Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer
First posted on 01 April 2009. Last updated on 30 August 2013.
This game is part of the Ultimate Crime Thriller Collection re-released in 2010 by City Interactive.
Ultimate Crime Thriller Collection
The compilation includes 3 games in the Ultimate Crime Thriller Collection series previously released separately in 2008-2010:
- Art of Murder: FBI Confidential
- Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer
- Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny
City Interactive's sequel to 2008's Art of Murder: FBI Confidential starts so promisingly. A series of macabre murders have occurred in New Orleans and have apparently spread to Paris. The modus operandi includes suspending the victim by ropes and hooks making them resemble marionettes and leaving a handcrafted doll in French Revolutionary regalia at the scene. It is an excellent setup for a dark murder mystery, raising many questions before the game even begins. Why is the puppet motif used? Why are the dolls left at the crime scene? Why has the murderer moved from New Orleans to Paris? Unfortunately, this is where the game drops the ball in a big way, as half of these questions are not even answered and those that are answered feel glossed over. They seem to exist for the sole purpose of adding interest to what is otherwise a run-of-the-mill murder adventure.
Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer stars Nicole Bonnet, the FBI agent from Art of Murder: FBI Confidential. The New Orleans murders are skipped over entirely, and Nicole begins in Paris assisting the French police with investigating the new puppeteer murders there. In fact, Nicole never enters back the United States in the entire game. This seems odd because, as the game even lightly points out, the FBI have no jurisdiction in other countries. Nonetheless, this does not stop the plucky Nicole from bending rules and essentially running her own private investigation well after completing the task her superiors have given her. While I certainly do not mind Nicole taking the initiative, why have her work for the FBI at all if her adventures focus on other countries? The game also ignores the detail that FBI agents (in real life) are required to carry a firearm at all times: a fact that likely could have aided Nicole about 14 times throughout her adventure!
Gun or no gun, what Nicole has is rendered beautifully. The game's production values are at a high standard, with crisp graphics and reasonably well rendered cut scenes. The environments are detailed and varied, from a small, bright village in Cuba to a dank, broody murder scene in Paris. The voice acting is suitable with no weaknesses in the entire cast, though the dialog does not give any of them much character. Even Nicole herself lacks a distinct personality. The music is strong, grabbing me from the start with a haunting and slow melody at the opening crime scene of the game. As effective as the score is, it feels odd when the same melody, so appropriate at the scene of a murder, then continues to play even when Nicole returns to her hotel and sets about trying to make her laptop work properly. The music eventually changes to set a more appropriate tone for the next scenes, but it takes a while before that first track gives up.
At the core of any adventure game is the puzzles. It is here where I feel truly mixed. A large number of the puzzles are perfectly reasonable, with the usual fare of creative use of everyday objects. However, the game also fumbles on multiple levels. Some of the puzzles require a combination of objects so unintuitive that I remain confused even after combining them. A number of other challenges also require you to randomly click objects on each other. At times, Nicole refuses to give some necessary dialog nudges. For example, in Spain, a puzzle involves the need to fix a rubber tube leaking air. Nothing I try works at first. After a long time experimenting randomly, I finally learn that what Nicole needs to do is not fix the tube but to locate the hole in it from which air is leaking. This baffles me, as Nicole has given me no indication at all that she cannot simply find the hole. The game is further extended when a map you assemble earlier from torn pieces literally falls apart in a very short time if you fail to tape it up, forcing you to redo the entire puzzle. Then, halfway through the game, Nicole seems to go on the adventure game equivalent of a strike, refusing to pick up usable objects unless she has a good notion what to do with them. This goes against recognized dogmas of adventure gaming style. Fortunately, Nicole is always kind enough to give a hint she may need it later, saying lines such as "I don't know what to do with this... yet." However, this just makes it that much more frustrating because it feels like she knows it will be useful and simply does not want to pick the object up. This leads to a ridiculously unnecessary amount of backtracking. The worst offender is when, in a particular location, I try to grab the rubber hose. I figure out what I need to do with it and Nicole still refuses to pick it up. It is not until I backtrack all the way back to an earlier location to force her to look at some ruined stairs that she relents and finally agrees to do what she is told. I understand the game's attempt at realism here, but there is a reason why adventure game characters have always been able to pick up everything not nailed down up to this point.
The game's story is the same as its dialog. It is not bad or boring, but there seems to be no soul behind it. Important details get glossed over fairly quickly, and I have to refer to Nicole's journal several times to remember why she has even traveled to the city she is in now. It seems a tragedy to me because the game sucks me in right away. Investigating the first crime scene is fresh and interesting. Sadly, the game moves away from this narrative path, and Nicole even stops investigating the crime scenes at all after a while. The game forces you to collect a fingerprint that you never use. You meticulously collect the dolls for ultimately no purpose. A particular piece of evidence found at the beginning, a plank of wood with a number on it, is never explained. This sloppiness is evident everywhere in the game. No less than 2 characters give you phone numbers that are added to your phone, but these characters never pick up if you try to call them at any point in the entire game. It is as if the game simply forgets that it is, at its core, a murder investigation, and it then makes you focus on much less interesting tasks such as fixing automobiles and picking herbs.
Not having played the first game in the series, I suspect that if you have enjoyed the original title you will enjoy this sequel as well. The production values alone make the title appealing. Gone is the shoddy voice acting that seems to plague so many mediocre adventure games. Unfortunately, even good graphics and sounds cannot make up for an obscure story and lackluster puzzles. The premise is excellent, but ultimately Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer fails to live up to its own beginning and winds down to an uninspiring climax.