Here in the UK we love a whodunnit and a murder mystery, so much so that the TV schedules are full of that type of genre. Hell, you can even take part in dinner parties with employed actors playing the parts of the rogues, murderers, and victims, casting you as the detective. Yet strangely, in the gaming scene there haven’t been that many attempts at a good detective story. Granted we’ve had the Sherlock Holmes titles, and L.A. Noire is a staple, but there aren’t a whole load more. But now we have Murder Mystery Machine on Xbox and that means it’s time to get out the magnifying glass and solve the crime.
Murder Mystery Machine is an isometric adventure game that puts you in the shoes of rookie detective Cassandra Clarke. She teams up with dour-faced partner Nate Huston, who has seen it all before, probably just sitting it out until retirement. After the murder of a popular politician – which at first glance looks like a botched robbery, yet is anything but – the two detectives embroil themselves in an investigation that has many twists and turns, falling down like a house of cards.
The writing is good, even though at times the relationship between the detectives can feel a bit hackneyed and familiar. The way the cases have been constructed is very intelligently done, well designed with some great attention to detail and satisfying outcomes.
How the game works is that you start each of the cases in your office with your partner in tow; from there you’re off to the location, presented with a scene as you explore, looking for clues. You can switch the isometric view around by rotating the room in four directions so you can see everything from every angle and it’s here where items of interest are highlighted for you to interact with and examine. There are also people connected with the crime, the victim, and the possible murder, all ready for interview.
The evidence gathered from what you find in the scene, or by interviewing suspects and witnesses, is then gathered up in your evidence workbook. A quick switch of a button will swap between the scene you are in and this works like one of the boards you might find in a police station; clues draped with a string linking them all. You might have a piece of evidence like some bullet casing found on the scene which you can then link by dragging a line across to a gun found at the scene, thus making a new piece of evidence and confirming the murder weapon.
Interviewing people will open up new bits of evidence for examination, yet by linking possible pieces of evidence together you will also then have the option to open up more topics of conversations, interrogating the suspect. It’s easy to tidy up your evidence board as well, unlinking false clues and bunching things together. When you are ready you can then link what you want, answering the main questions – ‘WHO”, “WHERE” “WHAT”, “WHY” and “WHEN”. Prove to be right and it’s on to the next scene. Get something wrong and you’ll be left to try and try again.
It’s an interesting and good system that brings together Murder Mystery Machine nicely, hammering home the feel of being a real detective trying to work through multiple cases. Some of the solutions need a lot of thought and work to get the right outcome, yet the whole thing breaks down as you’re left trying to get to grips with the control scheme; it’s awkward and I found myself crying out for a mouse to make the evidence workbook much more user-friendly to play with.
The visuals do however employ a nice isometric view that works well, especially in the way you can rotate the space and examine the scene from all angles. The animation of the characters is basic but works well in telling the story, with good use of colour. The design of the evidence workspace is imaginative and will certainly make you feel like a real detective, all as you go about examining walls of evidence with a coffee and doughnut to chomp on. The soundtrack has a good air of suspense and tension about it too, with some nice effects throughout. It could probably have done with a bit of a voice-over though, if only to add some more drama and tension.
Murder Mystery Machine will make you feel like a real-world detective trying to solve the trickiest of crimes, all whilst delivering intriguing and suspenseful cases. The evidence board will become your main focus, and whilst this part of the game works extremely well and makes you feel at one with the investigation, the controls are fiddly and awkward to use; you’ll be left holding out for the precision of a mouse. The visuals work well though, especially the isometric world you inhabit, but at no point do they ever bring the wow factor we need. But if you want to be a sleuth then it’s worth considering going deep with the Murder Mystery Machine.
Work the wonders of the Murder Mystery Machine by visiting the Xbox Store