I’m a big fan of the art house games, the arcane concept types that most glance over and dismiss as too esoteric, but I rarely get to cover them. Instead I’m fed a steady diet of twin-stick shooters and told to love it, so when something like Murder For Dinner (80 MSP) crosses paths with the indie channel, I’m naturally drawn to investigate.
Placed in the first-person shoes of the ‘Professor’, Murder For Dinner is a good old-fashioned (both in its telling and dialog) murder mystery with N64-era blocky environments that nevertheless look good for an XBLIG, even if the character models do scare the hell out of me. Why do they have to look and animate like that? (Shudders.)
Miss Havisham (‘cue the well-off but eccentric old lady in mansion’ card here) has called together a diverse set of people (a gossip, a hunter, banker, etc.) for a dinner party, where she will presumably spill a closely-guarded secret of one of her guests. With everyone in attendance and suitably intrigued or nervous, the Professor goes upstairs to find their host dead, murdered by someone at the party. Oh yeah, shit just got real. Think of it as interactive Agatha Christie.
Of course you, as the Professor, take on the case immediately. Combining narrative with the investigative (you never pick up a weapon in this game, unheard of for XBLIG!) is a fantastic change of pace, though it rests a little too easily on just ‘being dfferent’.
You’re a playboy? Dude, sorry, I thought you were the butler.
The idea of people with secrets (and oddly, the admitted capacity for killing) to hide and defend could have been used to greater effect. Instead of exploring the human side, it more or less devolves into you talking to the guests, searching the mansion for items of interest (which depend on timing rather than discovery), then returning to the person and A button-ing them into telling their secret, and so on and so on. There’s no branching or freestyle investigating; it’s all very linear and by the (murder mystery) book. You can wrap up the investigation in about an hour, which feels about right. Any longer and it might’ve swerved into tedium.
Yet I have to award huge originality points to developer Detroit Game Studio for bucking the indie trend and serving up a first-person version of Clue. It was a family-wide effort, which is nice to hear. It’s no easy task to stare conventional wisdom in the face and tell it to sod off, especially given the financial and time-based commitments of doing so. That doesn’t give me an excuse to ignore the lack of any real personality or puzzles in what’s billed as a mystery, though. I liked it, but that feeling may not be universal. Try it if you’re game for supporting something off the beaten path, just don’t expect much resonance after the murder is solved.