A return to 90’s FMV mechanics can often come off as cheesy or gimmicky but occasionally some ambitious developers get it right. D’avekki Studios got it very right in their Lovecraftian murder mystery The Infectious Madness of Dr. Dekker. The game has players type out their own questions to NPCs creating an immersive role-playing experience with its fair share of frustrations.
This modern FMV casts players as a therapist trying to help their patients with their problems while simultaneously helping the police find suspects for the murder of their predecessor, the eponymous Dr. Dekker. The mystery genre is well suited to the FMV format (which uses live action video instead of computer generated graphics or other artwork) and The Infectious Madness of Dr. Dekker uses the pairing to good effect. The acting in the game is superb, the music eery and the framing of the camera often off-putting, making you feel ill at ease as the plot grows stranger and stranger.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward, even if the plot is anything but. Broken into five acts, players will meet with each of their patients and
interrogate converse with them in order to learn about their issues and find clues regarding Dr. Dekker’s murder. Your patients' problems aren’t the usual complaints of depression and daddy issues but instead claims of having supernatural powers and weird unexplainable occurrences. At first, you’ll likely think your patients' claims are a symptom of some psychosis but as the game goes on it will have you questioning what’s real.
Getting patients to respond to you comes down to typing the right keywords to trigger a reply. This means just retyping key phrases the characters have already said is the most surefire way of progressing the game. Typing a disjointed string of appropriate terms, i.e. Dekker, murder, alcohol, can get you the same response as “Do you think alcohol played a part in Dekker’s murder?”. From a roleplaying perspective, this is very verisimilitude-breaking and leads to metagame thinking as you start contemplating about how the game was programmed instead of what the character's motives are. However, this mechanic doesn’t diminish the mystery/problem-solving experience as figuring out what those trigger words are can still be a fun challenge.
If all you had to do is repeat a character’s words back to them, The Infectious Madness of Dr. Dekker would be incredibly easy but sometimes you’ll need to come up with a novel line of questioning or an answer to the questions they ask you, which is more difficult. Adding to the challenge are some limitations of the game’s question and answer format. Because you need to trigger a certain set of responses with each patient before you can progress, you can’t simply assume you understand what someone means when they're answering you. You may know what a character is implying by the phrase “you know what I mean?” but if you don’t follow up and ask them specifically then you may not be able to move on to the next act.
More frustrating examples of the game’s limitations are how specific word choice sometimes needs to be. Synonyms become your enemy, especially considering regional colloquialisms. For instance, tablet and pill are pretty much interchangeable in the game, however, shops and store aren’t and sometimes a character will only respond to the word kill and not murder or vice versa. You might abandon a line of questioning because you already asked a patient about something and they wouldn’t respond to you, only to find out that you had to use a slightly different word or combination of words to ask what is essentially the exact same question. Not directly quoting a character’s response and asking your own question can still lead to progress, but it will often result in a non-sequitur or a non-linear conversation.
Completionists beware, finding every response is very difficult and not using any hints is virtually impossible. Once you understand how the game wants you to think, you’ll get more efficient with your questions and need fewer hints. Although these limitations of the game’s format can be very frustrating, the story and atmosphere of the game will keep players intrigued and coming back for more. All those failed questions will seem worth it when you make a breakthrough or get to accuse the patient most likely to have committed the murder.
The Infectious Madness of Dr. Dekker offers vast hours of gameplay for a small price tag. More compelling than the game’s value though is its genuinely spooky, interactive storytelling that will keep you playing for hours, wanting to type out question after question on end. For fans of FMV games, Dr. Dekker is a title you can’t pass up and if you’re new to the genre and are intrigued by an interactive Lovecraftian murder mystery plot this one’s a pretty good place to start.
The Infectious Madness of Dr. Dekker was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
The Infectious Madness of Dr. Dekker is an immersive role-playing experience that manages to overcome its frustrating language limitations with excellent atmosphere, acting, and interactive storytelling.
- Quality Acting
- Intriguing Story
- Eery Atmosphere
- Limitations of Question and Answer Format