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The Merry Murders Reviews
Author: Mel S
Date: 2003

Reviewed by David Whyld

Mel S' first full size game since The Lost Mines is the story of a series of brutal murders at the SynTex corporation headquarters during an office party. And "series" is the right word because by the time you catch the killer, there's hardly a soul left alive.

I've always been a sucker for murder mysteries because they allow you the opportunity of seeing if you can figure out who the killer is before reaching the conclusion of the game. Disappointingly, The Merry Murders (what the "merry" in the title refers to I've no idea) doesn't allow for any real detective work. Solving a series of puzzles - some logical, some not - leads you to the inevitable conclusion with the killer, but there are no prizes along the way for figuring out the identity of the killer beforehand, and no way to stop the killer from committing further murders if you do happen to stumble upon his/her identity. The ending, involving a fight to the death with the killer, occurs whether you've guessed the killer's identity or not.

There are a number of things that bring the game down overall, the most common being the way the game sometimes refers to the player as "you" and other times as "I". This, on top of it being written partly in past tense and partly in present tense, makes for confusing reading.

Locations are nicely written and the way some of them change from time to time - items appearing, a computer suddenly becoming useable, and so on - is a nice touch. Various lapses in logic mar the game somewhat, though; the other characters seem happy to stand around doing nothing while a brutal killer stalks the building picking them off with remarkable ease. And why the killer didn't just try to bump the player off despite the progress you're making towards finding out his/her identity is never really explained.

Not a bad game, but not a great game either, The Merry Murders would have been better handled with a little more detective work by the player. But it's an interesting way to pass an hour or two and the difficulty factor is set so that you shouldn't have too many problems reaching the final conclusion (although saving your game beforehand is a very good idea because you only get one chance to win the final fight).

Logic: 7 out of 10
A few lapses in the way the killer(s) actually help you out during the game if you ask them the right things but nothing disastrously illogical.

Problems: 5 out of 10 (10 = no problems)
The main problems involved the character alternatively being referred to as "you" and "I" and the game's frustrating habit of switching from past to present tense at seemingly random intervals. If it had happened just a few times it could have been overlooked, but the sheer number of times it happened made playing the game quite painful at times.

Story: 6 out of 10
There's nothing new about murder mysteries but it was well handled and having a few seriously dodgy characters (Trey in particular being especially vile) kept you guessing who the killer really was.

Characters: 6 out of 10
There were both good and bad points in relation to the characters. On the plus side they were quite believable and had a fair set of things you could question them about; on the down side they seemed quite willing to hang around in a building with a killer on the loose who was busy massacring them.

Writing: 5 out of 10
Fairly decent although the game switching between calling the player "you" and "I" did leave a lot to be desired.

Game: 5 out of 10
A bit of a letdown after The Lost Mines but interesting enough to keep you occupied through to the conclusion.

Overall: 34 out of 60

Reviewed by Woodfish

The Merry Murders (a title I still don't understand, even having completed it) is quite a linear, story-led game with a scattering of puzzles, divided up into seven acts. The storyline, in a nutshell, basically centres around an office Christmas party, in which guests are killed off one by one by one of your murderous co-workers. Not much festive cheer found at *this* Christmas party. 

To me, the story is one of the game's strongest points. Once you get over its implausibility (instead of calling the police, the lone security guard decides to lock everyone inside the building *with* the insane killer - and the fact that there were no eyewitnesses to the numerous murders in a party filled with guests is slightly unbelievable), you actually find that the story is quite interesting and morbidly compelling. Deaths are varied and interesting (head in the microwave, dagger sticking out of head, that kind of thing), you nearly always have something to do as a result of the fast-paced narrative, and lots of red herrings mean the player is kept guessing right until the end as to who the murderer actually is. Although it is a murder mystery, there isn't really much to tell you actually *who* the murderer is, and even if you do guess, it doesn't influence the game. So in that respect, it's a bit like reading a book. I personally wasn't taking it too seriously, and that way, I think I was able to enjoy it more. 

The descriptions, too, are just about good enough. There has been some obvious effort put into them, and on the whole, they are okay. For every really good piece of writing, however, there is one equally bad. They do often tend to slip into the unimaginative, and there are quite a few instances of bad spelling and grammar. It also gets a bit confusing when the game is told in the present tense, but the author decides to switch to past tense for certain events. Oh, and the way the author switches from first to third person. But other than all that, the writing's okay. 

Unfortunately, that's where the good stuff ends. The actual way the author has handled game design and playability leaves a lot to be desired. The environment background interactivity seems to just have been added on at the last minute as a kind of afterthought - with the majority of objects mentioned in room descriptions not backed up with objects at all. You can't interact with many objects, and I found myself discouraged from trying as a result of all the guess-the-verb - for example, I can't "open door", but instead have to "open stall" - and at an equally essential command, I first did "look at microwave", then typed "open it", but the parser processes this as "open a microwave", where the author has only accounted for "open microwave". To me, this is lazy programming. In fact, the game does give a strong sense of laziness from the author. The lack of interactivity, GTV, and especially the player's inability to examine lots of objects (which includes several essential objects - I couldn't look at "the pile", but I had to "move pile" in order to progress), take away much of the enjoyment and are pretty annoying. 

Characters, which the game really depends on, aren't brilliant either. They're not written particularly well, and whereas I'd of thought this would be a great chance for good characterisation and interaction between guests, the author has almost completely passed this opportunity up. No characters stick in my mind after finishing. "Bad" characters, like Trey, are all bad, with nothing else to them. "Good" characters are liked by everyone, with nothing else to them other than one aspect of their personality. The "ask about" conversation system is lacking with a small number of subjects to ask each character about, and vital ones missing. As a party guest with a murderer on the loose, it must be pretty worrying when you ask the security guard about security and he says "I don't know anything about that". Yet another demonstration that "ask about" is the inferior conversation system. Another damaging aspect to the NPCs believability is that they are completely uncreative (other than when they're killed). I mean, if your co-workers are dropping like flies and there's a murderer set out to kill you, you don't just hang around sipping drinks, do you? Another indication of an author that couldn't be bothered? 

Game design isn't anything to write home about, although its not terribly bad. Due to the GTV, I did find myself floating around wondering what to do next on a couple of occasions, and several times I was confused by object ambiguity. Some events seem to happen conveniently for the game to progress (for example, the computer handily turning on when you need to research a character). Other annoyances are having to do a specific action that the game will only understand in that situation - for example, trying to syringe anyone other than the murderer, or giving anything to anyone other than when you need to progress the game. There were some bugs at the end scene on the roof, involving the character and interactivity. Actually, the whole end scene was a bit of a letdown. After being unfairly killed with no indication that it might happen, and having to restart the game, I was then stuck on how to kill the killer (shards of glass couldn't be picked up, dagger couldn't be taken, no other items could be used to fight with) so I had to resort to looking in the generator to complete the game. This, with the unimaginative ending text (another of my pet hates - a completely boring and summarising end text which offers no reward, twist, or anything to keep you thinking), leaves the player on quite a low. 

Overall, despite the interesting storyline and the occasional good piece of writing, the game is quite a let-down, so I can't really recommend it. The linear act structure worked well, I thought, but all its failures in interactivity, logic, game design, GTV, and bugs, make for an uninspiring, unenjoyable, and tiring experience. It's a shame that this came from Mel S, an otherwise good author, but I'm sure he's destined for better things in the future. 


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