Sometimes it’s nice when a game’s title cuts right through implication to deliver its exact meaning. There’s nothing that could possibly go wrong with a title like Murder Mystery Machine. It’s clearly a game about a machine that involves Murder Mysteries, and it wears that label proudly. On the other hand, it could be about a machine that commits murders and leaves mysteries, or about a machine that writes murder mystery plots like Geraldine Fletcher. Perhaps things aren’t quite as cut-and-dry as I first thought!
Jokes aside, Murder Mystery Machine is an isometric adventure game that sees you controlling a newly-minted detective. Partnered with a cynical misanthrope, you’re tasked with solving a series of murder mystery plots that you get from an out-of-date PC in the corner of your office. With tensions between you and your new partner fraught at best, you set out to prove you’re the greatest detective who has ever lived. Or something like that anyway.
The plotline that ties together all of the murders is about you and your new partner. At first, he’s not happy that you’re there and makes it very clear to you as well. After a case or two, you become closer and he treats you more like and friend and equal, rather than a stain on his shoe. The underlying narrative has a lot to do with your partner's past, and the tense relationship he seems to have with the top brass. It’s an effective hook to keep you interested in the story beyond just solving each individual case.
Murder Mystery Machine is episodic in nature, with 8 different cases making up the bulk of the gameplay. You move from case to case, each case itself split up into various scenes, and use your brilliant deductions to solve the murders that you’re faced with. Each scene takes place in a location and you have to fully explore the location to find clues on the ground, as well as getting information from witnesses. Once you’ve gathered enough relevant information, you go into your deduction screen and try to piece together the different evidence to make deductions.
The main thrust of the gameplay is relatively solid. You can move around the environments freely and rotate the view to be in any of the 4 cardinal directions. As you explore you can interact with objects highlighted by a dot to get a clue, and some of the clues can be hidden depending on your viewing angle. You really need to approach a location from all sides to get the full picture. You also have to make sure to talk to everyone as much as you can, as this is another method of getting vital information you’ll then use to make a deduction.
The way you make deductions in Murder Mystery Machine is by linking pieces of evidence together. For instance, if two different people give you conflicting information, connecting both pieces of evidence creates a contradiction, typically unlocking more dialogue with a certain character. You also have to use these deductions to back up the choice you make. Each scene will have a goal in mind, such as finding a lead or naming a prime suspect. You have to use your evidence and deductions to select from the possible answers and submit your findings to move onto the next scene.
Making deductions is the main thing you really do in the game, and for the most part, it works pretty well. You have to think about what sort of connections could lead to more questions, or could support the evidence that you already have. In some cases, this is pretty simple. For example, it doesn’t take much of a leap to connect a victim’s stab wound with the blood-soaked knife you found on the floor nearby. However, there are a few cases where the links between things are a bit sketchy. You can be given several facts about a particular object and it’s not always clear which one you’re supposed to be connecting to get your new deduction going.
Sometimes it’s just a case of trying several ideas you have until you unlock something new, but that comes with its own issue. While on PC it was probably pretty intuitive to have the player drag a cursor around the screen, when we’re using a thumbstick it’s just annoying. It would have been better if the cursor just snapped to each individual item on-screen, but instead, you have to laboriously drag it between various destinations. It works, but when it comes time to try out 5 or 6 different options for a connection it can become tedious. Not helped by the fact that you’re also expected to move the bits of evidence only our deduction screen around yourself to keep all the links nice and neat.
On the plus side, Murder Mystery Machine does handle giving the player hints quite well, mostly. If you’re ever stuck on a case, you can hold down the hint button to be shown a link that you’ve not made, or a person you’ve not talked enough to yet. These hints are a life-saver when it comes to getting out of a sticky situation, or when you’re struggling to make a leap of logic that the game is looking for. They can be a little addictive though, especially since once you’ve used a clue on a scene you lose a set amount of points. Once you’ve used a hint because you’re stuck, the temptation to just keep using hints is there because you know it’s not going to affect your overall score.
Luckily, Murder Mystery Machine has some interesting presentation elements that do help it to stand out a little. The character design is really strange, but in a way that helps the game to be a bit more memorable, if only because I’m now having nightmares about the male lead eating me whenever I close my eyes. It’s sort of like these characters were based on that modern corporate art style that plagues the world, with their overly long legs and disproportionate bodies. There’s also a little weirdness going on with some of the character’s faces too. Due to the way the camera works in this game, you’re not forced to get too close to the characters too often.
You could probably have guessed from the fact that it’s an episodic game, but Murder Mystery Machine uses the same presentation style as a TV series. The cases are solved over different episodes, and between each one, the same cutscenes play that looks exactly like it’s from a TV series. While this presentation style doesn’t really hurt the game at all, it is a little jarring if you’re sitting down to marathon the whole thing and have to watch the same exact animation 8+ times. The audio style also has a little bit of weirdness, mainly from the ambient sound. The music is useful in setting the scenes, but nothing particularly groundbreaking in that regard, but some of the sounds when you’re in menus grate on the ear after a while, especially since you repeat them so often.
All-in-all, Murder Mystery Machine ended up being a very enjoyable experience. Minor niggles with certain logical issues and design decisions aside, it provides a pure murder mystery plotline with a decent hook between the two main characters. The gameplay is mostly solid, despite the annoyance with the use of a mouse cursor on the console port, and the logical leaps you have to make are tempered by the well-designed hint system that is included. If you’re into crime-solving video games then you could certainly do much worse than this one.
TechRaptor reviewed Murder Mystery Machine on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and iOS.
- Fun Crime-Solving Gameplay
- Interesting Hook Between the Two Main Characters
- Well Thought Out Hint System
- Mouse-Like Controls are Annoying Without an Actual Mouse
- Some Strange Elements in the Visual and Audio Design