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The Detective Game

The Detective Game

 

Developer: Argus Press Software The title screen.The title screen.
Released: 1986
Genre: Mystery
Graphics: Pixel art / Isometric
Perspective: Third person
Gameplay: Point-and-Click



 

 

 

 

 

 





 

 


 

Note: this is a Commodore 64 game.

The butler did it! Or he could have done, at least. Maybe he really did?
The Detective Game is compilation of all clichés that one would expect to see in a whodunit mystery story. There's a detective wearing a trench coat. There's an old mansion with servants, guests, and secret passages. There's a storm raging outdoors. And somebody keeps murdering people.

The starting point of the story is that Angus McFungus has died, presumably murdered, and the protagonist, Inspector Snide, is coming to the mansion to solve the case. In the mansion there are other people too, of course, like servants who work in the mansion (including, but not limited to, the butler) and some of McFungus's close friends and such who are staying at the mansion. In the very beginning of the game, the detective enters the mansion, is greeted by the butler (who else?), and lead to his room. Why exactly an inspector solving a crime needs his own guest room in the mansion is never explained in the game, but from there the player must guide the detective to solve all strange things going on in the mansion.

When the plot progresses, there will be more people murdered, and some of the plot twists are dramatic for sure. In the most recognisable scene from the game, an unfortunate victim is murdered by someone dropping a grand piano on the victim from the second floor. In the mansion full of guests, staff, and even an inspector, one could expect a more subtle method of disposing people to be used. But at least the murderer gets full points for dramatic effect.

Which then brings up the main point about the game. It's very charming. While the plot is just a random compilation of all random things from murder mysteries, which in the end don't add up to anything even resembling a plausible scenario, just the very fact that the game is the way it is, makes it fun. To add to that, all characters are nicely animated, and somewhat cartoony by their appearance, which nicely contrasts the on-going serial murdering.

Murderer's M.O.: dropping pianos.Murderer's M.O.: dropping pianos.
There are some extremely advanced elements in the game. With the exception of entering some codes and such, the entire game can be played by using joystick to point and click. The upcoming menus have, at least in theory, many fuctions to manipulate objects with. Unfortunately some of these are never needed or used in the actual gameplay. The screen flashes when there is a possibility to interact with objects, which looks a bit disturbing, but is a good attempt to give some hints to the player. What is brilliant in the game is that all people in the mansion are minding their own business. Usually in adventure games people stay unnaturally fixed in one spot, but in The Detective Game they move from one room to another, and in some cases lock and unlock doors as they go. This gives some depth to the game, as it enhances immersion, and the overall feeling is as if the detective is in the middle of other people in the mansion. Naturally, this makes starting conversations a bit more challenging than it would otherwise be, as the protagonist needs to be close enough to other characters.

All that is very good in the game. But there are also things which are not so good. One of them is that the plot doesn't make absolutely no sense (double negation intended) even after completing the game, or reading it as a transcript from a walkthrough. Related to that, puzzles are extremely random by nature. To complete all the steps needed to complete the game, one would really need to be thinking outside all kinds of boxes imaginable. For instance, there are no hints to indicate any need to find a secret passage at one point, but it just needs to be found, or the game can't be completed.

A much bigger problem is that some things in the game make sense only after seeing the outcome. The game can be played all the way to the very last moments of the gameplay, but then, and only then, it will become apparent that some things were needed to be done which really don't make much sense unless you know what it is going to happen later on. And yes, this refers to unwinnable situations and deaths, both of which are possible outcomes in the game. When it comes to dead-ends in the game, some of them are clearly there by design, whereas some others are so strange by nature that it is unclear whether they are bugs in the game or intentional features. To give an example, it is possible to somehow place a key into a locked briefcase, which can only be opened with that specific key, and cannot be taken out of the briefcase without using that very key. While such a thing is actually possible in real life too, there's no way of knowing whether they are actually meant to be in the game or not.

Interrogating people.Interrogating people.
There is only one way to complete the game, as there are no randomised elements. It's a shame, albeit understandable, because the way the game works is that the protagonist needs to find 10 pieces of evidence and based on those indicate who is the guilty person. The inspector can't indicate a guilty person without finding all the evidence, and sadly can't even arrest a wrong person, which would have added some complexity to the game. The game narrative also goes on its course, so even finding all critical evidence of already happened murders doesn't stop all scripted murders to come. What makes gathering evidence a bit challenging is that the protagonist can only carry five items, not counting ones in the evidence envelopes, so looting everything that isn't bolted down is not an option in this game.

As already mentioned, the game looks charming with its isometric backgrounds and cartoony characters. The game could use a bit more colours, as some of the corridors are a bit too grey and dull, but that is a minor complaint. There is not much variation in room interiors, guest rooms look all the same and staff rooms look all the same, with all furniture being exactly in the same place. With just a little bit effort each room could have had its own personality, like by adding some paintings on the wall. All information is displayed as scrolling texts on a blue bar that is between the gameworld view and the user interface. This approach is out of the ordinary, and while it takes some getting used to, it works for its purpose. Audio is very sparse. It consists mostly of protagonist footsteps, and not counting menu music, there is a small melody played every time a new body is found. Some major elements like lightning striking or gun firing have sound effects, but most of the time the game is more on the silent side.

The Detective Game has some great ideas behind it, and it has its undeniable charm based on the mystery genre conventions. It has its very notable shortcomings in the story development, puzzle design, and logic. Some things may be too random even for the most ardent mystery fans. As a semi-serious, semi-comedic mystery adventure the game works reasonably well, and the bottom line is that it is fun to play. And that's the only way to find out what exactly was the butler's role in all this.

The door is locked.The door is locked.

 


 

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