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About the Story
A medieval murder mystery that takes place in an English Benedictine Abbey. Inspired by the board game: The Mystery of the Abbey, which in turn was loosely based on Umberto Eco's book The Name of the Rose.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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I had high hopes for this, since I enjoyed both the book and the board game from which it takes its inspiration. In practice, though, I find it completely bewildering. During the first part of the game, there's not much to do other than sleep and attend holy services; there's some interesting coding at work here so that whenever bells ring for Matins, Lauds, etc., the player will automatically zombie-walk to the church to attend, but that makes the game somewhat uninteractive at the beginning.
After a couple of services, one of the monks turns out to be missing, and I'm directed to look for him. I assume (given the premise) that he's supposed to turn out to be dead -- but I can't seem to find a corpse, nor do any of the other monks seem especially concerned about looking. So the game continues for quite some time with my aimless exploration of the abbey, interrupted by service after service. (Time passes quickly here, with the result that one is called back to the church extremely frequently. While this mechanic makes some sense in the original board game, it's frustrating in IF form.) At this point I've used up nearly a whole day without having found any clues or having any better idea what I'm supposed to be doing than I had at the outset.
On the one hand: a reasonable amount of work seems to have gone into animating the characters and programming the player to return to the church on schedule, and there are a number of touches where the author seems to have done period research in order to flesh out the settings with appropriate furniture and room descriptions. I'm all in favor of historical IF, so this is nice to see. And from the evidence of the other review, there is obviously *sometimes* more to see than I got a chance to experience.
On the other hand, the gameplay is either buggy or very badly-directed. The story side doesn't do much better, either. The game encourages the player to go around asking the characters about one another, but quite often they have almost nothing to say; responses such as "I don't know him well" are common, which is strange given that this is a very small community of monks who live and work together, and who would be likely at this point to be all too intimately aware of each other's personality quirks. Furthermore, characters show no discomfort discussing third parties who happen to be in the room.
In short: this is an interesting concept that deserves a better execution. "An Act of Murder" shows that the randomly-selected-murderer scenario can work in IF; "The Abbey" doesn't appear to have pulled it off, though.
Rating this game was a bit frustrating for me because it could have been a five star game with just a little more work, and yet in its current state I can only justify giving it three. Before I go into why I'd like to touch on a few of the positives for this game, because I really did enjoy it and think it's worth playing.
The plot is a fairly simple one, a monk has been murdered and you have a monastery full of suspects with various motives. You have to talk to them all and search the area for clues to find out who did it, how, and why. Then at the end of the game you call a meeting and run through the whole accusation (Don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything - the game tells you all of this up front.) In the meantime you're wandering around in a fairly historically accurate monastery. The setting is nice and well described and the other monks wander around doing their daily chores in a nice almost believable sort of way. It turns out the game is even replayable since all of the relevant details are randomly generated, which is a very nice touch. The motives are believable and have a certain amount of depth to them and the game even handles your accusations realistically when you get it wrong - if your accusation is wrong but believable then people will still believe you, but if you're wrong and there's proof that you're wrong the game calls your bluff. Bravo all around.
But then there's the matter of why this game gets only three stars instead of the five it so easily could have had. Implementation! Here's an example:
The altar is a simple stone slab over which is draped a linen cloth. There are also votive candles on the altar.
You can't see any such thing.
This happens over and over and over again while playing this game. Each room is very nicely described but about half the things mentioned in the game don't really exist. A good round of betatesting would have easily cleared this up. That improvement alone would have gotten a fourth star out of me.
To get the fifth star would be a little more work, but only a little. In a game largely based around NPCs the NPCs need to have a little depth. Now as long as you don't talk to the monks they are very realistic, wandering around doing their chores and going to sleep and prayers at the appropriate times. Talk to them though and the realism falls apart, the number of topics implemented is very small and the responses are repetitious in a robotic sort of way. Which is a shame, because it's obvious a lot of work went in to making these guys *act* real - I just wish they spoke a little better.
All in all worth the time to play. I'd love to see this game re-released after a good round of beta-testing.
This game reminds me of reviews I read for Infocom's Suspended, which suggested that the only people who would play that game were would-be air traffic controllers.
This game has much of the problems of Suspended with few of its benefits. You are in a large monastery (with few items implemented) with many, many monks (each with very little implemented) carrying out independent actions, and you have to solve a murder (which occurs after several days (where time moves constantly and always ends up pulling you to the same room (from whence everyone you might want to talk to leaves immediately after))).
This was modeled on a board game, and I think that it would indeed benefit from the visual aspect a board game would bring. I've tried playing this game on and off for over two years, but can never really get anywhere.