I love a good whodunnit. This is a genre that never really gets explored enough in gaming in my opinion. We’ll get murder mysteries in the visual novel genre and that’s great but they aren’t usually very replayable. As most visual novels are, well, novels, when you’ve discovered the ending that’s it. So when you work out who your criminal mastermind is there isn’t much to do after that. What we want is replayability and a shifting story where any one of a number of suspects could be your killer at any given time and the plot changes to fit. This is something we don’t see a huge amount of, which is a shame because it’s something that would go down a storm amongst the cyber sleuthing community. Fortunately, we’re very much getting this with Murderous Muses, the game we’ll be investigating today. I’m having ridiculous amounts of fun with this one. Let’s get into why, shall we?
Before I go into the story and the mechanics of Murderous Muses I want to say a bit about the aesthetic that’s being used. Real-time acting is something that we’re seeing a lot more in gaming now than ever before and it’s something that I’m really fond of. If you want a bit more of a deep dive into this art choice, I played and thoroughly enjoyed The Gallery a few months ago and was bemoaning not seeing more real people revealing their excellent acting skills in other games. The difference between The Gallery and Murderous Muses is that the first was much more of an experience than what I’d call a traditional game. MurderousMuses on the other hand is absolutely a game with some very cool acting bits thrown in. This all adds to the ambiance, which is sinister, to say the least.
Murderous Muses is a game of layers. On one hand, you have the fact that an artist seemingly knew he was going to get murdered well enough in advance to paint portraits of the six suspects in the game. These portraits will then come to life and reveal important pieces of information about themselves and ultimately, what they were doing in the time leading up to the murder. It will be your job to work out who killed the artist and bring the culprit to justice. This is the core of the game and I’ll get to it in a moment. The other side of this title is that there’s something really Lovecraftian about the island you’re living on. You aren’t having weird hallucinations, the pictures are actually talking to you. You’ll learn some deeply unsettling things about Mirlhaven from the other pictures and artifacts in the gallery as you go. Things that aren’t divulged to the general public. The stories that are told are roughly the same, just with the really important bits missing.
Things are very different at night.
In Murderous Muses you’ll be taking on the role of the night guard at the gallery. Night at the Museum, however, this absolutely is not. During the day you’ll be doing jobs for Sasha, one of the gallery employees, and your predecessor. She’ll have you hanging paintings for her and will also supply you with a few interesting bits of information as you go. I’m very deliberately not going to give anything away other than that just like all the characters in this game there’s probably more to her than meets the eye. She will also have you choose paintings for her to take away to be sold or lent to important clients. This is important to the main game mechanic that I’ll come to in a moment. The gallery at night is a very different animal.
The muses. One is a killer.
At night you’ll be meeting a very different narrator. He is the one that will be filling in those missing bits of information that I mentioned earlier. Mirlhaven Island is a place of dark magic, secrets, cults, and lots of other nasty things that the average tourist probably wouldn’t want on their itineraries. In addition to this, the island appears to be alive. Let’s just say trying to dig holes in it is a really bad idea. As the story goes the celebrated artist Mordechai Grey painted portraits of six muses; important characters from around Mirlhaven. These range from the island coroner to Otto a ventriloquist with a slightly questionable dummy to Sunday; a celebrated tennis player and one of a pair of twins. On the surface, all of the characters are established pillars of society. As we start to learn more about them we realize that not one of them is squeaky clean and more importantly one of them killed Mordechai. It is our job to discover which of the six was the perpetrator.
Portraits must be placed in the order of the depicted subjects if they are to come alive.
Each night a new room will open up in the gallery and each of these exhibitions has empty spaces in which the six portraits can be hung. From the information we’re given, we need to place the pictures in the right spots and hit the plaque below. This will bring the picture to life and grant us information based on what’s on that plaque. If we unlock all of the information needed in the correct order a police interview will unlock and we’ll be able to get more clues as to who the murderer is. We’re given clips from a crime show that provide us with the information that we need to look for. So for example we might be told that Mordechai was subdued by being given a syringe full of Ketamin. The police interview will tell you whether that suspect had access to the drug. Over a period of three nights, you need to gather information and ultimately accuse one of the six.
An exhibition hall. Where and how you place portraits on these walls will be key to your success.
So this sounds fun but not particularly difficult, right? This title is a lot harder than it first appears. Each painting has six charges on it per night. Once you’ve used a charge and gained the information you need from a spot in the exhibition hall the plaque below will switch to a different subject. If you have three suspects needing the same subject you’ll have to be strategic about where you place your paintings. Each placement costs a charge and if you run out before unlocking the police interview you’ll need to wait until the following night to get another go. This makes your life more difficult because if you’re not careful you’ll have six charges to use over two or even three rooms instead of just one. If you don’t get all the information you need there’s a very real chance you’ll accuse the wrong suspect and that’s going to lead to a failed run. To make things more complicated you need to be careful that the pictures you give to Sasha are of suspects you’ve ruled out of your investigation. You might not get them back.
We don’t know who she is. It might be best not to.
At the same time everything I’ve mentioned above is going on you’ll unlock other rooms in the gallery. You’ll find puzzles dotted about the place and completing these will reveal urns and more information. As you place these urns you’ll find there’s something much deeper happening around you. You’ll also be able to unlock lore about each of the six muses as you go. You won’t do all of this in one sitting, by the way. Murderous Muses is a game you’ll play over multiple runs. The story and murderer will change each time and every time you play you’ll discover more about what’s happening on the island and also learn that our lauded painter isn’t all roses either.
There’s more to the gallery than paintings.
I absolutely love Murderous Muses. I completed my first run in about an hour and a half and instantly started again. The fact that the game changes with each playthrough makes you want to come back for more and the multi-layered nature of the story makes this title very hard to put down. Even if the core mechanics come over as a bit repetitive they can be seen as a vehicle for the plot and it’s this that makes this title shine. If you love a good whodunnit but also really like getting involved and unraveling a darker mystery this is absolutely going to be the game for you. I think I’m comfortable in saying that this is my favorite game of 2023 so far. The acting is brilliant, the writing is alluring and intriguing and the gameplay is fun. What more could you want? If you have an enquiring mind, this is the game for you.
Well worth a visit to Mirlhaven
Story - 10/10
Acting - 10/10
Replayability - 10/10
Concept - 10/10
Value for Money - 10/10
A game of layers
Murderous Muses is a game of investigation and brilliant storytelling. This is a title that gives you more every time you play and one that’s addictive enough and intriguing enough to keep pulling you back. Once you’ve been captured by the excellently written plot and wonderful acting you’ll have a hard time stepping away. This is a must for fans of a good whodunnit and puzzle fans alike. Overall there really isn’t much negative to say without picking holes. Really nicely done!
Hailing from Southport England, Alex started his gaming career in the late 80s on a Commodore 64. Since that time he's either owned or played on virtually every console released. Alex happens to... Read more...