Review: Murder in the Abbey

Chris LaVigne | 16 Oct 2008 16:51
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It turns out there is another crime to be solved in adventure game Murder in the Abbey besides the one implied by its title. Apparently, someone has stolen all the fun.

Other components appear to be in place. It's got nice hand-drawn graphics that evoke classic Disney animation, a cinema-style score performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and a setting that hasn't been done a million times. There's just the small matter of the game being a tedious grind to play, that's all.

Like too many 21st-century adventure game developers, the team at Alcachofa Soft, led by Emilio de Paz, doesn't seem to know what puts the fun in a good adventure game. They've lost the art of crafting engaging puzzles that challenge and reward a player's ingenuity. What we get instead are boring chores and errands trying to disguise themselves as puzzles and pulling it off about as well as an NFL offensive lineman attempting to cosplay as Princess Peach.

You play as Leonardo, the leader of a group of mutated turtles trained in the martial arts. No wait, that's the game I wish I had played. The Leonardo in Murder in the Abbey is a medieval monk who's asked to investigate a suspicious accidental death while visiting a remote and possibly haunted mountaintop abbey. It's supposed to be a mystery game, but the exciting possibility of getting to hunt down clues, inspect evidence and inch closer to the truth is quickly diminished by the lame tasks the game makes you do instead.

It seems every monk at the abbey has a list of items that need to be retrieved; before you can get any useful information from any of them, you'll be pixel-hunting your eyeballs out trying to find the plant seeds, quills, bowls of soup and other random nouns they want. Almost every time you're on the verge of gaining some information about the mystery and the game threatens to get exciting, you're slapped in the face with a silly quest to complete first. They're not puzzles, they're jobs. And jobs are not fun.
Other game designers craft their gameplay to match their subject matter. The Hitman games let you feel like a hitman, Tomb Raiderlets you believe you're raiding tombs, and Flight Simulator simulates flight. Murder in the Abbey fails because it doesn't let you feel like a detective solving a murder mystery.

There is one moment when it does. You investigate a stone carving and after finding the proper clues, you can deduce the significance of certain features on the carving. For the five minutes I spent playing that part, I loved it. It was exactly what I had hoped the rest of the game's five hours would be. It was a genuine puzzle and not merely the arbitrary inventory-gathering and NPC-placating that plagues the adventure genre.

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