I often like to give little games I’ve never heard of a shot. Occasionally I’ll end up stumbling onto an underappreciated gem, while other times I’m made to wade through the depths of annoying indie pretentiousness to the point where I question why I even bother. Peter Moorhead’s Murder is most definitely the latter, and it’s telling that it’ll take me longer to write this review than it took to finish the game three times. Shortness isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, of course, but when the writing is cringe-inducingly terrible throughout and culminates in a middle finger from the developer, there’s really no excuse for the game to also be unfinished.
And unfinished it is!
This is an unfinished episodic game despite its store pages never seeming to mention so. If you have any doubt about that, consider this post from Peter Moorhead himself where he basically says more episodes are written, but they could only release what little they did because of budget limitations. It’s kind of hilarious when you think about it, because they surely wasted some of that budget on the woefully subpar voice acting. Had they instead released the game with no voice acting whatsoever and an expanded story that actually ties together in a coherent way, it wouldn’t be a good game by any stretch of the imagination (owing to the low level of the writing), but it’d at least be less bad.
Let’s talk about the writing
I have no idea which part of the story I’m supposed to latch onto. There’s a dream where the main character sees the villain before ever meeting them, but this is never explained. There’s a vague undercurrent of “robots have become self-aware enough that owning them mirrors slavery and humans are inconsistent in their values because of this,” but it’s never explored in any real depth. The characters are shown to be universally obnoxious and unlikable, but I honestly can’t tell if that’s something done on purpose or just a side effect of being poorly written. The main character in particular begins by being grating, showing herself to be overwhelmingly rude to others, but this isn’t used as an avenue to have her grow as a character. The closest thing to a character arc is her sudden decision that she doesn’t care anymore at the very end, which comes across more like the writer throwing his hands up as the budget dried up and going, “eh, good enough.”
Possibly worse is a scene where someone starts to talk to her about cosmetics, and she outright says that she wouldn’t know about them. This scene serves no purpose except to establish this about her character. There’s got to be a word for the trope of the writer including their ideal (but attainable) dream girl into their writing, but if it exists, I don’t know it. The whole thing is awkward, though, and I couldn’t get it out of the back of my mind while playing that the game’s plot and characters were included solely for the sake of the writer rather than serving any real purpose to the story or players. Put simply, I couldn’t get the “fan fiction author putting out their first original work” taste out of my mouth while playing.
But wait! There’s more!
If you click on every single optional hotspot and listen to the dialogue without skipping past it, a playthrough will take you 15 or so minutes. If you skip through the game as fast as possible, it’s maybe a third of that, with most of the game consisting of watching the main character slowly shuffle across the screen. When I discovered that there’s an alternate ending you can get on a second playthrough (I’m not sure what triggers this, but just clicking everything seemed to do it), I was happy. “Maybe they’ll actually tie some of this miscellaneous randomness together,” I thought to myself. Instead, a completely new character showed up, took the main character through the same couple locations the rest of the game takes place in, and then basically broke the fourth wall to tell the player that the game creator always wins and that it knows you’re confused, but that it’s not going to answer your questions and that you lack the ability to even ask. Which is true, because the interactivity in this game is virtually nonexistent. It’s a huge middle finger.
The graphics are decent enough
One of the few things I actually liked quite a bit about Murder is its sprite graphics, which capture that cyberpunk kind of vibe pretty well. I suppose the obvious downside is that there are only a few actual locations in the entire game, and you can’t actually explore them. They’re just set pieces to be thrown around and repeated several times, but they look nice enough regardless.
The music is hit and miss
Most of the in-game music captures the futuristic vibe, and some of it is actually really good. Again, the primary problem is that there’s so little of it because of the game’s comically short length. There’s also the title screen, which seems to randomly choose from a few different tracks that can play as title screen music when you start the game. One of these is an aggressive rap song that’s totally out of place; it doesn’t fit the title screen or game at all, and it’s noticeably louder than the other music so as to catch you by surprise the first time it plays. I suppose in that regard it fits the story’s completely bipolar mishmash of nonsense perfectly.