We all love a good murder mystery. We love trying to decipher clues, go through the backstories, study evidence and make some deductions. In the gaming world, you’ve been able to do this for a while with many different titles; L.A. Noire and the Sherlock Holmes games stand out. But The Invisible Hours is a whole different bag, because it’s not really a game and it’s not really a movie – it’s a piece of interactive theatre. Now, that’s not me describing the game, that’s the developer’s actual blurb. Intrigued? Well, let’s start from the beginning… and a murder mystery always starts with a dead body.
The Invisible Hours was initially released in 2017 as a VR game and that will make a lot of sense as you play through the experience. You start in a movie theatre by buying a ticket and beginning the story. The tale on offer is the fictional murder of the famous real-life inventor, Tesla, in a mansion, on an island, on a stormy night at the turn of the century. The murder has happened 10 minutes before your arrival, and you follow the other characters; a Swedish detective, Edison, Sandra Bernheart, a blind butler, Edison’s assistant and a cockney hard nut. The story is separated up into five chapters, with each lasting about around 15 minutes in length. And it is in those chapters which you will find many clues, many answers and many, many secrets.
But who do we play as out of this motley crew I hear you ask? Well, no one is the short answer.
The Invisible Hours as a game, or experience, works in a unique way whereby you’re a fly on the wall; a ghost watching over proceedings, unseen. You can move anywhere or follow any of the characters at any time during each chapter. You can’t directly control any of the characters though, influence the action in any way or use objects that affect things. You can pick up objects to examine them and read letters or documents that could be vital to the plot, but you don’t interact with these items in a normal game-type of way. What it does do is make the whole plot of the story multi-layered and it is hugely fascinating to examine this tale from every possible angle.
For example, you can watch the main thrust of the story as three of the characters are discussing the motive of the killer in one room, but if you go off to another room you might discover another character on their own acting suspiciously in the corner, offering up a major clue. It opens up a delight of possibilities and options to follow and that in itself is hugely enjoyable. If you follow all the characters individually you can unlock secrets that are very satisfying to experience.
The idea and concept is brilliant too and I imagine in VR it is well worth the journey, but I would anticipate that some gamers might find the lack of interactivity a problem, causing the loss of their interest somewhat. The story and writing has lots of brilliant subplots, twists and turns that will keep the hardened murder mystery fan amused and enlightened all the way through, whilst the documentation lying around is also a joy to find and browse through on your travels. But for all the good, the price is a bit too high for a game like this and that will instantly put many off, especially with this version not being able to make the most of VR.
The visuals in The Invisible Hours are decent and the attention to detail found in the objects and some of the characters’ motion captures is very well created. The layout of the island and the house is good too, but there is a lack of sheen and polish to some of the textures… and that bothered me a few times when playing through. The sound has some nice twists and turns added in to build the dramatic tension and of course, as expected in a storytelling title the voice over work is of a very high standard. I particularly enjoyed the performance of the Swedish detective who was tortured, unsure of his surroundings and heroic, all in one fell swoop.
Overall, and the world and story that the developers have shown with The Invisible Hours is a strong one that is superbly acted throughout. The actual concept of the gameplay is an original one that is worth taking in because it is an experience rather than a game. The gathering of evidence, clues and secrets is rewarding, but I fear its lack of interactivity will be a big downside for certain players. In fact, I wish I could had played this in VR because it might well have offered more in its accomplishment. However if the price goes down a bit and you want to try something well written, well acted and completely original, then I recommend wasting some invisible hours with this worthwhile experience.