Murder Mystery Machine isn’t exactly a new game. It made its debut on Apple Arcade in 2019 as an episodic title. Two years later it finally makes its way to PlayStation 4 making it the first game Blazing Griffin has released on the console. Originally made up of eight individual chapters, the game’s console version is one entire package, meaning players don’t have to wait for further content although it struggles to shake its mobile roots in other ways.
Fresh out of the Academy, Junior Detective Cass Clarke arrives at the District Crime Agency for her first day. The problem is she’s been teamed up with the obnoxiously rude and burnt-out detective Nate Huston, whose office has been relegated to the basement of the Police Plaza. Their first case is to investigate the murder of a politician but it soon becomes clear there’s more to this than meets the eye, especially as the cases seem intertwined with Nate and his relationship with his fellow police officers.
Murder Mystery Machine Review – The First Clue is Always the Body
The game’s title comes from the outdated computer that gives the duo their cases, known as the Murder Mystery Machine. Each of the eight cases is separated into an individual episode made up of five acts. The first act always introduces a body, sometimes a witness, and Cass needs to gather basic information from both before being able to look around a small diorama scene. As the game’s camera can’t be moved, each diorama can be rotated 90° at a time to find more evidence, all of which is marked with a white dot.
Sometimes you see a white dot and you wonder what it’s trying to show because the evidence doesn’t actually become visible until after Cass has looked at it. At first it seems like a visual bug but then you wonder if it was one of the features that had been tailored to the smaller screen of the mobile platform. Other things haven’t really been optimized for consoles either. As well as finding evidence, Cass needs to re-interview witnesses and consult with Nate to gather all evidence. Mobile players would have used a touch screen to click on these hotspots, but console players are left clumsily walking around the area until they find exactly the right spot to trigger the inspections/conversations.
Once all evidence is gathered from the scene, players need to open up the workspace. This is like a police evidence board where the evidence is linked together to form correct deductions and create new dialogue options, which in turn will create more evidence and lead to further deductions. A hefty chunk of the game is spent on this screen, putting together enough deductions to form an eventual conclusion for that scenario. This might be finding a murder weapon, working out a motive, identifying a suspect, or working out a new lead.
These conclusions can sometimes appear obvious but proving them not so much. Multiple pieces of evidence seem like they need to be linked together but only a single one of these links will produce the new dialogue. Even after unlocking all of the dialogue options it is possible to miss deductions during the final conclusion, meaning a reduction in final score for that act. Players are scored on items and evidence discovered, correct deductions, and correct accusations, but progress during an act isn’t clear. As you’re not penalized in any way for having more deductions than necessary, the route to a perfect score is often a confusing mess of links as you put absolutely everything together before submitting your conclusion.
Murder Mystery Machine Review – Getting a Perfect Investigation
Those who don’t care so much about score have an alternative in the game’s usually competent hint system. This automatically drops a chapter’s score to a B rating regardless of how many hints are used. When I say “usually”, the system doesn’t always prioritize the deduction you need to continue forward, instead preferring to complete the non-important deductions before allowing you to progress. The good news is the developer has promised to make some alterations to the scoring system and make progress clearer in a future update, although this hadn’t been released at the time of writing.
While dragging evidence around may have been great on a touch screen, it’s a bit clumsy on console. The cursor moves slowly, new evidence often overlaps each other, and links don’t always connect to each other the first time. As much time can be spent rearranging the screen to make everything clearer than it is putting evidence together and it detracts from the most interesting part of the game. This isn’t helped by the appearance of a large tip window that covers a significant area of the workspace if players stay still for mere seconds. After it repeated the same two tips multiple times and became an obstruction, I was forced to turn them off.
There are some other episodic or mobile features that seem out of place too. Before moving onto a new episode, a cutscene plays at the start. The problem is they’re all so similar most players will skip them before any difference is noted. There’s also a “to be continued” message at the end of some episodes even though players no longer have to wait for the next instalment. However, the most notable is the strange character designs that look like anthropomorphic giraffes with legs twice as long as bodies, long necks, and a spaced look. Despite their bizarre appearance, lack of voice acting and often hilarious costumes, their developing personalities and moral dilemmas are worth pushing through for.
Murder Mystery Machine could be a great distraction from the usual adventure games. Its emphasis on deductions rather than evidence gathering turns it more into a puzzle game than an adventure game, and it genuinely makes you feel like you’re working things out for yourself. The problem is it’s held back by several design issues that didn’t translate well from mobile platforms to console and these can dilute the fun.
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