The Murder Mystery series is an effort by Creative Multimedia to translate a passive experience of reading a murder mystery to an active multimedia gaming experience. This evolution appears logical and sets a trend for other developers soon to follow. The series has undergone a name change from Virtual Murder to Murder Mystery. The fourth (and last) title of the series, Murder Mystery 4: Who Killed Taylor French? The Case of the Undressed Reporter, gives the player an opportunity to become an armchair detective.
You are a detective called to investigate the death of Taylor French. French is a young newspaper reporter whose professional curiosity has scared a few people in town. She has many powerful friends, but also has many shady enemies who want her dead. You have only 6 hours to solve this murder. With the help of your assistant Lucie Fairwell, you must carefully examine the crime scene, retrace the victim's last steps, interrogate the suspects, and analyze the results of forensic testing. Is this murder an act to forever keep her silence, or is the murder secondary to an alternate motive? Before you can present the evidence to the judge for warrant application, you must answer to the public by holding a press conference. Only with diligent detective skills can you catch the killer.
The game is developed using Macromedia's MacroMind Director. All the stories in this series are authored by Shannon Gilligan. Gilligan is a highly acclaimed author of multiple interactive fictions, both on paper and on television. Her work includes the History Mystery Series and Our Secret Gang. Additionally, she has written more than 20 books for children, including the well-known interactive fiction series Choose Your Own Adventure. Her book, The Case of the Silk King, has even been adapted as an hour-long primetime ABC special. More than 2 million copies of her books are in print. Gilligan's production team is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sheryl Lee, who plays the assistance, is best known for her role as Laura Palmer in David Lynch's television series Twin Peaks. She has also appeared in Lynch's full-length feature film Fire Walk With Me - The Last 7 Days of Laura Palmer, Wild at Heart, Backbeat, Jersey Girls, and Don't Do It.
A common interface is shared among all the games in the Murder Mystery series. This simple interface allows the player to visit the crime scene, perform an autopsy on the body, examine the trails of evidence, and interrogate the suspects. There are 8 or 9 suspects, depending on the case, in this game. Over 100 minutes of Full Motion Video clips in QuickTime format and audio recordings provide the necessary interaction with the characters in the story. A computer data bank is available to give the player basic background information on crime investigation. Notes are automatically kept in a case notebook for later review. The game plays out over 6 hours. The game claims that the reason for this time limit is that 90% of all crimes in real life are solved within the first 6 hours. Fortunately, for the player, the game is not played out in real time. Each action the player chooses during the investigation costs a specific amount of game time. When there is only 30 minutes left behind, the player is automatically defaulted to the press conference. Only by answering correctly at least 7 of 10 questions posed by the press will the player be allowed to interview 3 chosen suspects in details. The player wins by correctly applying for a warrant and arresting the murderer.
Any gamer who fancies to become an armchair detective may find this game to have some merits. Generally, the game captures all the key steps during the criminal investigation of a murder. The player can even zoom in and investigate the crime scene in detail. An electronic bookmark allows the player to leave and return to the case at the same place later on. Each game offers 3 different scenarios. Each scenario has a slightly different story and a different murderer. While the suspects remain the same, their alibis will change with each selection. A degree of replay value is therefore maintained by having 3 possible endings from which to choose. The video clips are in full color with clear and crisp speech. There is also a decent online help. The cases are fairly logical, though some aspects of the stories are quite creative.
All the games in the Murder Mystery series are identical in gameplay. The only difference is the underlying story. Yet, within each game, the 3 scenarios do not differ all that much. Watching and listening to the same testimonials 3 times over can certainly get dull very fast. More varieties during the interrogation segment are needed. The slack production value is evident by the fact that the different games in the series even share a number of identical video clips, such as the clips with the police chief and the judge. Not surprisingly, the documentation is equally thin. Boring and repetitive gameplay aside, this series is also unrealistic in its imposition of a time limit of only 6 hours. In a real life murder investigation, multiple teams work concurrently to analyze the evidence and interview the suspects. For example, both the analysis of the crime scene and the initial interviewing of the suspects are completed simultaneously in real life. However, the game forces the player to complete each action in sequence and unfairly penalizes the player by also subtracting off the required amount of time from the allotted time in sequence. This often results in the player being shuffled to the press conference prematurely simply due to the lack of time to complete the investigation. In order to win, the player must then replay the game over and over again using the information gained in previous attempts. This is a classic example of the "resurrection" fallacy that any game designer must avoid.
Murder Mystery 4: Who Killed Taylor French? The Case of the Undressed Reporter is a forgettable game which only diehard armchair detectives may find some enjoyment playing. Despite its technical merits and good intentions, boring and repetitive gameplay will push most gamers away after the first run.
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