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About the Story
The year is 1936 and the murder of Lord Stagwood is your first big case as an Inspector of the Metropolitan Police, London.
54th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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A detective story that is very traditional indeed, being set in an English manor and going as far as to incorporate some of the basics of the Cluedo board game. Its main selling point is the protagonist-narrator, whose arrogant and extravagantly clichéd demeanour is indeed quite funny. The writing is good and the mystery at least adequate. (Spoiler - click to show)There are clues pointing to everyone, but there’s an early one that breaks the symmetry and points to one person as the most likely perpetrator.
(Because of the arrogance of the narrator, I originally thought he could only be right by dumb luck; and I ended up assuming that whoever you accused, that person would turn out to be the guilty party. Nope, it’s just a classic mystery with one criminal. (Spoiler - click to show)But I did make the correct choice on my first try, since I tried the person against whom I had most evidence – and that turned out to be the right way of thinking.)
It is less clear that this story is well-served by being an interactive fiction. Indeed, there are no real choices before it is your turn to accuse someone; just large pieces of text and then some ‘choices’ that obviously only change the order in which the pieces are presented to you. The entire thing would have been just as effective if it had been printed as a short story, ending with the message: “Who do you think is the killer? Turn to page 120 to see whether you are correct!” One could argue that nothing is lost either by presenting it as an interactive piece. But the reader has other expectations when sitting down to play interactive fiction, and those expectations here turn out to be disappointed. And it wouldn’t have been that hard to make the piece more interactive. So overall: enjoyable, certainly, but also a bit of a missed opportunity.
Murder at the Manor is a short, choice-based murder mystery set in London in 1936. Glancing at the cover and title without reading the blurb, the noticeable palm trees had led me to think the game was set in Los Angeles. After realizing that I was a continent and an ocean off, I did some searching: Sure enough, there are palm trees in London! I wouldn't have thought they would grow so well that far north.
Murder at the Manor features a typical set of characters for such a setting: the murdered lord, the business partner, the ne'er-do-well nephew who stands to inherit, the mistress, the former housekeeper. These are the kinds of suspects you would see in an Agatha Christie novel. Christie didn't write hard-boiled police inspectors as her main protagonists, though; that's closer to Dashiell Hammett. However, his protagonists were, I believe, generally private detectives; the police were usually viewed as incompetent. Murder at the Manor features a character like that as well, though: the constable. In fact, some of the most amusing lines in the game are from the dialogue between you and the constable. The game is also written in the first person, which allows for some of the inner monologuing that you get in detective fiction from that era. In general, I think the game does succeed in capturing the "noir" feel, albeit outside of its usual American setting.
Gameplay consists of examining the body, visiting various locations in the manor and its grounds, interviewing the suspects, and examining the potential murder weapons. Then, at the end, you can decide which suspect to arrest. The game throws out several red herrings, but if you pay careful attention to the evidence you can deduce the identity of the murderer.
My one critique is that I would have liked to have the interactive nature of the work - the choices - align more with the deduction process. For example, when you move from one stage of the investigation to the next the PC says things like, "I know the location of the murder," but you (as the player) might not have quite figured that out yet. I haven't attempted to write an IF mystery, but this interactive/deduction alignment sounds hard to pull off. One has to select the mechanic that implements the investigation just right. Yet it can be done; to compare with another IFComp 2018 game, I think Erstwhile's mechanic of linking clues manages it.
A minor anachronism: At one point a character refers to the PC as one of "Her Majesty's agents." The U.K. had three monarchs in 1936, but they were all male. So this should be "His Majesty's agents."
This game is a straightforward implementation of classic Golden Age-style murder mystery. Each page has several paragraphs of text. You investigate 3-4 locations, 3-4 murder weapons, and 3-4 people, then guess the murderer.
The details are generic enough that they could fit in any detective story from Holmes to Poirot. If you like murder mysteries, it's worth playing, but I wish it had more spice to it. The author has proven they can make a complete and coherent game, and I'd be interested in seeing more work from them in the future.
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