The Murder Diaries franchise seems to be intent on producing a game every few months; so much that I’m even starting to dream about these games in my sleep as it feels like I’ve been playing them forever.
In the first Murder Diaries, the story told us a tale of a small child who saw their father killed by a gang called The White Rabbits, before growing up to seek revenge. At the end of the first game, after getting revenge on his father’s killer, the man discovers he has a thirst for more death and destruction. It’s this which took us into Murder Diaries 2 as we follow the now serial killer wreaking havoc on the criminal underbelly. Yet at the same time we get some focus on a young detective following the case. Now in the third game – Murder Diaries 3 – Santa’s Trail of Blood – there’s a new story and it involves a bearded fat man in a red and white outfit; a guy who has a habit of shouting “Ho, Ho, Ho.” from the rooftops.
I sort of love and hate these Murder Diaries games. They are basic, and they use the same old assets over and over again. But there is something addictive about the gameplay and wanting to know how the story turns out that is compulsive gaming.
This time around the story is told by a few different voices, instead of one or two narrators. It focuses on telling the story of a serial kidnapper who dresses up as Santa and holds children hostage. The narrative over each level is drip-fed as you fly through several checkpoints and this time around each level takes the point of view of the serial killer, a police detective, the kidnapped children and at one point, a reporter, These stories take us back and forth in time, but the narrative on offer is one of the best – and most interesting – from the series so far.
Gameplay-wise and Santa’s Trail of Blood follows exactly the same format as those Murder Diaries games which have gone before it. You play as a little spirit orb of light flying through the air, working your way through multiple levels. Your task is to hit the checkpoints which are in place. You control the orb like you would in any normal flight sim styled game, going up and down, left and right. You can even spin left and right, but there’s no real reason to do this other than to look fancy.
The thing is, not much has changed here. I get why the game moves at a certain pace, but it feels like at times certain levels feel slower and the gaps between checkpoints are seemingly endless at times. If you hit the floor, walls, or any surface you die and the game puts you back to the last checkpoint you found. And again, as always, some checkpoints can be tricky to find, but at no point does the game become impossible.
Visually, Murder Diaries 3 doesn’t go for a literal interpretation of the source story in its level design, but rather a more abstract choice. Strange giant statues of Santa are strewn across dark cityscapes or old hospital ruins with giant needles sticking in the floor. All this works very well and there are some inventive places of design; just like the previous games.
It’s a bit frustrating that a host of the level designs are created from reused assets from the previous games though, and further to that, the soundtrack is also very similar. The music still works well though, with a mixture of choral spooky melodies. But I have to mention the voice work too and whilst it again seems familiar, there is plenty of it in Santa’s Trail of Blood, with a good job done throughout.
There isn’t much to say about Murder Diaries 3 – Santa’s Trail of Blood that hasn’t been said with the games that came before it. Gameplay wise it is exactly the same as before with no new additions, and it’s a shame that the development team consistently reuse old assets from previous games. If you’re a fan of the franchise, Murder Diaries 3 – Santa’s Trail of Blood does a good job of trying something different, spinning it with a Christmas theme that works well.
Murder Diaries 3 – Santa’s Trail of Blood is available from the Xbox Store