I’m a fan of mystery novels, but it’s a difficult genre to convert to interactive fiction satisfactorily. One common approach (in, e.g., the Danganronpan series) is to have players tag pairs of contradictory evidence to detect lies in suspects’ testimonies. “Erstwhile” uses a similar mechanic to unravel the mystery of the protagonist’s own murder.
Gameplay: The protagonist is a ghost, having recently been murdered at a dinner with his friends and colleagues. He has access to the evidence the police collects, but he can also use his supernatural abilities to revisit scenes leading up to the dinner and thus further explore the suspects’ backgrounds. The mystery itself has a satisfying solution, and the explanation follows naturally and gradually from the evidence collected. 7/10.
Mechanics: After reading through the suspects’ testimonies, the player can then select two pieces of evidence that they think are related in some way. If they do have a connection, a short vignette is displayed that reveals some of the backstory pertaining to the evidence. There’s enough evidence that this mechanic doesn’t feel like it reduces to brute force, and engages the player more than reading static text or conversation trees would. The mystery itself is straightforward; solving is a matter of amassing evidence and unraveling the backstory rather making having a clever flash of insight or breaking someone’s seemingly airtight alibi. In other words, it’s more of a police procedural than a drawing room mystery. 7/10.
Presentation: The suspects and the protagonist are described well, and they have more characterization than most short mystery games’. The interface for linking evidence is simple but effective, and adding different background colors for the different characters’ flashbacks is a nice touch. 6/10.
You might be interested in this game if: You like the computer game “Contradiction: Spot the Liar,” but want a shorter game with a stronger mystery behind it.