Known simply as The Abbey in Europe, and
still identified as such on the opening screens and the credits, Murder
in the Abbey is an animated reminder of games from times past that
also owes a very obvious debt to The Name of the Rose.
When asked what inspired him to write The Name of
the Rose, author Umberto Eco once said something along the lines of:
ďI felt like killing a monkĒ. Someone else clearly felt like killing one
too. And why stop at one? Having one brother crushed by a large metal
censer may simply be careless, but losing another one to a well aimed
shovel is, wellÖmurder.
And in an abbey at that. The abbey Nuestra Senora de
la Natividad, to be specific.
Not even the presence of the erudite brother
Leonardo of Toledo and his less erudite acolyte Bruno puts a stop to the
deeds most horrid. Leonardo has travelled to deliver Bruno to the arms of
the brothers, but finds an abbot with a death to be solved and an abbey
full of talk of devils and the supernatural. It is Leonardo whom you pilot
through the game.
Anyone familiar with The Name of the Rose
will see similarities, including that the story is a definite strong
point. Itís well written, full of intrigue, and dotted throughout with a
little wit and a little wisdom. It is well delivered by an engaging cast
of monks, each with a distinct personality -- some more eccentric than
others. There is a rush of exposition at the end, but it is not too out of
step with the style of novel it is emulating, and it is introduced with a
nice dig at what is to come.
Murder in the Abbey
is also, across-the-board, one of the better voiced games I have played
for quite a while. Bruno was overdone, and one or two others a bit
strained, but it really is a topnotch cast.
It does get very wordy, and it is often more of an
animated interactive story than a game. The limited number of out-and-out
puzzles adds to that feel, and those that exist are not terribly
difficult. Most of the conundrums in the game are inventory based Ė find
and use the right items in the correct way. Like many such games, some are
a touch obtuse and one at least is completely illogical in its
construction. But there are a lot of them, and patience and an awareness
of the goings-on will get you through the bulk of them, albeit with some
There is plenty to examine, lots of conversations to
be had. Left clicking will usually bring a comment on whatever it is you
are examining, right clicking will usually cause you to look closer.
Things you can look at have hotspots, and nothing else does. No action
cursers, nothing to differentiate something else to do. Perhaps you will
pick something up, or perhaps you wonít. Maybe you can interact with the
item by using another item, and maybe you canít. So think about your
objectives (which may be helped by consulting Leonardoís diary in the
inventory), and try to think laterally.
The conversation trees can be quite lengthy, the
resulting dialogue even longer. Much of it simply fills in details and
helps bring life to the story, but key conversations will trigger
progression of the events. You may learn something that will open a new
line of questioning, or the trigger may be less obvious. I am sure there
were conversations I had where I was simply unaware anything significant
You will have to revisit many locations, and talk
again and again to many characters. There were certainly times when I
thought this was a bit aimless. I wandered around hoping to find something
different in a scene or with a character without really having any idea of
what the difference was that I was looking for. I confess that I tend to
resort to walkthroughs more in these types of games than I do in more
puzzle-oriented games - the story is the thing and I want to keep it
moving. But whilst I did need a nudge here and there to get past a few
lengthy meanderings, the writing and characterisation present here
encouraged me to persist where I otherwise might not have.
At times the dialogue is a little clunky, and once
there was a conversation loop where the same thing was said all over again
(no, I didnít ask the same question twice). But it pretty much flows very
nicely. Some conversation options disappear when you have used them; at
other times they remain even though there seems to be nothing new to be
said. This may confuse some players, but was not really a significant
issue. Whilst there are sometimes different options with respect to
answers to questions, there are no wrong answers.
A small point is that Leonardo speaks the line that
you choose for him from the dialogue trees. I much prefer that to games
where the line is not spoken, but simply read by you.
Some hotspots are somewhat tiny, and some occur even
when you canít see the item itself (a lock and a motif come to mind).
Items will also not be present in some locations until later in the game,
even if you have already searched their eventual location. So revisiting
is, again, the name of the game. This is assisted by a map, which you can
use to jump to any location (but not at night). The map is a particularly
useful feature, given that Leonardo likes to stroll calmly everywhere he
goes. A double click on an exit will load the next screen, but traversing
a self-contained screen (the main screen of the church for instance) can
take Leonardo a fair bit of time. No doubt it isnít easy to run in the
raiment of a monk.
The orchestral soundtrack is very good, jaunty at
times and full of foreboding at others. Sound effects are limited to the
actions going on; the music takes the place of ambient sounds. (Or there
were so few I simply didnít notice.) Most of the effects are realistic
enough, although watering the garden was a complete dud.
Murder in the Abbey
is also well drawn and animated. The colour palette of its cartoon
presentation is washed out and muted, which suits the generally drab
nature of the abbey and the sombre goings-on. There are flashes of
vibrancy, however, which heighten the effect when it is used. Inquisitor
Nazario and the treasure trove are cases in point. Cutscenes can be
somewhat blotchy when motion is involved, but many have a cinematic
quality about them.
As the story is the thing, I will say no more about
it, other than to say that many adventure game players put a lot of stock
in the story. If you are one of them, you will probably find that this one
offers you a fair bit of what you enjoy.
That said, there were times when I did want a bit
more ďplayĒ. You canít save during conversations or cutscenes, and there
was one period where I waited for what seemed like about ten minutes to be
able to do anything more than click a conversation option to propel the
game forward. At other times, it was like turning digital pages in an
online comic book - I wanted to do more. Hence my description of an
interactive story, albeit a good one.
You can tweak a fair few settings, including
adjusting the voice, music and effects volume, an option I like having
available. Subtitles can be on or off, and the inventory can sit in a
sidebar to the game screen, or will appear as a pop-up when you move the
curser to the top of the screen. The save screen comes up via the escape
key, and you simply double click a space to save a picture of your current
location. No questions to answer about whether you are sure and no having
to name the save. Simplicity itself. Double click to load a game.
The game comes on three CDs, but once loaded there
is no disc-swapping. I did have a minor palpitation when I first started
the game. For 30 seconds everything froze on the desktop and I thought I
was in for some trouble. But it started fine, and ran without trouble and
took that long to load each and every time I started. So donít panic if
that happens to you Ė just be more patient than I was!
Another small point (or a big one depending upon
your predilections). There is one slider puzzle.
All in all, I had fun with the murderous monks in
their mountain abbey. Murder in the Abbey is a little linear (a lot
really, but you can pretty much wander around to your heartís content from
the get-go), a bit un-game like, and not terribly puzzling, but its
strengths lift it up and make it worth the investment. It is a respectable
length, suitable for all ages, and will especially suit less experienced
players. If Leonardo really does go back to the Court of the Emperor, I
will likely go with him.