For those who wish to keep up with the latest triple-A monsters, gaming can be an incredibly time-consuming hobby. Some of last year's most well-respected games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Monster Hunter World ask players to invest a tremendous amount of time in them to see all of the content on offer. Elsewhere in the sector, games like Anthem and Fallout 76 are continuous experiences designed to keep players around long after the credits roll. Sometimes, in our industry's more cynical moments, it's hard not to think of gaming as a chore. One lovingly approached and meticulously completed, but secretly resented. Somewhere, we cry, there must be a game that won't take up more than like two hours of our time. Enter The Death of Erin Myers.
The Death of Erin Myers is the first in what Viperante - really a one-man indie developer called Dan Peach - calls its "Short Story" series. The game sees players investigating the death of the titular police officer. An opening text screed asks two simple questions: how Erin died, and why. This is a nice, refreshingly simple narrative setup. When a character in fiction dies, the urge to discover the cause of their death is usually pretty powerful, no matter who it is. Viperante has said that the point of Erin Myers isn't to shock players with narrative twists and turns. Instead, the game wants to focus on character. Erin Myers isn't a murder mystery; it's a journey into the life of a human being who happens to have died.
Adventuring through The Death of Erin Myers
Essentially, The Death of Erin Myers is a cross between hidden object games, LucasArts-style adventures, and Flash escape-the-room style games. Gameplay is fairly straightforward. Each "chapter" is a self-contained puzzle box. In each room, players will find every item they need to progress. You have the standard adventure abilities to examine and combine items together. In this way, The Death of Erin Myers becomes an exercise in reduction. In order to solve any given room's central puzzle, you combine items over and over. An early example is a slide which you need to project onto a chalkboard. There's usually a pull-down screen, but it's missing. All you've got is some chalk, a screwdriver, and some paint. These items must yield the solution somehow, so get puzzlin'.
This kind of holistic puzzling is satisfying, especially given the oft-labyrinthine nature of LucasArts-style puzzle games. Titles like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle were wonderfully-written games, but their puzzles could be a tad obtuse at times. The Death of Erin Myers deftly sidesteps this problem by presenting logical puzzles with logical solutions. Sometimes, it's possible to find oneself thinking "why don't I just shoot him?" or "why can't I just jump the fence?" in point-and-click adventures.
This isn't a problem in The Death of Erin Myers thanks to its grounded and realistic setting. Later on, the difficulty does ramp up a bit, and you'll have to explore multiple rooms to find the right items. There's nothing here even remotely close to the biggest head-scratchers in the aforementioned LucasArts classics, though. The Death of Erin Myers is gentle in its difficulty curve, so point-and-click aficionados probably won't find much here to challenge their grey matter.
The Narrative Reality of The Death of Erin Myers
Still, The Death of Erin Myers has two things going for it: narrative and atmosphere. From the off, there's a subtle sense of wrongness to the game. Visually, it's quite a scratchy and grainy affair. Everything's covered in dirt and dust, suggesting disuse or simple neglect. Character models have a spiky edge to them that brings to mind the underrated DS puzzler Hotel Dusk: Room 215. There isn't any animation in The Death of Erin Myers - this is a one-man effort, after all - but the characters still give a sense of movement from their exaggerated poses and sketchy outlines.
Although the visuals themselves are solid, they lack consistency. There are times when the visual style feels a bit at odds with itself, even as it impresses. Is this a gritty descent into human misery, or is it a comic book-esque noir tale? Does the game want to give off a pseudo-3D effect or does it want to look hand-drawn? Still, this never feels intrusive, and the visuals always feel like they're working with the narrative rather than against it.
Narrative really is the watchword in The Death of Erin Myers. The story plays out in a non-linear fashion, jumping between points in Erin's life. Each of the 9 chapters contains another clue as to the cause of her death. If you're not in the market for a bleak, weary atmosphere, it's safe to leave well enough alone. The start of The Death of Erin Myers features a 10-year-old girl locked in her dad's bathroom and doesn't lighten up from there.
Occasionally, the sheer chill of The Death of Erin Myers can get a little overwhelming. If we're being complimentary, The Death of Erin Myers keeps a consistent tone throughout its brief 2-hour run time. A pessimist might choose to say the game can feel a touch self-serious, but your mileage will vary depending on how you feel about Scandinavian noir (to which this owes something of a debt in tonal terms).
The Death of Erin Myers Review | Final Thoughts
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in The Death of Erin Myers is the characters themselves. It can feel hard to root for Erin sometimes given how hostile and closed-off she can seem. Occasionally, Erin's standoffish nature towards those around her feels uncomfortable. It's not easy to want to see the conclusion of a story in which everyone seems to be bad and everything seems to be doomed. There will be those who crave that kind of story, and if you do, this is the game for you. If, however, you're looking for a protagonist who doesn't simply exude naked loathing and rage, The Death of Erin Myers won't deliver for you. You'll need to strap yourself in and get ready to feel miserable for this one. That said, the writing is good if not great. Although the characters don't always feel real, they fit the woozy nightmare tone rather well.
All in all, it's not hard to recommend The Death of Erin Myers given its short run time. This game is only likely to occupy an hour and a half of your day. Those without an aptitude for point-and-click adventure games will probably be able to get around two hours from it. For a game billed as a "short story", that's a decent running time. It's nice to see a developer play to its strengths and create something uncompromised by current trends, and The Death of Erin Myers certainly fits that bill. If you want a break from crafting, loot-gathering, and the endless epic quests peppering the world of video games right now, The Death of Erin Myers will more than suffice. Just don't expect to crack a smile while you play it.
TechRaptor reviewed The Death of Erin Myers on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
The Death of Erin Myers is short, but it's as long as it needs to be. Its bleak, miserable tone might be too much for some, and its puzzles aren't head-scratchers. Still, it's atmospherically sound and certainly enjoyable enough to pass the two hours it needs to tell its story.
- Consistent, Well-Crafted Atmosphere
- Strong Pre-Rendered Visuals
- Compelling Narrative
- Simplistic Puzzles
- Clashing Visual Styles
- Unrelenting Misery