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If you are like me (focused too much on the PC scene), there's a high chance you thought the "Murders" series had only two games: Murders in Venice and Murders in Space. Either that or you never heard of these titles before. It's very easy to get confused, because there's not much information about them generally (Mobygames, for example, lists only the two aforementioned games). So before Murders in Venice, there was the triad comprised of Meurtre à Grande Vitesse (on a train), Murders on the Atlantic (on a ship), and Meurtres en Série (on the British isle of Sercq). Some of them were released on multiple platforms, and certain ones (like the second) also managed to get a release outside of France.
The guys behind this particular franchise are the French companies Cobra Soft, and Hitech Productions, and their trademark was a set of real clues that came packaged along with the game box. This gameplay element, that served both as a copy protection and a way to give the virtual world a sense of reality, made Murders in Venice and its prequels stand out from the bulk of adventures that invaded the second half of the '80s.
Murders in Venice was published internationally by Infogrames in 1989, which at that time was still a relatively unknown company in the world gaming market. It's an unusual adventure game where you play the role of a detective. The Italian city of Venice is not yet in flames, but it will probably be if the terrorists are telling the truth about having placed a nuke somewhere in it. You’ve got five hours until midday to figure out if there's any real threat looming over Venice, to disarm the bomb and arrest the ones responsible for it.
Looking at the title, you might immediately fantasize about gondolas floating graciously through the city's narrow canals; white three-story buildings rising ominously from the water, devoid of any distinct architectural features; people with classy masks and costumes filling up the few streets to celebrate the carnival; and finally the appalling stench coming from the dirty and stagnant water... Unfortunately, because of the engine's limitations, these details were difficult to reproduce. Instead, you'll get EGA graphics showing a distant view of the city - a bit desolate and bland, since the only thing you'll be staring at is a row of houses ranging from grey and white, to yellow and red. The easiest ones to remember are Palazzo Giustinian (the police), Piazza San Marco (your starting point), the Christiani Hotel, the theatre and the Bridge of Sighs. All locations are rough copies of their real counterparts.
Clicking on certain parts of these buildings will reveal apartments, rooms, etc., where characters reside. Each one of the buildings will have small images to give you an idea about the place you're in. That's their only purpose and you can't interact with them. Despite the poor graphics, the overall theme is there, and even though you may get bored soon by the lack of variety, the game's strong point is the gameplay.
It is possible to finish the game by only solving the main case; however, you won't gather the maximum score of 320 this way, since there are a couple of side cases to elucidate. Still, getting the highest score is truly only for the hardcore players. I myself, after more than ten tries, have had two losses with a score of 301 and 304 respectively; and a successful ending with a score of 313. Almost every answer you get from a character equals one point, thus you'll have to go back and forth asking people questions, searching through their stuff, taking pictures of them, and showing these to others so that they can identify them and give you additional information. Some answers might activate new questions for other characters, and you will be notified of this by a simple beep sound.
Such a limited set of actions you can do, yet such a weird way to implement it! The controls are not intuitive at all, mostly because it defies every other adventure there is, but once someone tells you how to do it, it's very simple. So... you travel through Venice by clicking the arrows on the middle white bar (clicking this white bar also shows how many points you have gathered so far). When interrogating a person, you have a couple of options: either repeatedly click on the detective's hat (brain) to choose between a frisk and a room search, or click on his mouth to browse the questions. After making your choice, you need to click on the text (of the question or action) to actually perform it. You can also take a picture of him/her by clicking the camera image in the left menu, or show him/her the portraits of other people using the photo film image. In the same menu you can find a virtual notebook and personal files for each character that you can complete - quite useless, frankly; use real paper instead.
The challenge lies in the game's non-linearity. There are over 20 persons to talk to, over 20 places to visit, and there's no real order you can follow. Furthermore, the NPCs are not always available, having certain intervals when you can find them at their designated place. If you don't ask an important question before they disappear, the case will never be solved. Add the fact that the number of slots to store the photos is limited to 20, when they are 25, and you got yourself a frustrating combination. After exceeding the limit, the first pictures are replaced by the new ones, so you can't ask others about them.
The only clues you have are the ones that came packaged with the game box. When frisking someone, or searching a room, these objects will be marked with an asterisk. As said in the manual, you must analyze those items as if you were Sherlock Holmes. You can download them in the extras section.
In your spare time, do visit the Police Station for some bomb defusing training, in case you face the real thing, or the Actor's Room from the theatre if you want to change your looks. These are very fun mini-games, especially the bomb deactivation, and you may want to try Murders in Venice just for them.
The sound is almost absent. There's a small song in the introduction, which I really hate, and some beeps I mentioned a while ago, all in PC Speaker quality. In the end, I was left really unsatisfied. I lost so much time playing the game again and again, fiddling with the order of taking the pictures, marking the questions that give points and which don't, and filling the personal files, just to realize it's all for naught... Murders in Venice won't try to reward your lost time with atmosphere, a good plot, or clever puzzles. It's difficult, frustrating, and really challenging. To enjoy it, you must look at it as a provocation. If you don't intend to score 320 out of 320, you'll never have a chance, or better yet, patience.
- In the extras section, you can find the scanned items which serve as clues to solve the cases. Also, there's a map made by me, which you can use as a mini-walkthrough. It shows every building's name and where you can find specific characters.
- I wasn't able to save my game, because of a disk error. To access the menu including the Save, Load, Restart, and Move Clock Ahead options, you must click the floppy disk image on the left. Also there you can find the Comprehension Test that will show just how little you know about Murders in Venice even after finishing the game successfully.
Run Cobra.bat in DOSBox.