When you sit back and think about the majority of adventures you have played, you will realise that they contain many of the facets of a mystery novel. You are given, or have to find, various clues that enable you to learn about another situation requiring a hunt for more hints to yet another set of clues.
You may also meet characters along the way whom you have to interrogate to extract some vital piece of information. What is also quite common, is the final showdown revolving around the unmasking of a master villain or criminal.
Some adventures carry this hunt for clues to its logical conclusion by creating a game that is as close to a true detective mystery as you can get.
Strangely enough, most of those adventures appearing on the Amstrad that would also be considered as "true detective stories", have also been programs that have achieved high scores amongst the ratings for adventures. This could well be because the structure of a detective story requires more pre-planning on the part of the writer, with a very logical progression of clues from start to finish. Each major problem solved providing another link in a long chain. In other types of adventure, individual puzzles may only need to be linked within a small section of the whole adventure.
The latest detective story to cross my screen is Killed Until Dead, from US Gold. Following the trend of previous games of the same genre, this too, should perform well in the ratings. Not only are the mysteries interesting to solve and the graphics good, but the way in which the player interacts with the game are novel and will surely be a blueprint for many adventures in the future.
The game is controlled by joystick (or arrow keys). No typing is needed. All questions and answers are supplied - you just have to make the right selection. In the persona of Hercule Holmes, you pursue your investigations almost wholly from the comfort of your own chair. The scene is set in the Gargoyle Hotel, where five of the world's finest mystery writers are getting set to turn fiction into fact with a festival of mayhem and murder. You alone are in a position to foil their worst excesses.
The time is twelve noon and you have until midnight to find out who will kill whom, with what, where the dirty deed will take place and finally the motive behind the murder. Fortunately, your comfortable chair is behind a fairly hi-tec desk. It has video monitors covering all main locations and a telephone complete with video link.
There are three tape recorders that can be connected to the monitors and an ordinary looking notebook that will automatically record all the information you discover. There is also a folder giving brief background details on each of the suspects. The only time you need leave your chair is for the occasional break-in to a suspect's room to gather additional clues.
Amstrad versions are only available for CPC machines and come on disc or cassette. The opening sequence includes an optional demo mode that gives you a good idea of what is expected, and is worth watching. Having decided to take up the challenge, you are offered four difficulty levels: Elementary, my dear Watson, Murder medium rare, Cases for the cunning, and Super sleuth. Each level gives you a choice of several murder mysteries to solve. In all, there are 21 different cases.The critical stages are the interrogations with the suspects (via video phone). Their answers and physical reaction to four crucial questions regarding - murderer, victim, weapon and place will lead you to your final confrontation. Should your accusation be at fault, you are shot on the spot!
To get a suspect to answer your questions, you must shake their confidence by proving you know something about them that they thought was secret. To get this information, you have to search their rooms. To break-in to a room it must be empty - check with your video monitor - and you must answer a trivia type question.
These questions all have murder/mystery as a common theme and should you fail to answer correctly any attempt at a further break into that room is prohibited for ten minutes.
In addition to finding information that will rattle your suspect into talking, you may find clues to possible motives and also notes of times and places where they plan to meet each other during the day. These notes enable you to program your three tape recorders to snoop on their clandestine meetings. By repeatedly talking to the suspects, and taking no other action, it is perfectly feasible to extract the basic facts regarding weapon, place and who is to be killed and by whom. Learning the motive requires a more methodical approach. It is much more satisfying to know you have the right answer than clutching at straws and simply guessing.
When questioning a suspect, they will always give you an answer of some sort such as: "If Agatha is the killer, the body won't be Mike's" or "If the deed's done with the poison a life will end in the foyer".
Your magic notebook will record these as separate entries under SOURCE (spelt SCOURCE!), KILLER, WEAPON and ROOM. What it does not tell you is whether the entry was positive or negative - "...the body WON'T be Mike's"; "...a life WILL end in the foyer". The notebook also records what you found when you searched the rooms, what was overheard on the tape monitors and any telephone calls you have had offering information.
The graphics are simple but well drawn and amusing, especially when the facial expressions change as you ask questions that force a truthful answer. To make life that bit easier, the more significant answers are highlighted in your notebook.
Killed Until Dead is not difficult to play. With so many plots to choose from it should be perfectly feasible to return after a few days and tackle a previously solved game - with almost as much enthusiasm as when you started. The instructions are fairly easy to understand, even though they are printed using a very small typeface. On the review copy, getting started using the disc version required RUN "DISK" and not RUN "KILLED" as stated.