An Act Of Murder by Hugh Dunnett

Going by the author’s name, I started this expecting some kind of comedy game or even a joke entry, but instead I was pleasantly surprised to find a well above average detective caper. Overall, it’s a fairly generic murder mystery with you as a detective sent to a country mansion to solve a murder. Clichéd? Sure. But done well enough to hide the feeling of “yep, been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” I usually get when playing such games.

A few things about the game in general struck me as kind of odd. I wandered down to the beach (the game doesn’t understand SWIM unfortunately so no paddling in the water here) to check out the scene of the crime and found the dead body just lying there. Not a single uniformed cop in sight. Heck, it wasn’t even cordoned off the way you see on TV. Now, granted, my knowledge of police procedure is pretty much taken from one TV show or another, but is it normal for the crime scene to be left like this? Someone could have come along and planted all manner of evidence and no one would have been any the wiser.

I was also a little surprised at the short time limit placed on the game. Two hours. Now, that isn’t as bad as you might think because every move takes 15 seconds, so you actually have (grabs calculator) 480 moves before the game ends (and a few extra ones besides as the timer doesn’t start until you actually enter the mansion). Even so, isn’t it a bit unreasonable of your boss to drop you off at a mansion in the middle of the night and expect you to question half a dozen different suspects all on your own AND come up with enough evidence to convince him of the identity of the guilty party within the space of just two hours? This is definitely a game where suspension of disbelief isn’t just a good idea but essential.

As with most detective games, you wander around and interrogate the possible suspects about various topics, checking their alibis and questioning about them where they were at the time of the murder (which they seem to know to the exact minute. How convenient.) and when you’ve got enough information to know who the guilty party is, you put in a call to your boss. Strangely enough, even when I knew the identity of the guilty party (or thought I did anyway), the game wouldn’t let me make an arrest but only call my boss. Surely if I was a detective and had enough evidence to make an arrest, I should make it before the suspect gets wind of what I’m up to and legs it? But, anyway, I had a few problems with figuring out how to know when I had enough evidence to call my boss and put an end to the game. Several times, I figured I had enough (or, at least, had reached a dead end and couldn’t figure out any way to get further evidence) and called him, only to discover I didn’t have enough evidence to convince him of who the guilty party was. He’d then lose all confidence in my ability to solve a complex murder in the space of two hours and the game was over. Some kind of in game prompt to clue you into the fact that you have enough evidence might have been a good idea.

The game is randomised and certain key details – namely alibis and the like – change with each play. While this certainly adds to replay value, if you’re interested in playing it through multiple times, it made it a lot more difficult for me to keep track of things. Fortunately you have a notebook in which you jot down the relevant points, which is a big help, but there were times when I struggled to remember what had happened in the game I was playing now and what had happened previously. Several times I got confused about events, remembering something I had been told in a previous play through and wondering just why certain things seemed different than I recalled them.

Despite some misgivings about the game, mainly with regard to the short time frame and the lack of believability, I really enjoyed An Act of Murder.

7 out of 10