You Might Be The Killer

Terrestrial television in the UK is chock full of murder. There’s a whole staggeringly large niche of twee detectives solving murders in idyllic places like bumbling countryside towns of 12 people and a sheep. Death in Paradise sees an eccentric detective posted in the Maldives where every episode begins with the grisly murder of the week before kicking off into some very cheery Caribbean music for the intro. How do so many people die in such suspicious circumstances in such small spaces? Nobody really cares. They just want to figure out three things each week. 

Who the killer is. Why they did it. How they did it.

Everyone wants to feel like they can outsmart a killer, and the realm of video games has given us plenty of tools to test our cunning over the years. Horror naturally comes into it because y’know… someone’s murdering folks. But the disparity between a True Detective and a Death in Paradise is just as apparent in the virtual crime-solving world. The inspiration for this article was a case in point.

Murder at Mingus Manor is a short, simple murder deduction game by FayeDamara, but it stands out thanks to its surreal hand-drawn look and cheeky obviousness. I immediately recalled other murder deduction adventures whilst playing it, and was impressed to see how much the scale can slide. It’ll take literal minutes to play so go download it and see for yourself.

If I could make a direct comparison, then it would be a small-scale version of Kaizenworks’s neon-drenched cosmic murder mystery Paradise Killer. This game takes place on a sun-kissed resort island, but unlike Death in Paradise, British comedy alumni don’t take on the role of a beleaguered detective, and a parade of faces you know from TV past aren’t among the possible suspects. Still, it’s sensible enough to keep the murder numbers respectable.

No, Paradise Killer takes place in a pocket dimension run by some otherworldly forces and populated by a rather unique band of weirdos. The island lives in cycles, resetting at set periods to begin anew with some of the original group surviving each reset. Unfortunately this time, someone went and murdered one of those in charge of the reset, so disgraced former resident and detective Lady Love Dies is brought in to solve the case so the reset can happen.

It’s a pretty freeform game where you can accuse anyone you like if you can build a case against them and there’s no penalty for making the ‘wrong pick’ It’s a beautifully structured game with some very interesting characters to boot. Oh, and that Epoch soundtrack is a stone-cold killer.

That’s my personal marker for a good murder mystery game. A bit weird, flexible, and a city pop soundtrack (other soundtracks can still apply of course), but it’s far from the only strong example out there. Ukrainian studio Frogwares has been reeling off Sherlock Holmes-based games for years with effortless ease and an engrossing set of tools to solve some murderous mysteries. It has even dabbled in a bit of cosmic horror in and out of the company of Baker Street’s most famous resident.

The most refreshing thing about this little island of murder gaming is that perspective can be shifted quite easily whilst retaining the gleeful puzzle-solving of murder most foul. One such example is the Ace Attorney series. It deals in all sorts of criminal investigations, but murder naturally crops up, and trying to piece it together in the courtroom is a refreshing and captivating way to handle it.

The Danganronpa series spins it both ways in a single-player space by having you try and solve murders among a group of students being forced to off each other by a sadistic captor. The stress of knowing anyone could be the killer at any time as well as a likely victim is a delicious balance to have. Hitman usually comes from the other end of the murder mystery pipeline, but in the Dartmoor level of Hitman 3, Agent 47 can pose as a detective out to solve the murder of his target’s brother. It’s no gimmick either, as 47 can actually solve the case or steer it in a direction that might help his own job out.

Of course, the most famous modern murder mystery game model is the social deduction route. Now you bring the novelty of a real-life murder mystery weekend into a relatively bite-sized online experience. Among Us set the world on fire with this formula, albeit it belatedly and in very unique circumstances, but it was the spearhead for others to try and emulate, including the absolute hoot that is TTT in online VR shooter Pavlov.

Even this has been around for a while though. In 2006, Outerlight Ltd. brought us The Ship: Murder Party. A murder mystery alternative to online multiplayer shooters and clearly a game before its time. It remains one of my favorite online experiences. Some players were tasked with killing others and the intrigue of figuring out who was after who whilst keeping your own head really only got replicated for me by Pavlov’s TTT mode. 

The thing about social deduction is it can be exquisitely unpredictable. Real people can smooth-talk their way out of getting fingered for murder before taking you out seconds later and that personal consequence is humiliating in a way that actually feels exciting. You vow not to be so stupid and trusting again, but the real lesson is in how you can be a better killer yourself. Social deduction brings very unique types of killers. From fast and deadly slashers that barely utter a word to motormouths that steer the conversation away from the fact, they’re standing in front of a dead body. Strangers actually enhance the experience because they are an unknown quantity. It’s actually the exception to the rule that strangers on the internet being dickheads is a bad thing.

Figuring it out in that online maelstrom adds a more dynamic feel to an investigation, where you’re not trying to adhere to a set of rules and are instead governed by your instincts. For me, that’s the next logical step in evolving the video game murder mystery. I still enjoy the offline story-based whodunnits immensely. But the online play has brought something especially exciting to it. Whether I like it or not, I can not just look like Death in Paradise’s current resident detective Ralf Little. I can do his job too. Though my conclusions tend to be more about calling ButtFiend25 out for looking a bit shifty than a detailed explanation of his motives. 

To be fair, with a name like that, it should have been obvious when the victim appeared to have been destroyed in the derriere area.