Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer


Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    City Interactive

Released:  February 2009

PC Requirements:   see review below.





by gremlin


What is it? 

Murder, 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.

As might 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?

The story 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.

Okay, so 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....?

Eventually 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.

This 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.

Perhaps 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?

AOM2 is 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.

Your 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 game menu.

You can 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.

For the 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 the inventory.

There is 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.

The bulk 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?

Notable Features

There are 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 Cuba.

There are 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.

The voice 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.

Actually, 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.

Like the 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?

I've often 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.


There are 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 countries.

The 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.

Finally, 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.


A slightly 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.

Grade: C+

What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements

  • CPU 2.0 GHz (1.6 GHz Dual Core), running Windows XP/Vista
  • 512 MB RAM
  • DirectX 9 (supplied on the DVD)
  • nVidia GeForce or ATI Radeon video Card with 64 MB RAM, compatible with DirectX 9
  • DirectX compatible sound card
  • 4 GB of free hard drive space for installation
  • DVD-ROM Drive
  • 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)

May, 2009

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