I love ‘whodunnit’ mysteries, whether I’m watching a film or TV show, or playing a video game, I love piecing together the clues and coming to a conclusion of who did what, where, and why. More often than not I’m wrong, but that doesn’t stop me from becoming engrossed within the story, process, and thrill of the chase! Last week I had the absolute pleasure of playing through Murder Mystery Machine on the PlayStation 5 (via PS4 BC), putting me in control of uncovering evidence, clues, and leads, then using them to create a timeline in order to serve justice – it truly was a very unique experience.
The developers are Blazing Griffin, a studio best known for the incredible “The Ship” – a multiplayer murder party in which you have to try and eliminate your target without anyone seeing you. Murder Mystery Machine is quite different, focusing on an engaging single-player experience that requires you to make use of your little grey cells, rather than the art of stealth assassination, yet it’s just as exciting and incredibly satisfying. The publisher is Microïds, the creators of the incredible Syberia franchise and many other brilliant old-school point-and-click adventure games.
So, with these two studios working together, I went in expecting a brilliant experience that would immerse me and unlock the hidden sleuth within myself… But, did it? Let’s find out…
Murder Mystery Machine puts you in control of Cassandra Clarke, a rookie in the District Crime Agency who has been assigned to help out Nate Hudson, a reluctant burnt-out detective. Instead of easing you in gently, your first case is to investigate the murder of a prominent politician, a crime which may look like a botched robbery at first yet turns out to be much more. As such, you’ll progress through eight cases comprised of five or six chapters, each with a focus on a new part of the investigation, such as a new murder or key suspect.
As you progress throughout the main narrative, you’ll begin to uncover the truth behind the events which happened and why they took place, interlocking many separate events into a single agenda seamlessly. You can proceed to the next chapter having guessed, or worked out, the answers to the key questions asked within that chapter, but in order to achieve the highest score you’ll need to find and link every piece of evidence and clues correctly – which is much harder than it sounds.
Upon completing the game, you’re then free to backtrack and replay any chapter you wish in order to see if you can achieve a better grade than you originally obtained. However, whilst playing for the first time, you can not replay previous chapters so you’re encouraged to be as thorough as you can if you’re aiming to try and get the best possible result. So, there is plenty of replayability if you wish to try and unlock all of the trophies and costumes within the game, a feat that will prove to be rather difficult unless you resort to taking a cheeky look at an online guide.
Murder Mystery Machine is a mystery game that focuses heavily on its main key gameplay mechanic, uncovering evidence and clues then linking them together on an interactive crime board. I’ve dabbled with mechanics like this before, in games such as Phantom Doctrine, but this game requires you to use your head and think outside of the box more often than not as it isn’t always obvious what should be linked. As you correctly associate clues and theories, you’ll unlock new dialogue options with your partner, suspects, and witnesses, allowing you to uncover even more information to place upon the crime board.
The game has two main gameplay elements, the above process of using the things you’ve discovered to uncover new information and conclusions, and actually walking around the location as the protagonist, talking to people and looking for new evidence. The investigations take place in rotatable dioramas which are beautifully created, allowing you to see from every angle as they smoothly spin whilst the walls fall and rise based upon the angle you’re looking at them from. It reminded me of Captain Toad, you have to view the location from all angles in order to see things hidden from other views.
Each chapter asks for a few key answers in order to complete that particular scene. Sometimes it wants to know a ‘who’, or a ‘what’, and maybe a ‘why’ related to the events that have taken place. Only certain points on the crime board can be linked to these questions, you can’t assign the name of a person to a ‘location’, for example. Sometimes finding the answers will be simple and fast, other times you’ll have to drill right down into the spider’s web of clues in order for your character to finally come to the right conclusion and place the answer down so you can link it.
Crime board or Crime bored…
I love the concept of the crime board, uncovering evidence and clues as you wander around the various locations, then bring up the board in order to link the points together and uncover the correct conclusions. However, it’s not without its flaws. The game does try to give you a subtle hint by placing an icon over the key points you’ve uncovered, so you know they should be linked to something else in order to achieve the highest score and unlock new dialogue points, but that’s about as much help as you’re going to get without losing points in the process.
Some clues are easy enough to figure out what they should be associated with, such as the name of a suspect and the fact you found their prints on a gun. The easier connections will result in a prompt appearing saying that a new dialogue option has been unlocked, indicating that you’ve chosen wisely, but simply finding these connections won’t bag you anything above an A. If you’re going for an A+ (required for the costumes and trophies), then you have to use your little grey cells and link everything that’s relevant, whether the game has given you a blue hint icon or not.
This can be quite tedious as you only find out what your score is and how many things you’ve correctly linked AFTER you’ve completed the chapter, meaning if you missed one or two deductions then you’ll have to replay the entire chapter again. It would have been nice if it was like the Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games, letting you return to the point before you submitted your answer so you can try and achieve the maximum points – maybe not on the first playthrough, but certainly when replaying it via the chapter select post-completion.
I found the story quite enjoyable, each case focuses on a new mystery that ultimately ties into the underlined narrative, linking everything together into one long, drawn-out case – kind of how TV shows like The X-Files we presented in later seasons. You are given the option of two choices at the end of each case, allowing you to decide what happens to the person responsible for the crime or how you’ll co-operate with a third party that phones you regularly. However, I never quite understood how these choices made any difference to the game, either in the narrative or dialogue – maybe I missed the subtle changes?
The characters you talk to are all very one-dimensional. They’ll answer the questions you ask them but that’s it, I would have liked a bit more personality and maybe a few red herrings and lies thrown into the mix so that the conclusions were harder to uncover. However, considering how messy the crime boards can get, with all the red string, I imagine the addition of lots of false positives would have made it even more difficult to see what’s going on.
The game is also missing voice acting, which affects the immersion in my opinion. Murder Mystery Machine originally came out on Apple Arcade as an episodic release, so omitting voices is fine as you may be playing it on the go or in places where you can’t have the volume up to listen, but it would have been much better had they managed to bring in some voice actors for the console and PC releases. This isn’t a major fault, as I play many Visual Novels which are either voiced in Japanese or not voiced at all, but the inclusion would have helped present the NPCs personalities more, maybe allowing us to hear when we’re possibly being told a lie, as we see in games like L.A. Noire.
Each chapter presents you with a rank, The lowest I’ve got is a B and the highest is an A. Achieving a B is very easy as you can spam the Triangle button and get a ‘hint’ whenever you need a push in the right direction. The problem is, no matter how many hints you get, it only ever seems to knock you down to an overall B grade, even if you’ve done nothing but push that and copied the answer given to you on the screen. An A rank requires you to find the correct answer, link most of the clues correctly, and not ask for any hints, with the A+ rewarded for doing everything perfectly with nothing missed.
If you’re casually wanting to play through it and aren’t too bothered about the trophies, then the addition of the hint button is great as it means you can always have the next step shown to you without having to consult an online guide or walkthrough. However, as mentioned previously, if you’re going for an A+ in all cases then you’re either required to play each chapter multiple times until you’ve done everything or you’ll have to look up a guide online.
I believe the developers are looking at possibly adding a way to easily track your progress and score (based on the Steam forum), so a future update should make this more accessible.
I firmly believe the game is currently easy enough for anyone of any skill level to pick up and play without any frustration or difficulty. Obviously, completing a chapter without using any hints and obtaining a good grade is very satisfying, but if you do get stuck then help is merely the push of a button away.
I played Murder Mystery Machine on my PS5 via PS4 Backwards Compatability – was this a smooth and bug-free experience? For the most part, yes, it was faster to load than the PS4 Pro (I played it on both eventually) and it only crashed three times during the later chapters – but that could be my console, so I’m not pinning that on the game. However, there was an issue that I’ve mentioned to the developers on Twitter, the lighting…
On both the PS5 and PS4 Pro, once you reach case five you’ll begin to see an issue with the lighting – as it’s also on the PS4, it’s not a BC issue, as I originally thought. Instead of the light bleeding smoothly around the edges of the diorama when in the bright park, you get an obvious gradient with a blocky non-blended glow. This is very different to what I saw on Youtube from people playing it on PC. This offputting effect transitions inside of buildings with certain light sources, such as the bar and the desk in the newspaper office – it’s like playing a game in 8-bit colour mode (if you’re old enough to remember what that’s like).
The above doesn’t take anything away from the gameplay, it just distracts you from the otherwise beautifully designed environments and characters within this semi-cartoon world. I’m hoping that it’s an easy fix and can be patched to correctly disperse the light on the various assets, but it’s not a flaw that should stop you from experiencing the game.
What I love about Murder Mystery Machine are the art style and detailed gameplay. The characters and environments are semi-cartoon, as mentioned above, almost caricatures of humans yet not too over the top. The protagonist, for example, is a sassy-looking black woman with an afro about three times as big as her head. Each of the locations are also realistic enough to recognise yet very colourful and simplistic in design. My only disappointment is that I wish the chapters were full of things to find and uncover which aren’t highlighted for you, allowing you to determine what is and isn’t a clue in the case without the game only letting you obtain things that the protagonist believes are important.
There’s a lot of ambient noises within each chapter that helps immerse you within that particular area, with subtle music in some which you can hear in the background. It’s a shame there’s no voice acting throughout, requiring you to think how you expect each character would sound in your head, but it’s not a big issue if you play a lot of Visual Novels or read books.
In regards to the performance and quality, I have no idea what the resolution and framerate are. It feels like it’s 30fps (which is a shame as the PS5 could have easily run the game at 60fps), and the resolution looks like it could be 1080p. However, due to the art style used, it looks very clean and sharp on my 4K TV. There were no performance issues but the game does have a strange control ‘issue’. Every now and again, usually when you’ve just talked to someone or looked at the evidence, the protagonist won’t move for about 2 seconds – even if you’re pushing the Thumb Stick. She’ll eventually move, but it is a little annoying.
One thing I do love is the fact you can zoom right in or out on both the crime board and investigation screens. This means you can actually read the text (which is very small sometimes on a 4K TV) and get a closer look at the creative characters and environments as you walk around.
Murder Mystery Machine is a thought-provoking puzzle game that requires you to think outside of the box if you wish to obtain the best grade. Rather than having you solve the crimes committed by simply talking to and arresting the suspects, you must piece together the who, why, where, and how through the use of the initiative crime board mechanic. However, in order to get the best result, you must leave no stone left unturned and ensure you link every possible clue and conclusion to the correct reason and motive – which is very hard, even for veteran puzzle gamers. It delivers an interesting story over eight cases, full of suspects, clues, red herrings, beautiful dioramas, and victims, but can a rookie solve one of the biggest cases of her career?
If you like mystery puzzle games that require you to think about everything rather than having it handed to you on a plate, then Murder Mystery Machine is for you. Sure, there’s a button that literally shows you what to do next, but if you restrain from using it then completing the chapter is much more satisfying and rewarding. I may have felt lost and confused on a few occasions, but going over previously found evidence and talking to the people in the area allowed me to logically work out what I should be doing next – I’ve not played a game quite like this before.
Murder Mystery Machine£15.99
- - It's very satisfying to complete a chapter without any hints as you really need to think about it
- - The art style is very playful, presented as caricatures to lighten the dark undertones of the narrative
- - The story is interesting, linking all eight cases to a single narrative which runs throughout
- - Although the game can be a little confusing and tricky, it does have a hint button which allows people of all skill levels proceed without frustration
- - There's no voice acting, making the characters feel a little one-dimensional
- - I would have liked more red herrings and maybe the ability to proceed with incorrect conclusions that alter the story a little
- - Obtaining an A+ requires you to be perfect, yet you don't know how well you've done until you finish a chapter
- - There are some technical issues with the lighting in later chapters but I imagine these will be fixed via a patch