Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? is the latest game from Wales Interactive, the studio behind The Complex, Bloodshore, Maid of Sker, Five Dates and Night Book. The player takes on the role of Abby, who is informed that her Uncle Marcus has been poisoned. He wants her help to find out which poison was used and who did it, before the poison takes effect. To make matters worse, she has to do it whilst interacting with her family during a Zoom quiz.
The player, as Abby, has to speak to and interact with members of her family; her goal being working out what happened at a “family meeting” to deduct who the culprit is. The aim is to collect clues before being able to accuse one of six family members of poisoning Marcus.
Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? is less of a game, more of an interactive movie wrapped up as a Zoom-style quiz where the family have really expensive HD cameras and lighting. The only interactivity you have is when you have to make a choice of two-to-three decisions. These can be guesses to an answer to a question in the quiz, or digging deeper about what happened to Marcus.
There are four “rounds” in the quiz, Abby having to pick one of three family members to team up with at the start of each round. Then ay the end of said round, you’re given a screen which tells you how many clues you’ve managed to uncover. At the end of the game, you have the choice to accuse a family member of carrying out the deed. If you don’t have enough clues you can replay through again, but your progress stays intact and clues are available to peruse on the menu screen.
Replay is the key word with Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? On first play through you’ll find yourself suddenly being asked to guess which poison has been used, and – if you guess right – given an option to accuse a family member. Then the end credits show up and you’ll only have played for under an hour. At first it’s a bit alarming, as it feels as if you’ve made no progress whatsoever and have no-one to accuse, but this is when the game starts to open up.
Making different choices the next time and choosing different team members, the game smartly changes the questions being asked. It means that the player doesn’t have to keep going through the same things over and over again (although the game allows you to skip already-seen scenes by the press of the tab button). That button is going to end up being a very close friend. The pacing of the game means that you will start to speed through the the different paths and threads more quickly, learning more about the characters and the backstory to gauge who you think killed Uncle Marcus.
An interactive movie lives or dies based on the story and characters within it. Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? has mixed results with its characters and story. The game has a level of self-awareness throughout, in that the six suspects are very much caricatures of certain archetypes, which means there’s not much in terms of complexity for them. But the game has a little bit of fun with it, aiming to get the player to despise practically everyone you have to interview. The drawback of this is that immediately you become sceptical about the least unlikeable characters as a potential misdirect for the attempted murderer.
The game also tries to get you to question the morals of a certain character, but as soon as this idea is raised the game spins it on its head immediately. Meaning that a potentially interesting development is wasted, but it does lead to a choice that could end your game much earlier than expected.
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One of the game’s biggest strengths is its cast. Aside from Uncle Marcus being played by American actor Andy Buckley from The Office and Jurassic World, there’s a mix of faces recognisable from British TV who do a good enough job with what they’re given. Abigail Hardingham keeps Abby grounded enough that you feel that she’s the Michael Bluth of this dysfunctional family, whilst Susannah Doyle chews the scenery as Aunt June’s harsh drunk. Other highlights include Robbie Kay’s twisted should’ve-grown-out-of-his-dark-phase Bradley, being a bit too obsessed with death and murder.
The plot itself is a little bit fragmented. It can take a while to piece several parts of the story and backstory together. The dialogue-tree aspect of the gameplay means that it may take hours before throwaway lines fill the gaps of how characters relate to each other. But some aspects of the backstory don’t fully land, or feel quite brief. There’s talk of “The Company” or “The Business” but it’s pretty vague what these terms mean. So when necessary exposition takes place it is slightly jarring.
The game’s tone still has some level of self-awareness to it. The game doesn’t explicitly reference the slight absurdity of when Marcus was poisoned, but it does feel almost comical when each character that tells Abby what happened explains the events in question. The events leading to the poisoning are incredibly convoluted to make sure each character is potentially complicit in the crime.
When the player surpasses the mid-game mark, the experience does begin to somewhat wane. It gets harder to track what clues you’re missing and where to find them. It can descend to spamming the tab button and when it stops working that’s when you’ve unlocked something you’ve not seen before.
It can get slightly confusing as you reach the endgame. Aside from the charts telling you how many clues you’ve gained, it doesn’t tell you how much percentage per family member you’ve unlocked until the end of each round. Which means when trying to remember what you’re missing, it’s hard to keep track. You might want to makes notes on each section, to work out which bits are missing at the end, to get the illusive achievements to 100% competition.
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But the game still holds a unique charm. There’s a sense of closure when the story is complete and it does feel as if some of the frustrations you feel against the characters get paid off. There’s a sense of pride when you’re able to take on some very obnoxious and self-centred characters and cut them down a peg or two. It is very satisfying.
Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? took around 7-8 hours to get 100% of the achievements. It’s not particularly taxing or challenging, but there’s enough charm to carry you through to unlock several of its alternative endings. It’s not going to be for everyone, but for fans of games of this ilk, or previous Wales Interactive games, it will make a good entertaining evening.
Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? is out on PC and Mac (via Steam), iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on 18th March, from Wales Interactive and Good Gate Media.