Murder for Dinner

I’ve been told I’m like Sherlock Holmes. I’m not sure whether that means I’m observant and insightful or just an arrogant sociopath. I like to think it means I have peerless detective skills, so I seized the opportunity to test them in Murder for Dinner.

The first thing I detected was the spirit of Agatha Christie sneaking around the party, eating everyone’s canapés. This is definitely a classic-style mystery with an enigmatic host, a cryptic gathering of seemingly unrelated people, shady characters, secret misdeeds and clues aplenty.

The second thing I detected was the total absence of dinner from Murder for Dinner, so frankly I don’t want to think about what spectral Agatha was really eating. Fortunately the other part of the title is pretty accurate. There is certainly murder here, and it falls to you to work out who did the dark deed. To aid you, you have only your eagle eyes and your razor sharp brain. Well, those and your thumb. For once we get the chance to find out how it feels to be Hercule Poirot (with a bit more thumbing).

It’s easy to see why Poirot spent so much time at high society functions. The elegantly appointed house, rolling (if compact) lawns and enticingly impenetrable outbuilding consummately set up the evening of intrigue. Apart from a persistent chug in the game engine whenever NPCs are close by, the visuals are good for an XBLIG title, with character models that remind me of something from the N64 Zelda games if they’d been set in 1920s Buckinghamshire – all exaggerated moustaches and elaborate garb.

Castlevania: The Marple Years

I imagine some might dislike that, but I found it charming. It works in the context. Each NPC has their role to play and they play it to the full in both appearance and character, from the weary old soldier to the gossiping duchess. Every one of them has their own secret, and piecing these hidden pasts together is the most satisfying part of the experience. While frustratedly combing the cellar one more time for missed clues, it was the desire to find answers that sustained me. What were those two whispering about? Why is she so anxious about that innocuous trinket?

Beyond the feel of walking amidst dangerous secrets, though, the way if feels to be Poirot according to Murder for Dinner is tranquil and a little repetitive. I’d always credited the legendary literary detectives with a prodigious intellect, but as it turns out the key to solving mysterious murders is actually to walk around the area ceaselessly, prodding at things until one of them suddenly becomes significant. That’s where Murder for Dinner lets itself down a bit. Dialogue can’t be directed and items can’t be picked up or used, so what it all boils down to is pressing A by objects in the correct order. A particular piece of domestic clutter will have no significance until after you’ve spoken to specific people, whose dialogue won’t necessarily give you any indication that this object is relevant. Talk to someone, see if your journal updates, then do another circuit around the house, A-ing everything. Find the right object. Talk to someone else, check your journal, do a circuit.

Reynald hoped his old strangler’s cramp wouldn’t implicate him unduly

In that respect, the game is a little disappointing. Being required to choose the correct line of questioning or show the right item to the right person might have made all the difference in helping this feel like a genuine mystery, particularly if some strand of logic ran through it. As it is, your involvement in unravelling the tangled web is minimal, and that starts to show through once the initial glow of ‘holy crap, I’m solving a murder!’ wears off.

Having said that, whether it’s a disappointment will depend on what you wanted. You see, Murder for Dinner is just disguised as a game, like Sherlock Holmes masquerading as a priest in Scandal in Bohemia . In actuality it’s a short story that gives you the means to soak up the atmosphere of a traditional high society murder evening by being there.

The pill bottle was the last man standing in kitchenette Battle Royale

Personally I enjoyed the time I spent with Murder for Dinner; maybe an hour in total. It kept me engaged and although I was occasionally frustrated I was seldom bored. With my contribution limited to pressing A in the right places to advance the story I can’t see myself replaying it any time soon, but I don’t regret paying it a visit. It’s a shame that the mystery didn’t need me to solve it and instead solved itself as I watched; had it been any longer than it is, the lack of meaningful interactivity might have started to get boring.

As it is, the atmosphere, the simple but engaging web of lies, and the freedom to wander around the house keeping your eyes peeled for clues make it worth the price of admission for an hour or so of Agatha Christie clue-hunting, at least for those of a contemplative disposition. Adrenaline junkies might want to give it a miss, but they’re probably too busy leaping off gantries and chest-bumping each other to read reviews anyway.

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Rock Bottom

Rock Bottom might be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

If being a game critic teaches you one thing, it’s that there’s wisdom in that old philosophy that there’s always someone with better skills than you. However bad the games you’ve played are, there is always one that’s worse. I thought it was Goolin or House of Cockroach or some other dire black hole of quality and credibility that my memory has suppressed for my own safety. But I guarantee you, I have never felt such a potent sensation of despair and loathing as I did while playing Rock Bottom. This game is the final conclusive proof atheists have been searching for; no cosmic creator could sit back and consider his work done while this monstrosity exists. It is the severed testicular vessels of a leprous yak, baked until decomposure and then served on a bed of dried vomit in the shape of Shia LaBeouf’s face.

Give me a second to wipe the bitter tears from my eyes. For a second there, I began to think that when I next looked at my Xbox I might see that scrotum-vomit-LaBeouf cornucopia in place of Rock Bottom. I know, I shouldn’t have got my hopes up.

Seriously now, I have played some shitty, atrocious games that have made me angry, confused and afraid. But never, never, have I felt a sense of such abject impotent horror. I dread the prospect of future archaeologists finding this and realising humans made it. They will write us off as more backward than the most gorilla-featured Neanderthal. I’m embarrassed for our species.

Okay, okay, I should tell you why.

Where do I start? I could start by mentioning that even though it’s a point-and-click game, and therefore facing stiff competition in the Uneventfulness Relay and the Excessive Dialogue Marathon, Rock Bottom manages to be one of the most boring things I’ve ever experienced. And this is coming from someone who’s spent five hours in a hospital lobby waiting for an x-ray, with nothing to entertain him but the sight of pensioners shuffling to the bathroom.

I don’t mind the inherent dullness of point-and-click games. I quite like them. But this… There’s basically no game in this thing. There’s almost nothing you can interact with in the entire game. You click on exits from rooms, and then on whichever person is in the next room. This subjects you to conversations the length of the entire Shakespeare canon, composed entirely of strained jokes and gruesomely forced attempts at ‘zany’ humour. Your ‘character’, Wilson, starts off in prison searching for a toilet roll that he calls his ‘scroll’, which has been taken by his cellmate who wants to trade it for some glitter because glitter is the prison currency.

The dialogue is some of the worst I’ve ever heard or read or suspected might exist. I’ve seen shopping lists that had better dialogue. And it just goes on and on and on. Clearly the ‘developer’ (for want of a more appropriate term) wants to write a sitcom, film, play, comic or satirical pamphlet but couldn’t break into the industry and decided to unleash a grisly salvo of his resplendently fecal gifts upon the unsuspecting innocents of the Xbox Live indie community. Honestly, I would have been less offended if he had just taken a shit on my head. At least that’s a compulsory bodily function; there’s no excuse for choosing to excrete this.

The miserable dialogue is dragged from the ditch in which it was languishing and thrown into a landfill crammed with used sanitary products by the diabolical voice acting. One or two of the performances are merely bad. The voice of Sweepy is a revelation by virtue of being almost mediocre for a total amateur who’s never spoken before. The main character, though, is high school drama bad. He’s failing high school drama bad. Worse than Who’s the Daddy? if you can believe that. The performances aren’t helped by being recorded on bargain bin microphones that pop, crackle and slur even worse than mine. This is the final, refined, edited and polished version? It’s abysmal.

Did I mention that the dialogue is really long? I did? Well just for emphasis: the horrific dialogue is really fucking long. Jesus goddamn Christ, I could have given birth in the time it takes for one conversation to finish. And I’m male.

On the bright side, the art is pretty bad. Um…yeah…that’s the highest compliment I can think of.

Rock Bottom is, without hyperbole or histrionics, probably the worst thing I have ever played in 25 years of video gaming. OTT metaphors aside, every single moment I spent with it took an effort of will to resist quitting to the dashboard. This game is atrocious, and if I never see its name, screenshot or cover art ever again it will be centuries too soon. If the developer ever bumps into me in the street and lets slip that he made this, I will punch him right in the fucking mouth with every ounce of strength I possess.

I will not forgive this. Silver Dollar Games have lost their crown as worst XBLIG developers, and playing Goolin for a year sounds like a Caribbean holiday right now. Get away from me, Rock Bottom. Just fuck off.