As anyone who’s scrolled through the William Gibson hell-scape that is a videogame comment section will attest, the length of a game can sometimes be a contentious issue. Considering a consumers’ value for money against what may be the ideal, taut, lean length of a particular game can sometimes make a critics’ mind run circles. Ubisoft games may have hundreds of hours of “content” (with as many inverted commas as my editor will allow), but how much value does faffing around a lifeless world actually constitute? I only bring it up because I’ve just finished playing Peter Moorhead’s point-n-click “short story” Murder. An adventure which, if Steam is to believed, took me 31 minutes to run through twice. But I’m not going to be writing about whether the brevity is worth the asking price. The swift carpet ride to the credits was a Godsend in this case, I was feeling insulted by the end of the tutorial.
Have you ever read I, Robot before? Seen Ghost in the Shell? Have you ever farted vaguely in the direction of a Waterstones? If so then Murder’s central theme will already be a tired cliché to you. The few lines of dialogue you’re given feed into the basic idea of robot sentience, whether a constructed A.I. can develop a sense of self and the moral implications that come with it. It’s the kind of stuff you’ll become bored with from half-reading a few Philip K. Dick blurbs. Nothing is new here, and the lazy topic isn’t at all handled well. I genuinely laughed when a character is disturbed by the knowledge that a robot is capable of murder – something akin to a zombie movie where two-thirds of the run time is spent discovering the shocking detail that they can be killed by being shot in the head. The meagre script has the hallmarks of a teenager excitedly ripping-off Bladerunner, failing at every step.
Let me run through the entirety of the plot for you. Normally I would be conscious of spoilers but I have the responsibility of writing something with that reaches an adequate word count (take notes Mr. Moorhead), so I need to pad this as much as possible. You’re jolted awake by a nightmare: an android shooting you in the face. From there you walk, excruciatingly slowly, to a crime scene where you’re immediately sent back home. Your apartment has been broken into. Shock and horror. So in a tense scene you decide to draw your gun and walk, excruciatingly slowly, to confront the perpetrator. You shoot the robotic criminal and he monologues a-tonally about humanity’s lack of a moral code. The protagonist proclaims, for a reason that I’m sure makes sense in the writer’s head, that she doesn’t care anymore. Fade to credits.
I don’t want to sound like I’m relishing in being cruel. It’s obvious that Peter Moorhead is passionate about his work, and I’m sure he developed many calluses putting this together. Despite the ignorant pretentiousness, there’s small moments of interest. Under certain conditions you’re given an extra scene that wouldn’t feel entirely out-of-place in a Haruki Murakami novel; a mysterious man spouts cod-philosophy, seemingly trying to draw clumsy lines between the player’s agency over the story and the plight of the robots themselves. Moorhead is clearly capable of reaching greatness. But Murder is mired by a patronising lack of subtlety, a lack of any interesting ideas, and an already short run time which is lengthened by stretches of waiting.
I’d assume that anyone reading this was drawn in by the gorgeous pixel art. For a man of a certain generation, it’s a warm nostalgic embrace. It’s an impression of what you fondly remember your favourite Lucas Art adventures as looking like, rather than what they actually were. Again, it recalls the past – most specifically, the wonderful point-n-click version of Bladerunner. Like the rest of Murder, it suffers from being a simulacrum instead of having any original ideas. The dystopian, cyber-punk mesh of western and eastern industrialisation have gone beyond parody at this point, there’s an entire musical genre which uses its retro-futurism as an ironic aesthetic. It’s pretty. Very, very pretty. But a lack of any unique selling point detracts from it.
Similarly, the music was produced with great talent and skill. I’m in awe of the musicians capable of making such soaring Vanegelis sound-a-likes. But again, this is the 80’s overused idea of futurism. This particular sound has already gone through several resurgences in popularity – there’s nothing that speaks personally of the musicians. It’s often drowned out by the fully voiced, thankfully of minor quality, dialogue. The voice actors are amateurs, it’s easy to tell, but not entirely grating. Sometimes what’s meant to be cool indifference ends up as childish petulance, or a character will sound unreasonably annoyed for no discernible reason. But otherwise it’s fine, it never reaches any great height but rarely trips into Resident Evil awfulness either.
I think it’s fair to say that I disliked Murder. I disliked the Kojima-level lack of subtlety, I disliked the lumbering pacing where the game forces you to wait for a lift to arrive, I disliked how pleased it seems with itself despite having magpied every scene from a better written work. But in spite of all this, I feel for the developers: their talents could have been put to use so much better. The artists deserve a game that stretches their skills toward something less generic. The musicians involved deserve a game that can live up to their graceful melodies. And, although it contradicts with everything I’ve written so far, Peter Moorhead deserves more – he’s in the early stages of piecing together his own voice in Murder. I’m eagerly anticipating what will come after it’s had time to gestate.
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