Cruise for a Corpse

Posted by Matthew Lee.
First posted on 01 February 2011. Last updated on 01 February 2011.
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Cruise for a Corpse
Inspector Rauol Dusentier is on the case.
Cruise for a Corpse
Rauol questions a suspect for clues to the murder.
Cruise for a Corpse
Do the robot!
Cruise for a Corpse
It must be a pleasurable cruise if there is a bar onboard!
Cruise for a Corpse
Flashback scenes show pieces of the back story.

About the author

Matthew Lee is a freelance graphic designer who works part time developing concepts and interfaces for children's games. He spends his time obsessing over cartoons and writing as well as editing and laying out the wargaming e-zine Skavenblight Gazette. He also cooks excellent tacos. He currently lives in Australia.

For more information, visit Matthew Lee Design.

Released in 1991, Cruise for a Corpse is a murder mystery point-and-click adventure game set aboard a sailing ship. Originally released in French by Delphine Software, remnants of some poor translation litter the English dialogs in the game.

You play as French Inspector Raoul Dusentier, who has been invited on a cruise by the wealthy businessman Niklos Karaboudjan. Shorty upon boarding, Raoul is thrust into intrigue and mystery when Niklos is found murdered. Soon, Raoul begins roaming the ship, uncovering every passenger's dirty little secret, in an effort to expose the killer.

Graphically, the game adopts an interesting style. The backgrounds are meticulously well drawn, with dozens of little details crammed into every scene. Each room is unique and full of character that contributes well to the overall atmosphere of the game. In fact, the backgrounds are most impressive, given the limited color palette available technically for computer graphics at the time of the game's release.

Character animations are done in a blocked color style. They evoke a film noir ambience, though such style seems to sit slightly at odds with the rest of the game's graphics. This may be because, unlike most point-and-click adventure games of that era, the character animations in this game are done entirely in vector graphics. For its time, this is an extremely impressive technical achievement.

Do not be mistaken though—while being simplified, this graphical style fits the mood of the game quite well. Conversation close-ups and cut scenes are drawn in a more detailed manner, with well illustrated and animated versions of the game characters.

However, the vectorized version of Raoul does not resemble at all to the bitmapped version of himself. Whereas the bitmapped Raoul shows a slightly aging man in his 50s, the vectorized Raoul shows a robust man in his 30s only. This mismatch in appearance extends to a number of other characters as well, occasionally making it difficult to identify some of them.

The sound is entirely MIDI based. Unfortunately, the atmospheric music is largely annoying and repetitive. The music score also does not fit well to a murder mystery. It is far too upbeat and fast, though it is used sparsely. Environmental sound effects are almost nonexistent, except for the occasional door knock or ticking clock. The audio is not essential to finish the game in any way, so it can be turned off without missing out any important clues.

The game is released in both Floppy Disk and CD-ROM versions. Gameplay mainly revolves around tracking down various suspects on the ship and grilling them on their own or with other characters. There are some item based puzzles, but most progress in the game is made through conversing with various passengers and teasing out malicious segments of their morale fiber. The story really feels like a proper murder mystery. Affairs are uncovered, shady business deals are exposed, and vices are laid bare.

The game uses an interesting mechanism to help you recognize that you are on the right track. Whenever you uncover a pertinent piece of information or item, the game clock will advance 10 minutes. It is a good indication that you have discovered a topic of importance or an item of considerable relevance.

Moreover, each time the clock ticks forward, people and items on the ship move about. A passenger in the bar earlier may now be elsewhere. A desk once locked may now be unlocked. It is a clever ploy to keep a fairly small play area alive and changing. On the other hand, it can be frustrating to constantly have to go back and check out places which you have already searched.

The frustration compounds when you are required to find an item that has never been mentioned before, so that you cannot possibly know to be on the lookout for it. Eventually, you are reduced to wandering around the ship, pedantically looking into every nook and trying to pick up everything and anything that is not nailed down.

Worse yet, the context sensitive menu interface is not very consistent. The developer boasts the use of the propriety Cinématique operating system that is designed to offer a more user-friendly point-and-click playing style. In reality, however, the options that come up in the menu once you click on an item on screen do not seem to follow any consistent convention of application. For example, the options to Examine, Inspect, and Search seem too often to be interchangeable in their use. This can be confusing when, in order to give an item to a particular character, you must first activate the character sometimes but activate the item which you are giving at other times.

Common to most adventure games of that era, there is quite a bit of pixel hunting in this game. It seems appropriate for a murder mystery that important clues are hard to find, but at times this is taken to extraordinary levels. Some items seem to only have a contact area of a few pixels, so that if you are not on the lookout for them they can be extremely hard to spot. Thankfully, these annoyances are few and far between.

While the game's supporting characters are interesting and lively, Rauol himself seems rather bland and flat. He does not really do much in the game, beyond striding about the boat and occasionally bending over to pick something up. It is hard to feel any kind of attachment to his character. This is a shame, as adventure games mainly rely on the main character engaging the audience and giving the players a central figure with which to identify. As it is, Rauol is essentially a robot—a blank slate.

In sum, Cruise for a corpse is a good adventure game. It takes a murder mystery and presents it intelligently and interestingly. There are some gameplay annoyances, but none of them are so major that the game is rendered unplayable. The character cast is realistic, and the mystery story is not too far out or obscure. If you are interested in a complex murder mystery that unfolds at a good pace, and you can be forgiving of a clumsy interface, then Cruise for a corpse will be an enjoyable gaming experience.

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