Murderous Muses – Game Review

D’Avekki Studios are back again! They’re the folks who brought us Dark Nights with Poe and Munro, The Shapeshifting Detective and The Infectious Madness of Dr Dekker. They’re known for making FMV puzzle games with branching paths and multiple possible outcomes and, generally, they make games that are good fun! The acting is a bit hammy, but that’s always been part of their charm.

Their latest offering is a slightly different affair. Murderous Muses feels very much like a throwback to the early days of FMV puzzle games. It’s got a real 7th Guest or Myst feel to it, helped by the retro-styled visual design of the gallery itself. The problem is that the gameplay also feels like a throwback to the bad old days of puzzle games where players were left desperately mashing random objects together in the hope that they might solve the puzzle.

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In Murderous Muses you play the night shift employee who, while hanging pictures around the gallery, decides that he’s going to try and investigate the mysterious death of artist Mordechai Grey. Grey, it seems, was murdered while in the middle of painting six different portraits of various interesting individuals including a ventriloquist and an undertaker. The concept is certainly more ambitious than D’Avekki’s previous offerings, with the gallery being procedurally generated. This offers players the ability to not only share their seeds with friends to work together to solve the mystery, but also near infinite replayability as the gallery is generated anew each time you restart. There are puzzles to solve, video clips of the assorted suspects to watch, and even a trophy room to sort collectibles to show off to other game owners.

There’s just one little fly in the ointment. One BUT, and it’s kind of a big one. The game simply isn’t very good. As mentioned before, it harks back to that old style text-based adventure game era where you would be typing in phrases like “USE SHOE ON HORSE” or “KICK GRUE IN THE FACE”. This game is utterly, frustratingly, irritatingly obtuse. It gives the player virtually zero feedback or guidance. After night one where you hang some paintings, for instance, you are suddenly dropped into the first puzzle room which clumsily introduces you to one of the core mechanics of the game, the use of these strange little red orbs that appear and disappear as you click on things. There’s nothing in-game to explain what you’re meant to be doing, the process reduced to one of simple trial and error.

And even when you finish it and you’re returned to the gallery, you’re not told why or what it is you’ve actually done. You have no understanding of WHY you just did the things you did and the game still offers no explanation. Later on in the game you’ll be tasked with putting pictures of the various suspects on the walls that allows you to watch video clips that will help you figure out who our culprit is. You have a limited number of tries before the pictures stop working. Why? It’s not explained…

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Except actually it kind of is. On the game’s Steam store page. There you can find an explanation of what these strange orbs, “The Eyes of Malachi”, are and what their function is in the game. Why am I expected to look at an article on the store page to figure that out? Why isn’t that information communicated to the player through, y’know, gameplay? Even when I felt like I was beginning to get a handle on what the game wanted me to do, I never really felt like I understood why I was doing it. It was more along the lines of “Oh! That made a thing change colour! I’ll keep doing that!”.

There’s definitely a market out there for this sort of retro-puzzler, this curious call-back to the early days where full motion video was this odd new experimental technology. But it’s not 1993 anymore, and I’m definitely not the target audience for this game. I found my time with it deeply frustrating and every time I made progress, I felt it was more through luck or trial and error rather than through understanding what the game was asking or expecting me to do. This game feels like a misstep, but all the same I hope it does well. D’Avekki, like Wales Interactive, have found a nice little niche in this renaissance of FMV games and I always look forward to seeing the next thing they’re going to bring to the table.

Murderous Muses is out now on various platforms from D’Avekki Studios.

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