Murders in Space is the last title released in a unique series of adventure games that had you solve countless crime cases in some of the most exotic places ever: from the French TGV (Meurtre à Grande Vitesse) and a cruise ship sailing the waters of the Atlantic (Murder on the Atlantic) to a fictional British isle (Meurtres en Série) and the murky canals of Venice (Murders in Venice). Murders in Space is the strangest of them all, tasking you with saving the astronauts of the Pegasus Space Station, a joint venture between multiple countries including the USA, France, Germany, Japan, Brazil and others.
Conceptually, the game is pretty futuristic for its time, as the USSR was yet to crumble entirely in 1990, and the decision to form the International Space Station (ISS) based on the Mir-2 program was taken only in 1993. Not that surprising, maybe, considering the idea of an ISS was floating around the political circles for a while and that some of the works referred to in the manual discussed "what if" scenarios. In fact, the developers were pretty well documented – the game’s Pegasus Space Station is based on USA's Freedom and Great Britain's Columbus projects, which were ultimately integrated into the foregoing ISS.
June 30, 2005. 06:45 universal time, Base Kourou. Under the pseudonym Dick Anderson, you're sent aboard the Ariane 5 rocket to investigate an alleged assassination attempt on Mission Commander Philippe Amiot's life. In one day, you'll have to find out if the incident was assessed hastily or if there's actually a real danger looming over the orbital station. Apart from you and a British astronomer sent to replace one of the people on board, the Pegasus crew amounts to seven persons. You'll have to interrogate them and inspect their belongings in order to have an objective opinion on the situation. Truth be told, every single one of them hides a secret, but that doesn't mean they harbour ill intentions towards the other team members.
Murders in Space was advertised as a game where "you don't have to collect a thousand different objects, nor type a thousand words to access the next stage, nor die 7346 times before the game finally ends". Generally, it's an honest description of the gameplay, but certain factors counterbalance the omission of those negative aspects, resulting in such a frustrating experience as only a retro adventure title can create. Finishing it is very easy, but finishing and winning? It will suck your soul dry first. Well, if you persevere, after five or more unsuccessful playthroughs, you should have a good idea of what to do and when.
If you already played Murders in Venice, the gameplay works almost the same way. After first clicking on a character or object, click a few times on the forehead or mouth of your character's portrait to browse through a set of actions or conversation subjects respectively. One more left-click on the desired option and it will be performed. The character's movement suffered the most noticeable change. This time you control him directly using the mouse or the arrow keys; right-clicking changes the direction he faces. I enjoyed guiding him gently through the no-gravitation space modules, and seeing the protagonist and the other characters from a third-person perspective makes exploring the station seem more credible.
The aim of the game is to save each crew member from death. Don't worry - this is not a spoiler; it's boldly stated in the manual. For Dick to succeed you'll have identify the murderer, and based on his actions figure out how a person will die. After that, you need to come up with a way to save him. It's harder than it sounds. Murders in Space relies heavily on your own judgment. When you find a clue, you won't receive a description of its uses, nor any insight on your further actions. The only thing you can do in some cases is to ask the others about it. It's important to note that the progress is time-based. Besides having a deadline, after every hour, the characters change places, start doing other things and have new conversation options. Usually this wouldn't bother me , but in order to succeed I had to repeat the same actions, like frisking, over and over again, because my original assumption that the person's belongings don't change throughout the game was proved wrong. Fortunately you can speed up/slow down the clock by pressing H or J.
While Murders in Venice had only a bomb which you had to disarm to save the Floating City, this time there's a myriad of gadgets at your disposal: the Mobile Manned Unit (MMU), the Yakoto Manipulating Arm, the Solar Telescope, the Cryogenic Life Support System (CLISS module) and the Communication Pegasus System (COPS). They're fun to play with, clicking all those shiny buttons and exploring the void with the EVA space suits for example, but the deal gets serious when you have to use them to save people's lives or get to the bottom of a secret. Some gadgets are explained in the manual and the Log Book that came with the boxed game. You're out of luck if you can't find them, though. But even with the necessary documents in front of me, I never learned about all the actions I could perform until I checked a walkthrough. At least the amount of trouble made me feel more like a real astronaut.
It's a nice touch to see how the characters develop as you discover their personalities, their secrets and the conflicts between them. Talking was one of the things I took the most pleasure in doing, and the responses I got looked satisfyingly natural to me. The space setting is a bit unusual, and it's bound to keep your interest active at least for a while. Murders in Space is, however, one of those old hardcore adventures. It relies heavily on manual documentation, it's non-linear, time-based, and most definitely it will prevent you from finding all the secrets hidden by the developers; including that mysterious Mickey Mouse costume for the party. Not to mention it follows the tradition of the Murders series by supplying a set of real objects (marked by an asterisk * in the game) with the rest of the package. Some answers can be found only by analysing them, and especially the clues from the Log Book. I can only recommend it to gamers that have a patience of steel.
-At the beginning of the game, you can press F1 to manually dock the shuttle.
-There are some keyboard shortcuts you can use. Use F1 and F3 to browse through Dick's thoughts/dialogue options; the numerical keys 1-9 to move instantly between rooms (you can also do this by clicking on the squares on the bottom-left part of the screen).
-As I mentioned before, to speed up or slow down time press H or J.
-Biological tests are done with help from the CLISS module. After analysing and "transmitting" the results, you can send the data to Earth using COPS. They should reply in the next hour. If a crew member is poisoned, you can concoct a cure with the Yakoto Arm.
-Before doing an actual space walk, you should try the MMU simulator in the Control module. Save your progress before trying the real thing.
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