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Review #208

Murder in the Abbey
Developer: Alcachofa Soft
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 08/30/2008

Murder in the Abbey, or just, The Abbey as the game tends to call itself, was a title I was looking forward to all year. Heck, I’ve been watching it for more than a year actually, checking in on the developer’s website every few weeks and really enjoying how it was a homage to the visuals of the old Lucasarts point and click games like Grim Fandango, and The Secret of Monkey Island. I fell in love with the art style the second I saw it and thankfully, The Adventure Company decided to bring it over saving me the cost and time to import the title from Europe via Crimson Cow.

God knows this has been the month for adventure games, with the quality being as high as The Sinking Island and as low as Dracula 3. Murder in the Abbey marks my fifth Adventure game this MONTH, but it’s also the one I’ve been most excited to play. So did my journey to a Benedictine Abbey live up to my own personal hype, or did it fall as flat as a certain other fang filled Adventure game that came out this month?

Let’s Review

1. Story

As you might guess from the title, the game revolves around well, a murder in an abbey. You play as Leonardo de Toledo, a monk famous for his wisdom and knowledge. He arrives at the abbey with a 14 year old boy named Boris in tow. Boris, is a character you will grow to hate due to his stupidity…and the fact he triggers a game destroying bug.

When you arrive at the abbey the abbot has a mission for you. It seems a 200 lb. censer landed on the head of one of the monks and he suspects foul play. In fact, the Abbot suspects the devil himself might have had a hand in the demise of this monk.

As you question the other brothers of the abbey, you learn that the deceased was not well liked, but that people’s opinions on his death range from accident to murder to demonic influences. It’s up to you and your insufferable sidekick to find out who is responsible.

I was really impressed with the plot. The game was obviously inspired by In the Name of the Rose, but it’s still very distinct and quite intriguing. I was also impressed with the cast of characters. There are over a dozen fully fleshed out characters in the game (including a plant), which is quite a few characters for a point and click game. Even with the number of characters, each one manages to be fully fleshed out. In fact, there is SO MUCH detail about each character, some gamers might wish for a little LESS background info.

The game is very long for an adventure game, hitting RPG lengths in terms of hours to complete, but the story is very rewarding and masterfully done. Some might be put off the constant talk of Christianity, god-fearing folk, and the level of importance placed on religion in this title, but it’s realistic considering the setting. I found the plot to be well worth the price of admission, and would love to see an animated feature based on it.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

My god is this game beautiful. It’s the perfect blend of 3-d animation with an outright homage to the animation stylings of classic 2-D adventure games ranging from Grim Fandango to Dragon’s Lair The game’s characters look and feel exactly like what you would see in a cartoon. Watch that opening cinematic with Leonardo on his horse in the rain and if you’re not in love with the art style by the end of it, then you have no soul.

The backgrounds however are quite realistic looking. They are highly detailed and I’m impressed with all the little things put in.

There’s actually quite a bit of animation in this game, which is quite unusual for an Adventure game. Usually things are quite static except for the occasional movement of your main character, especially in a third person point and click. Here however, other characters often move, as do aspects of the background, and this was a real treat to see.

Murder in the Abbey is an exceptionally stylish game that oozes charm out of every pixel. It’s not the most graphically intense game you’ll ever play, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the prettiest.

Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

Murder in the Abbey is a shoo-in for our “Best Audio” award at the end of the year. The entire score is done by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. My god is the music amazing. If you’re a fan of chant or classic music, you will want to listen to this soundtrack. What’s great is that if you go to the developer’s website, you can download pieces from the soundtrack. It’s truly sublime, and as I said earlier, Endless Ocean might have a strong challenger this year for the audio award.

The voice acting is top notch as well. Well Godfried drives me insane with his high pitched chatter, but the voice does fit the character well, so I have to let that slide. This is a remarkable cast, displaying a wide range of accents. I was very happy with both the authentic emotions espoused by the cast and the overall believability. Again, give me these actors, and this development team and let them make a movie of the game, and I will be the first to pre-order it.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control and Gameplay

And here’s where the game falls apart. Quite honestly, Murder in the Abbey is one of the WORST Adventure games I have ever had to play. The control scheme is awful, the game has some bugs that force you to start from your last save, it has issues interacting with VISTA to where I had to turn a few controls off just to get it to load onto my computer, and the gameplay made me loath the game as much as the visuals and audio made me love it.

Let’s start with the controls. There is no direct moving button in the game. You have to left click or right click on something in order to interact with it. The left button simply has Leonardo talk about the item in questions, while the right button is the button for interacting, talking and using things. This took some time to get used.

Then there’s the horrible way of interacting with the inventory. If you want to check your diary or see what items you have, you have to move your mouse towards the top of the screen and it will automatically open. What’s so bad about that you ask? Well what happens when there’s something you want to look at near the top of the screen or something you want to interact with. You guessed it – automatic inventory opening! This got annoying quite fast and this aspect of the game alone brought me to profanity several times. And in an Abbey! Shame on me.

Picking up items for your collection was poorly done as well. You click on an item but then your cursor stick to that item and it just floats around in space. To add it to your collection you have to bring it up towards to screen, make the inventory screen open up, but it in, then drag your cursor towards the bottom of the screen to close the inventory option. Yeesh. You can also double click on the item to get rid of it. Way too long, and way too annoying.

There is a map option that can be called up by clicking the M button. Instead of having to walk everywhere, you can just click on a point in the abbey to bring it up. However, once you do bring up the map, there is no way to cancel out of it. You must pick a location and click on that. This means if you if you accidentally bring it up just to see where you are, as everyone is bound to do when they first play the game, they might have to reset the location they are in. Another big fat thumb’s down.
There’s also the problem that there is no option to make Leonardo run. Instead he will walk at the speed of molasses. At least other Adventure games give you the option to move your character along faster. Not here though.

Finally there are some game breaking bugs that will make you want to put down your mouse forever. Here’s an example. Early on, I talked to all the monks I could at that point, but I had only collected a pot, a crucifix and a rolling pin. Then I saw a well and clicked on it, and Bruno promptly fell in and was unable to get out. I had no items that would allow me to rescue him, and if I tried to go in search of an item in another area on the map or even outside this specific location, the game would not let me and Leonardo’s voice actor would admonish me saying, “There’s no time to lose! We have to get Bruno out of the well.” Well I’d love to but YOU. WON’T. LET ME. Oh my god, I am STILL angry about that bit, and that’s not the only time something like that comes up. The fact there are places in the game that outright halt your progress and force you to reset the game is inexcusable, especially in a game that forces you to manually save the game in a very time consuming process. How this got through quality control is beyond me.

In short, there is absolutely nothing I enjoyed about actually PLAYING this game. It’s arguably the most poorly designed Adventure game I’ve ever played, and considering how solid the vast majority of them are, this was a real heartbreaker for me. I can’t think of a single positive thing to say about the control/gameplay, which is sad considering how much I loved the other aspects of this title.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 1/10

5. Replayability

There are no extras or hidden secrets in Murder in the Abbey It’s very linear, but The game made me very sad because I loved the story, but I know I will run in the other direction with my arms waving if I am ever asked to play it again. This is why I have harped about this would be a better cartoon then game. You’d have great graphics, a wonderful plot, a well rounded cast…and none of the gameplay issues that kill this thing dead.

If you can overlook the control scheme that seems to be my antithesis of what an adventure game should be, then you’ll probably get a lot out of Murder in the Abbey For me though the controls overshadowed the positive aspects of the game and so I can’t say anything will move me to play this again.

Replayability Rating: 2/10

6. Balance

This is kind of a hard category to properly judge. Unlike most Adventure games that have an equal ratio of puzzles to gameplay time thanks to their length of only a few hours, Murder in the Abbey is exceptionally long and there are huge gaps without anything to solve or do other then talk and walk. The story is good, but many times I felt like I was playing more of an interactive novel then a video game.

Occasionally when there is a puzzle or dilemma it’s pretty easy to solve…as long as you’re not stuck due to a bug ala the aforementioned well incident. Murder in the Abbey really relies more on story bits and memorizing little plot details that may come up later (Simply non game spoiling hint: The cook is using Oregano and Thyme) then any weird puzzle solutions like using a dead hollowed out beaver carcass for a siphon. Bonus points if you can name the game that does that kids!

The progression of the story is well thought out and it’s pretty elementary to the point where even the worst Adventure gamer can stumble by through the miracle of guess and check. But again, this makes Murder in the Abbey far less a game and more akin to one of those Phantasy Star electronic novels for your Sega Game Gear.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

Well, the game has its obvious homage to In the Name of the Rose and so it loses a few points there, but overall, the game tries to do things differently. It has a very refreshing visual style. It has a really fun plot with historically accurate settings, attitudes, and personalities. It has a hideous control scheme that defies sanity and logic and makes me want to jump up and down on the game shrieking bloody murder. At least they tried to innovate the generic controls of an Adventure game, right?

Points for trying. I just wish they had actually succeeded. Yes the Adventure genre can be pretty formulaic, but Murder in the Abbey does try to break away and do its own thing.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

You have no idea how badly I wanted to write, “Hahahahahahaha. Next.” and call it a day with this category. But that wouldn’t have been honest. I loved the game’s cinematics, its characters and the story. I marveled at the visuals and fell in love with the soundtrack. So the game did suck me in somewhat. Murder in the Abbey is a such a Jekyll and Hyde game for me. I loved it. I hated it. I want to see a cartoon version of the game. I wanted to set fire to the box and discs and mail the ashes to the developer.

Middle of the road here. A shame too. If the controls and bugs were worked out, this game would have been an Adventure GOTY contender.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

I’m considered somewhat of an Adventure game apologist amongst other mainstream sites since I give them the same amount of care, coverage and respect other sites would give to say, Halo 3 or Final Fantasy XVILMIV. I generally love them for the plots and old school gameplay, and my staff has been known to duck for cover when there is a point and click I can’t tend to personally.

I think a lot of gamers would enjoy the story, the graphics, and the aural aspects. But the gameplay? I freaking LOVE Adventure games and this game drove me nuts. That means only the most ardent Adventure gamer will walk away from this one content. Even then, a lot will probably complain about the control scheme and how it could have been SO much better had they not royally screwed it up. You know, like I am right now.

Appeal Factor Rating: 2/10

10. Miscellaneous

The game just feels rushed. The US release name is “Murder in the Abbey,” but everything in the game just says “The Abbey.” Heck, the developer’s website doesn’t even acknowledge the US name, and it’s in English. There’s an obvious disconnect between the publisher and developer, between the style and the substance, between the core aspects of the game itself, and ultimately with the gamer themselves as one has to come to terms with both the amazing and the god awful aspects of the game. In the end, you’re paying $19.99 for one of the longest Adventure games I’ve ever played and there’s a lot of good things about this title. The sloppiness and lack of quality control can at times overshadow that and it prevents me from being able to recommend this game.

There’s a lot of talent here though and I hope to see a sequel arise correcting the plethora of mistakes this game contains.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Story: 7
Graphics: 10
Sound: 10
Control and Gameplay: 1
Replayability: 2
Balance: 5
Originality: 5
Addictiveness: 5
Appeal Factor: 2
Miscellaneous: 5
Total Score: 52
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (MEDIOCRE GAME)

Short Attention Span Summary

I definitely have a love-hate relationship with Murder in the Abbey. I adore the visuals and it sports a soundtrack and cast that have to be heard to be believed. However the game plays about as well as Heroes of the Lance for the NES, which will drive most gamers insane with rage. Ultimately it’s the awful controls and gameplay that gamers will remember most about this title, which is a shame because the story and artistic direction are sublime.

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