The way we see it, there’s only one hue instantly associable with whodunits: bright, sticky crimson. According to Mikael Nyqvist and MDNA Games’ latest Carol Reed adventure, The Color of Murder (fifth in the series and a standalone tale unto itself), though? Bright pastel hues, dark shadows and brilliant outdoor scenes awash in greens and sky blues.
One of the more compelling yarns in the franchise, solid storytelling, a catchy cast of characters and pleasing variety of head-scratching mindbenders help offset a high difficulty level to satisfy current fans and newcomers alike.
Foreboding title aside, the outing’s much the same as previous episodes in the series: A fairly upbeat exercise in hunting for clues, sniffing out on-screen hotspots and conducting suspect interrogations, with occasional allusions to darker topics lending the proceedings a hint of creepiness. But by and large, the saga – once again starring the Nancy Drew-like Carol, a twenty-something Englishwoman who dodders around Sweden solving mysteries – is mostly suitable for those aged 13 and up, adopting a chipper stance to suspenseful storytelling.
Here, your neighbor Willy suspects his son of having been involved in a murder, given a recent disappearing act and the discovery of a dubious envelope in the lad’s trash. Which, of course, is where you come in, helping the budding sleuth to crack the case and ultimately save the day by blazing through a variety of logic- and item-based puzzles.
Anyone who’s played a desktop adventure since the days of Myst should be instantly comfortable with the setup, as you explore forgotten mines, hip apartments, rural homesteads and abandoned military sites via the mouse. Simply waggle the cursor around a series of photographs – atop which graphic filters have been overlaid to give the game a watercolor aesthetic – to examine your surroundings.
Find a point of interest – e.g. a room you can enter or drawer you can open – and the prompt turns into an arrow, hand or gear, letting you move to a different view or interact with and take objects. While not fully animated or presented in true 3D, each single-screen view and digitized personality you’ll chat with (simply click written responses to converse with these characters) looks great, and comes across as convincingly atmospheric. Featured bevy of foreign personalities, overseas-flavored locations and strong accents aside, people and surroundings aren’t gorgeous, fictionalized Hollywood versions of reality, but rather the sort you’d expect to encounter in everyday life instead.
A comfy tutorial gets you up and rolling, and lets you quickly dive into the episode. Still, we wish it were easier to get one’s bearings, as the next step in your quest isn’t always apparent, and disorienting perspectives often obscure forward progress. It’s hard enough hunting for clues in cluttered environments and discovering clever ways to combine inventory items without having to worry about accidentally skipping over a well-disguised hotspot or location.
Then again, you do have constant access to Carol’s notebook, which can provide general insight in a jam, and send you speeding off to correct map locations instead of wasting time with red herrings. But there’s no reason hints couldn’t be implemented that provide deeper insight into specific conundrums, or more extensive explanations given of certain objects and how you might interact with them.
Running between crime scenes and theater workshops does prove surprisingly engaging though, thanks to slick voice-overs, smart puzzle design and moody music. You’ll want to keep at the quest as much to get a glimpse of the next attractively haunting locale as further the occasional plot twist. Although only good for one jaunt through – once you’ve completed the tale, there’s no sense hearing it twice – expect to enjoy several evenings’ worth of entertainment.
In fact, while light on action-packed excitement, the title’s slow to boil script and deliberately-paced thrills make a suitable diversion for two or more to sit around the PC with on a cold winter night. Like curling up with a good book, The Color of Murder makes a great way to end any evening with a little spine-tingling, albeit mostly shock-free, thrill and suspense.