One of my personal frustrations with interaction fiction is that even though games in the mystery genre have been around since the early days of Infocom, it’s rare to find one that’s satisfying both as a game and as a narrative. Most works take one of three approaches: a procedural that focuses on gathering physical evidence by solving standard adventure set-piece puzzles (e.g., some of the Sherlock Holmes games); a series of dialogues that focuses on spotting contradictions in testimony (e.g., the appropriately-titled “Contradiction”, or the Danganronpa series); or a narrative that removes most of the interactive elements to focus on the underlying mystery. “Murder at the Manor” is a short, choice-based game that takes the last approach, breezing through the comfortably familiar plot of a aristocrat’s murder in interbellum England. Through a series of static pages, the player methodically investigates the corpse, searches the mansion’s four major rooms, interrogates the four suspects, examines the four potential weapons, and then decides whom to arrest.
Gameplay: There’s little actual gameplay here; the only option is choosing which pages to read in which order. There’s no interaction among them, nor are there any follow-up clues or dialogue trees to explore. Still, I’m a fan of the genre, and the mystery itself is fine; it’s just effectively a short story to read through than an interactive game. 4/10.
Mechanics: The core of the game is, of course, unraveling the murder myself itself. The solution is fair, but it’s not particularly compelling as a puzzle. Solving it is just a matter of noting the evidence and conversations earlier, without any particularly clever insight. Still, the game is short, and something elaborate would require a larger game with much more plotting and clues. Nothing impeded my progress in playing through the game, but there wasn’t much to impede. 4/10.
Presentation: The game puts great effort throughout to hit the charming tropes of a Golden Age murder mystery. The prose is a bit overwrought (going into elaborate detail about the furniture in the manor, for example), but agreeably so. There were a few typos, such as the narrator’s referring to a letter as a piece of “stationary.” The suspects were stock characters, but that’s standard in the genre (see almost everything by Agatha Christie, for example), and it shifts the focus to the abstract puzzle of the murder. Although he’s also a stock character, the investigator’s name is “Percival Pike,” and it’s hard to think of a better name for a British Golden Age detective. 6/10.
You might be interested in this game if: You want to read a quick, light murder mystery.