What is it?
mystery and suspense... in more sense than one. Art of Murder 2: Hunt
for the Puppeteer is a point and click adventure game that asks you to
solve the mystery of a series of remarkably un-bloody, but most strange
murders. Henceforth, in order to avoid serious finger strain, I will be
referring to the game as AOM2.
be expected from the title, this game is a sequel to Art of Murder: FBI
Confidential and, as with the first game, AOM2 features Nicole Bonnet
as the lead character and your representative in the game. Both games are
published by City Interactive, a generalist games publisher that doesn't
exactly have a reputation for adventure games.
Is there a plot?
opens with a cut-scene showing a Police SWAT team entering a warehouse in
New Orleans to discover a murdered body suspended from the warehouse roof
like a marionette (the type of puppet used throughout the game), then it
cuts to someone making what look like elaborate dolls in 17th century
costumes. From here, you arrive at the game menu, from whence you can
start the game proper. At which point, you go straight to a dance studio
in an unknown location with no further introduction or explanation.
who am I? Where am I? Which of the people in the scene is me? Am I even in
the scene, or am I observing from a balcony? What's going on? Who else is
here? Why is that ballerina looking so sad sitting by the wall? Hey, isn't
there a famous painting that looks just like that? By Degas....?
you will discover that you'll be controlling the lead character: Nicole
Bonnet, a young FBI agent sent to France in order to investigate whether a
murder there has any connection to a series of four murders already
carried out in the US. However, the game doesn't exactly go out of its way
to make this clear unless you start investigating your surroundings.
slightly disjointed feeling of not quite knowing why things are happening,
or even sometimes why the game changes city or country (as it does a
number of times), continues throughout the game. The story takes you
around a few parts of Paris, to Marseilles, a Spanish border town, and to
Havana, Cuba, before returning to Paris for the finale.
this feeling of not-quite-connectedness is actually deliberate on the part
of the game designers, and their intention is that you read more between
the lines, so to speak. However, in my opinion, it does not work.
How do you play?
entirely point and click. As with most modern point and click games, you
also get the magic mouse pointer that changes when it passes over a
hotspot: a conversation, an opportunity to take a photograph, a possible
inventory item (even if you can't pick it up because Nicole doesn't have a
use for it yet), a change of viewpoint or an exit. In addition to this,
there's a big gold question mark in the bottom right of the screen that
you can press to see all the hotspots in the current scene.
inventory of items is permanently visible at the bottom of the screen,
along with your notebook (containing complete details of all dialogues, a
number of police reports and Nicole's conclusions on various events), your
phone, the big question mark, and your briefcase which just leads to the
right click on items in the inventory to get more detail, left click to
interact with items, or select them for use by Nicole. The game makes
intelligent use of transforming and combining inventory items for the most
part, though there were a couple of 'What? How?' eyebrow-raising moments.
most part, Nicole's aim is to collect physical, photographic and
testimonial evidence about the crimes at hand, so there are a number of
occasions where she will not touch, move or pick up items without taking
appropriate precautions to avoid contamination. All the same, there are a
few oddities where items remain with you long past the point at which you
might use them, whereas many other items have a relatively short stay in
one timed puzzle in the game -- but it's not taxing, once you figure out
what needs to be done. There is a slider puzzle -- I know this will annoy
some people, but again, it's not a hard puzzle if you tackle it logically.
There are no subtle sound or colour differentiation tests. There are no
complex dialogue trees in which to get lost, though there is plenty of
dialogue. As far as I could tell, the dialogue tells the story; your few
choices do little, if anything, to alter the progression of the plot.
of the story is completely linear. It plays out in a specific order, and
there is little you can do (even outside the dialogues) to alter that.
Within that framework, however, several of the locations require a
multi-stepped process to move the plot forward, so we're not looking at a
simple comic book progression of scenes. Some of those multi-step
processes are quite long and involved, but it was nice to note that you
can save at any time, and you can't die... unless I missed something?
moments when this game does have some shine to it. The environments in
which you play are interesting and rich; even in the depressed city that
is Havana, there are things going on. The choice of colour palette is
varied through the different locations. It's mostly dark in Paris, but
there is a refreshing contrast when outdoors in Marseilles, Spain and
a lot of objects in this game that you can interact with. Almost all of
those objects are also useful to Nicole at some point, though the game
won't let you pick up some objects until they are necessary to Nicole's
work. Some of the resulting puzzles are nicely put together. But there are
also objects that stay in your inventory for a long time, becoming in
effect pointless red herrings should you be reduced to the old tried and
tested 'try every inventory object with everything' strategy.
acting in AOM2 is adequate, but lacking some dynamics, and is limited by
the clichéd two-dimensional characters. We have the grungy, grumpy French
detective, the angry, demanding, pressuring boss, the Cuban voodoo woman,
and the mysterious trench-coated fixer who's there one moment, then gone
the next. This last character was particularly annoying because he
suddenly shows up in a manner that suggests the designers simply couldn't
figure out any other way to move the plot forwards at that point.
what I found even more annoying was that it was clear from the dialogue
between him and Nicole that there was some previous working relationship
between them, but there was absolutely no context given in this game. I
suspect this has something to do with the nature of sequels. Perhaps if
you've played Art of Murder: FBI Confidential, you'll be pleasantly
surprised to see this character show up.
voice acting, the sound track is appropriately spooky and atmospheric, but
it is not stand-out marvellous. Now that I've finished playing the game,
I'm struggling to recall any details of it.
Any other novelties?
been puzzled by the ESRB ratings of games, and AOM2 is another example of
strange rating. It is rated Teen. Now, the story features some murders,
and the murder victims are clearly seen, but there is little or no blood
-- one of the features of the modus operandi of the killer -- so
the game isn't actually anywhere near as bloody or gory as many other
lower-rated games. Consequently, I suppose that the rating really comes
down to the implicit violence in the story, rather than the
explicit content of the game.
some games in which disjointed sections of game play work. For example,
stories where there are two or more lead characters whose plot lines begin
as separate threads, but whose journeys come together later on – these can
appear to be clumsy and unrelated to begin with. The big difference (apart
from the multi-threaded story) is that the disassociated becomes
associated, forming a bigger picture. Unfortunately, Art of Murder:
Hunt for the Puppeteer, whilst not actually having multiple threads of
narrative, gives you unmotivated location changes, breaking the plot into
parts that only belong together because there's one lead character and a
set of murders committed in the same style. To simplify: it was not always
clear to me why Nicole chooses to rush off suddenly to other
part of the plot that bothers me is, why would the FBI send a young novice
agent away to investigate a difficult case in a foreign country on her
own? A seasoned investigator with five years experience of policy
work, and some previous knowledge of liaison with a foreign police force
would be surely more sensible that a relative rookie, still wet behind the
ears, not long out of Quantico! Unless, of course, the FBI being portrayed
here couldn't care about the murderer now that he or she is not killing
people in the United States? Surely not.
AOM2 suffered from a horrible bug (on my 64-bit Vista system) where almost
all dialogue lines are cut-off halfway through. I had to rely on the
subtitles for 99% of the game. The recent patch available from the City
Interactive website made no difference to this at all.
disconcerting trip around a standard point and click serial murder mystery
set over several countries. The characters are determinedly clichéd and
two dimensional, some of whom show up with no explanation and vanish again
with similar rapidity. With the exception of the audio problems, the game
is technically solid -- I encountered no other bugs to speak of, the
animations are good, as are the environments. But none of these excuse the
jerky storytelling and sudden scene changes.
What do you need to play it?
CPU 2.0 GHz (1.6 GHz
Dual Core), running Windows XP/Vista
512 MB RAM
DirectX 9 (supplied on
nVidia GeForce or ATI
Radeon video Card with 64 MB RAM, compatible with DirectX 9
4 GB of free hard drive
space for installation
Keyboard & Mouse
(I used a
custom built 64-bit Vista Home Premium SP1 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64
X2 Dual 5200+, with 6 GB RAM, and an XFX nVidia GeForce 8600GT 256MB video
card with mother-board sound card)