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Antony & Cleopatra: Case IV: The Murder of Marlon Brando

by Travis Moy

Experimental Multiplayer Murder Mystery
2023

Web Site

(based on 8 ratings)
6 reviews

About the Story

The year is 2021. Neo-America is prospering under the stern yet wise direction of President for Life, Gaius Julius Ceasar. 330 million souls live, love, and laugh, all working tirelessly for the glory of the American people! But with light comes darkness. With prosperity comes misery. And with law comes crime. Heinous crimes! Shocking crimes! Cunning crimes! And sometimes, very rarely, crimes so devious, so shadowy, so slippery that only Neo-America's greatest detectives can hope to solve them.

For these crimes, the very worst of crimes, America has a special team. Two individuals, both alike in dignity, in fair DC, where we lay our scene. Their names: Antony and Cleopatra.

He's the Vice President.

She's the Queen of Egypt.

Together, they fight crime!

Note that this is a fully synchronous two-player game and requires two people and internet access to work. You cannot download this game and play it offline.


Game Details


Awards

24th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)

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Most Helpful Member Reviews


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Well-trodden genre with a fresh implementation, October 8, 2023
by Bell Cyborg (Canada)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

I was intrigued by the idea of a two-player online murder mystery, so I managed to rope my wife into playing as... my wife. I had fun and so did she.

It is a very, very silly game--there is no worldbuilding reason why the Queen of Egypt is investigating a US diplomatic incident in 2021, it is (as far as I could tell) purely for "don't take this too seriously" purposes and various historical figure jokes. If it was a straightforward twine mystery, I'd probably call it "solid". However, the two-player mechanics were novel and well-implemented, and brought the experience to another level. You share a schedule and have to agree on how to budget your time for interviews and investigations. Narration changes and dialogue options differ between Antony and Cleopatra (sometimes just with slight rewording, sometimes actually differing in information), and the conversation progresses depending on who speaks first. And it seems that the two players can name different solutions--though in our case, we just went with my best guess, which turned out to be correct. I'm very impressed that the author pulled this off in a way that was satisfying to play.

+: Unique two-player mechanics done really well, sandbox mystery with fair clues, some laughs.
-: Prose is somewhat sparse, with scattered typos.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Consulting vice-president, December 4, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

A game with a title like this isnít exactly crying out for another reference to throw into the mix, but nonetheless, I have to do it: the figure out what the game is doing, we shouldnít look to Shakespeare or The Godfather, but to Sherlock Holmes. Thatís because this multiplayer whodunnit, where the titular couple team up to solve the murder of Raytheon CEO Marlon Brando in an alternate-reality Washington DC, is largely reimplementing the classic board game Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. This is no bad thing, let me hasten to add! Iíve been obsessed with the game ever since we had a copy of the video-enhanced original from back in the 80s (a part of the VHS-board game boom that is wholly regrettable save for the fact that it brought us Dragonstrike), since itís such a unique concept in the boardgame arena: unlike other games in the subgenre like Clue, which abstract mystery-solving into abstract logic puzzles or deduction games, the cases in Consulting Detective are actual cases.

A few pages of read-aloud text introduce a crime, and then the players, working together, decide which leads to follow up on, picking suspects to interview, crime scenes to investigate, or contacts to visit. At each, another few paragraphs of text may reveal further clues, or indicate a dead end or red herring. And then, after timeís elapsed, the players are confronted with a quiz laying out the key questions for the mystery, and once they agree on their answers, thereís a final bit of story that tells them the actual solution and allows them to see how they did.
From that description itís pretty clear that this is a species of analog IF, so it makes all the sense in the world to adapt the model to a digital incarnation. And implementing it as a multiplayer title is similarly a no-brainer: while other recent works of multiplayer IF have set up the players as directly or implicitly antagonistic, or given them asymmetric information to encourage cooperation, the player interaction here is purely about talking through the clues, developing theories of the case, and working together to solve the mystery. As a single player game, the relative mechanical simplicity would risk things getting dull; as a multiplayer game, it sings.

Antony & Cleopatra implements the model faithfully. The main investigative tool youíre given is a calendar that allows you to schedule suspect interviews or visits to key locations, with two slots available for each of the seven days youíve got to solve the crime (the set of possible leads expands as you go, of course, and there are tools in the sidebar to remind you of who or what each is). Once a scene begins, you may just be given the relevant information or be told thereís nothing much to learn, but more frequently, thereíll be a list of questions or investigative avenues to pursue; these can typically be lawnmowered, but it does break up the wall-of-text issue that the board game sometimes runs into. There doesnít appear to be state tracking Ė at one point, we noticed that a character had just told us something that contracted what someone else had said, but there was no option to call them on it Ė which is a little odd, but does mean that the players, rather than just the characters, need to be alert about the clues theyíre gathering.

The game also departs from its inspiration by offering a few minor multiplayer-specific mechanics. The two players need to agree on which leads to follow, and that theyíre finished with an investigative visit, before the game will move on; similarly, you of course need to reach unanimity on the end-of-game questionnaire laying out your ultimate theory of the case. The most game-like mechanic is the dialogue options specific to each character; while it doesnít matter who clicks on most topics, a few are marked with an A or a C to indicate that itís available only to Antony or Cleopatra respectively. It appears that these always are offered in analogous pairs, and the choice of which character should take lead seems to roughly correspond to a good cop/bad cop split, with Antony generally taking a more direct approach than Cleo. It also appears this is largely a cosmetic difference rather than one leading to dramatically different clues being revealed, but even if itís largely superficial, itís still a pleasant reminder that there are two distinct characters here, not a single blob being jointly piloted by the two players (although since they are always accompanied by an FBI agent sidekick as well as a half-dozen royal bodyguards, actually there is more than a little blobbiness). Impressively, as far as I could tell thereís actually quite a lot of variation between the text the two players see; while key clues seem to show up in both, Cleo tends to be more perceptive about interpersonal dynamics, while Antony (whoís the Vice President of the US, by the way Ė donít think I mentioned that!) has a deeper understanding of everyoneís social and political positioning. As a result, comparing notes on impressions and theories is richer than it would otherwise be.

So much for the systems Ė what about the setting and story? As to the former, itís a fun mash-up of 50s Hollywood with Ancient Rome, and serves as an enjoyable romp through the sights and sounds of DC, but I couldnít help but wish it went a little deeper. If thereís some underlying logic connecting these various inspirations, itís not foregrounded, and while this odd juxtaposition could make for some wackiness, the game generally plays things straight; there are a few good jokes here and there, but when Cleo doesnít even make a comment about visiting Alexandria, VA, it feels like a missed opportunity. Similarly, it sure seems like a game that puts President-for-Life Julius Caeser in charge of the US and then has a plot hinging on the murder of a defense contractor should have something to say about the military-industrial complex. It also doesnít really go into the alternate-history aspects; if Napoleon is the French Ambassador to the US in 2021, Iím guessing that the early parts of the Long 19th Century must have been very different in this world, but we donít get even a whiff of that. I got the sense that the pop-culture stuff was mainly just used to make the names of the characters more memorable Ė itís way easier to recall that Audrey Hepburn is the new Raytheon CEO than if it were some rando, to be fair Ė but the gameís refusal to play out the implications of its choices sometimes frustrated me. The depiction of DC, meanwhile, is generally quite good, though there are a couple details that suggest it wasnít written by a native (despite being the home of a university, Georgetown sadly doesnít really have the boho vibe itís given in the game, and rich neighborhoods not having sidewalks is far more of a California phenomenon than an East Coast one).

As for the mystery itself (he says, a thousand words in), itís pretty good, neither too simple nor too complex. Industrial espionage, national security, and sordid personal affairs are all in the mix, and while the time limit is relatively forgiving and itís not too challenging to suss out the basics of whatís going on, the storyís sufficiently twisty to make for fun conversations between the partners. The case is faithful to most of the ones Iíve played from Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective by having at least one element of the solution feel like it requires a big leap of intuition to get right, but thatís probably the right balance to strike; getting ĺ of the details right is in some ways more satisfying than either being completely ahead of the game, or floundering.

Iíve been a little down on the game here, as is my wont, but thatís largely because I think this approach has a lot of potential thatís only been partially realized in this particular case. If there is a Case V, I hope it marries the setting more deeply into the mystery, and perhaps takes a bit more advantage of the digital medium to offer some more involved mechanics Ė I actually missed the vintage newspapers, London map, and telephone directory that in the board game offer some additional avenues of finding leads beyond just picking who to interview next. All thatís forgivable in a first instalment, though; Antony and Cleopatraís unique and enjoyable, and well deserves a follow-up.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Antony & Cleopatra: Case IV: The Murder of Marlon Brando, October 14, 2023
by kaemi
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

So on one hand, this game gestures wildly at everything: our dramatis personae draws from history a la carte with random appearances from whomever seems like they could plausibly fill the role Ė thereís a French ambassador, may as well be Napoleon Ė so you get a strange eclecticism where Cleopatra chats with Rasputin about Audrey Hepburn; the plot sizzles with international intrigue, as multiple nations potentially engage in espionage over a Raytheon-led military project shrouded in secrecy, all the while snarled up with tawdry DC gossip a la the Petraeus scandal; thereís a multitude of meta levels that enjamb each other, like Antony and Cleopatra solve cases but then thereís also a TV show with the exact same premise as the real life duo, or how every historical character is both themselves and not quite themselves; and bizarre little details constantly unsettle the flow, like an offhand reference to a character wearing a Noh mask or the deliberately loose way that a foreign head of state seems interwoven with a classified state investigation.

On the other hand, however, rather than slosh chaotically between competing stylistic pressures, the gameís flat affect smooths over these discontinuities to make a mild matter-of-factness that equalizes every left turn into a neutral paste. Madcap juxtapositions merely provide the pretense for straight-as-you-go transcripts laying out a series of facts, not really building up to anything you could call a testimony, which you judge against the others. Characterization consists largely of wikiskim vibe approxies, though many interactions do not attempt at all to summon the historical person, using their name rather as a de facto placeholder, including our protagonist duo, who make little impression. The metonymy of the tone occurs when we visit a suspect in Alexandria, and there isnít some grand attempt to capitalize on presumably-a-golden-reason-this-bizarre-combination-would-even-exist pun between the Virginian and Egyptian cities. The resulting flatness, beyond making you thirst a little pizzazz, also undercuts the two-player conceit, because neither perspective really accomplishes much that the other doesnít, and the only real variable, a few moments where you can change the tone of a question based on who asks it, could easily have been achieved in a single player design.

Mostly the game persists with the weightless superficiality of a madlibs murder mystery, listing resinous references without their manifesting narrative consequences, although a few witticisms are peppered in to make some use of the setting, like this great line: ďWhile you donít necessarily have any issues with buying diamonds or gems with blood, as blood is an essential part of statecraft and a Queen cannot avoid it, Antony kindly explained the implications to an American audience.Ē Additionally, a few strong characterization lines help you parse the lineup, like this bit which purposefully ignites your suspicions: ďHis handshake is laser built to convey trustworthiness, vital energy, and a good-natured affect.Ē So electricity does carry down the line, even if it never sparks the story to life.

As the game ought, being so well engineered. The experience runs seamlessly, with live updates between clients, and a few interaction-rich collaboration points. The one bug we did encounter, a momentary disconnection from the server, ended up providing a positive moment of appreciation for the underlying systems, as we just clicked a button and were instantly right back in the thick of things. Presumably a lot of hard craft went into making the play experience so effortlessly smooth, and itís hard not to be impressed with Twine as a platform in the wake of innovations like this.

Thereís so much potential here, and the technical accomplishments of this game go a great deal towards establishing a solid foundation. As it is, though, the narrative on top doesnít quite justify its expensive chassis.

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Outstanding Underappreciated Game of 2023 by MathBrush
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