business happening at this museum, would it have really been a waste of time for me to prove the authenticity of, well, everything?

Mythology: Honesty, it’s important. I’d be lying if I said I liked the implementation of Greek mythology. I feel like these games use it in every other game for some reason or another, and I’m getting a little tired of it. Seriously, there are thousands of cultures and millions of years to pull from. Why harp on this one constantly? And sadly, all of the puzzles seem to be based in it. I honestly don’t feel like I can talk in detail without sounding completely irrational and launching into a potentially culturally-insensitive rant that will result in Zeus smiting me down, lightning bolts and all.

One standout has to be one character. Typically I don’t bother getting invested in these characters, viewing them instead as vehicles to give me information and tasks to do. More often than not, I speed through conversations, knowing that anything important will get through on either my task list or in my journal. But here I was intrigued by one guy in general: Grigor.

Now that’s not his real name, but we are never privy to that information. He is meant to make you think. From looking at his tablet he leaves out quite a bit considering everyone he works with is a possible art-stealing mastermind, you see that he has observational skills that rival Nancy’s. Through further investigation, you find out he grew up in foster care, having to constantly adapt his personality to whoever his new family wanted him to be. This made him an expert at reading people and using their setting and personal belongings to build a character profile for them .It makes you wonder how Nancy would have reacted in a similar situation, far away from her dad’s influence, the Hardy boys, and her friends and boyfriend who consistently enable her reckless behavior. She probably would have done the same thing as Grigor as much out of her survival instinct as much as her natural curiosity.

But now I’m off to continue my adventure game kick. Lucky for you that Sherlock bundle was on sale last week. Oh, sorry, I misspoke. Lucky for me. 

Stay tuned.

The Mighty Girl Sleuth

The Mighty Girl Sleuth

I can’t stop solving mysteries. It’s not going to be long before it starts to bleed into my real life.

I played and beat the first of the two Nancy Drew games I bought back when I got Sherlock Holmes. This one is “The Shattered Medallion.” Nancy Drew is reluctantly competing in an Amazing Race rip-off with George, and it is run by Sonny Joon, the series’ closest thing to a recurring character that didn’t originate from the book series. Throughout the different games, you seem to consistently be two steps behind him. In multiple games, you are his job replacement, and you can look through all of his old drawings and leftover candy wrappers. Here you can finally put a face to the UFO doodles—and it doesn’t disappoint. The best way to describe him is purple. Really.

(via Her Interactive)

He is also the vaguest character in a sea full on reality show contestants who don’t know what a straight answer is. All of the competitors you get to talk to take this competition seriously. They keep everything about themselves for the confessional booth, afraid of giving away a weakness or accidentally letting Nancy see through their ultimate plan to win. One is a girl who has been on multiple reality shows and either straight up lies or uses sarcasm in every conversation. Another just refuses to answer any questions. She at least has the excuse of working a job with high security clearance; she’s used to keeping secrets. Then her partner gives nothing away because he has no depth. He will constantly answer yes or no questions with both yes or no and refuse to pick. Honestly, he is actually the most likable purely because he has nothing potentially sinister lurking beneath the surface.

Considering I have played these games since elementary school, I have spent a lot of time debating whether or not I will ever grow out of them. The last Sherlock Holmes game did make me realize that I can appreciate a mystery simulator (we’re going to pretend that’s a genre since many are doing away with the pointing and the clicking) that isn’t riddled with logic puzzles—pun intended.

What made this one harder to swallow was the format. Since the main gameplay was participating in this game show, there were loads of disjointed puzzles. I’m used to these games having some straightforward brainteasers and then more where half of the mystery is in figuring out what the mystery even is. For example, here you are constantly finding comics that Sonny drew and left lying around, each with a hidden message, meaning you have to interpret these before you even know what puzzle you need to be solving. Sadly this is one of the only instances of this mechanic. The rest are variations of different kinds of traditional conundrums. I can tell I have played these games for a long time when I’ve lost count of how many times I have solved a “don’t let any like colors touch” jigsaw puzzle. Same goes for using both hieroglyphs and zodiac signs.

I remember back when this game came out in July. I was hurting for money and trying to talk myself out of buying it, so I went online to read user reviews, knowing anyone who bothers to review a Nancy Drew game for free is a lifelong player like me. All of them had similar complaints to what I’ve discovered on my own. The disconnected set-up of the puzzles makes it feel like there is no mystery. Throughout the game you are trying to figure out Sonny’s motive for essentially hijack the season of a popular reality show. He’s obviously trying to figure something out and using the contestants as his minions, but you aren’t really fully clued in to this plot until close to the end of the game. The more research you do, the more it is hinted at, but it’s never clear until it’s almost all over. Usually you know from the game’s introduction—and sometimes even the back of the box—what you are going to be solving.

Honestly this wasn’t one of my favorite installments. It’s definitely not the worst one I’ve played, but the set up with the puzzles felt more like a watered-down Professor Layton title than a Nancy Drew mystery game. I think I looked up the solutions more times than I ever have purely because the puzzle wasn’t fun enough for me to waste my time on. As a hardcore fan, I obviously wouldn’t suggest skipping this installment, but it definitely wouldn’t be where I would choose to introduce a newcomer to the games.

But hey, with over thirty games out now, they can’t all be home runs. I will gladly admit to being a Nancy Drew apologist. Except for the hidden picture games. That’s one bandwagon they didn’t need to hop on.

Now off to the other Nancy Drew I have lined up.

Stay tuned.