We are big fans of the FMV genre, joining the ride as the genre has had a bit of a resurgence in the last couple of years; there is now a healthy collection of titles on the Xbox for players to explore. But while the FMV (full motion video) sections have mostly been good, sometimes the experience does feel like that of watching a film, with a limited choice in terms of decision making.
Lately, creators have been experimenting more and more with the genre, changing up the gameplay mechanics and structures of these games. Murderous Muses is one of those games – a new adventure by the excellent D’Avekki Studios.
What I like about D’Avekki Studios is that they almost create a repertory list of actors who come back into later games. Here we see Aislinn De’Ath from The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker come to the fore, along with Klemens Koehring – Dark Nights with Poe and Monroe – who also makes a cameo. The writers have a pleasurable knowledge of the supernatural and the unexplained but throughout they are always found winking at the audience.
Murderous Muses puts you in the shoes of a night watch person at the Gallery Argenta on the fictional island of Mirlhaven. A famous local artist is being exhibited there, Mordechai Grey. But unfortunately, a year ago that artist was murdered. So in the day, your job is to hang the artist’s paintings up around the gallery in the correct place and listen to the audio descriptions of the work. But at night it gets very strange…
As dusk falls the gallery changes into a different version of reality. Here you can watch the six people whose portraits hang in the gallery come to life in video clips. These portraits, with the last pieces of artwork created by the artist, hold the clue to his fate. Your job is to listen to their stories and work out which one of them, if any, killed the famous artist. The six folk are a real mix too; a Burlesque dancer who is trying to leave the island; a womanising ventriloquist; two twins; an undertaker who is the last of their kind; a surgeon turned clockmaker; and a Professor. The characters are nicely written with some great shades of dark and light. In fact, I think the writing overall is brilliant, from the audio descriptions of the pieces of art to the homage of supernatural documentaries that you find dotted around the gallery.
It’s here where things differ slightly and the gameplay is unusual for an FMV, coming across more like a first-person adventure game. You get to move around the gallery and interact with the paintings which you collect from crates, working with audio items and solving puzzles throughout the day and night. Three days cover the whole game and your role in it and it’s nice that you can switch between night and day at any moment you like. You have tasks given to you by the curator that you will need to achieve, like hanging a selection of paintings in the right place. At the end of three days, you get to choose a suspect for the murder. Expect to be wrong on first assumption, but the real fun of Murderous Muses is found in the various playthroughs that are required, as the order of stuff to do is procedurally generated.
On the whole, Murderous Muses is a bit of a surprise, mostly due to the complexity and lack of hand-holding. You could absolutely love this element or it might put you off a tad. Personally, I loved the total sense of confusion when I started my first playthrough, trying to understand the puzzles, the order of things, and the need to piece this whole story together. But by the third time through, I began to really appreciate how the game has been put together and how clever it is. I like experimentation in games and Murderous Muses is most definitely that; it’s something to stand up and applaud.
The gallery that you walk around in is quite basic to look at though, a bit old-school in terms of visual identity. But the design of the artwork is intriguing whilst the video elements are pleasingly lit scenes with some effective edits in the clips. The performances from all the main characters, as well as the supporting roles, are excellent. As I mentioned, the D’Avekki Studios team is seemingly extremely interested in developing a cracking pool of talent, and it shows. Further to that is a solid and engaging soundtrack throughout; it’s this which is able to keep up the tension and intrigue.
Multiple playthroughs are an essential part of Murderous Muses. One run-through may take you a few hours, but the next time you come to it, you’ll no doubt discover a totally different experience, with differing elements and clues. Perhaps some will like more hints to help them along the way, if only so not to discourage during the opening moments, but overall Murderous Muses is another great game from a prolific studio.
Murderous Muses is on the Xbox Store