Review: Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer (PC)

Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer
Publisher: City Interactive
Developer: Pinnacle
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/17/2009


It’s a slow month for me, so when City Interactive sent me their latest adventure game, Art of Murder: Hunt For the Puppeteer, I decided to review it instead of passing it on to another staffer. After all, I had already played two mediocre to God awful adventure games in the past month. Could it really be three in a row?

I reviewed the first Art of Murder back in August and deemed it mediocre. Aileen reviewed CI’s next adventure game, Chronicles of Mystery four months later and thought it fared a bit better. I was actually quite surprised to see Art of Murder get a sequel,as it was neither critically nor commercially successful.

Has the second AoM managed to surpass the first, or is Nicole Bonnet’s second game as forgettable as the first?

Let’s Review

1. Story

aom2-1 Although the game starts off with an interesting idea about a serial killer who leaves homemade dolls at the scene of his murders, the game quickly degenerates into nonsensical claptrap to where the murders are all but forgotten in an attempt to find Revolutionary War French treasure. When you eventually do learn who the killer is in the final cinematic of the game, his reasons for killing make no sense and he has neither the intelligence nor sanity to have committed such murders, including one when Nicole’s back is turned. There is literally a quest in the game where you are trying to save a potential victim, but the person won’t leave until you perform a stupid fetch quest. You do it, come back, and he’s drained of blood and strung up, all in the in-game time of five minutes. This is insane and so poorly thought out you have to wonder if there were originally two plots and they just threw them together and hoped things would make sense.

There are other hideously stupid plot issues such as Nicole, who is an FBI agent, constantly doing massive illegal things that take forever in order to fit in puzzles when she could have done them the legal way which would have been faster, safer, and saner. Then there’s her ability to know the streets of France despite never having been there before, the entire city of Havana being deserted the day Nicole comes to down and the ability to fly from France to Cuba and back and perform all the story bits in less than 48 hours. I understand games require a degree of suspension of disbelief, but AoM2 pushes it past all realistic boundaries. It’s as the developers had no idea about criminal investigations or any idea of distance, time or logical plot devices.

The dialogue is awful, plot points are brought up only to never be mentioned again, characters have dramatically personality changes without warning or cause, and the end of the game is one of the stupidest conclusions to an Adventure game ever. Everything is thrown together in a convoluted mess in an attempt to tie things together, but instead you just find yourself massively underwhelmed and wondering who the hell was paid to write such an awful story. Honest to god, do yourselves a favour and run screaming from this game. This is one of the worst games I’ve ever played in terms of story and sadly as you’ll see…the rest isn’t much better.

Story Rating: Dreadful

2. Graphics

aom2-2 As you can tell from all the screenshots included in this review, AoM2 looks like a late gen PSX game or a very early PS2 title. Character models are simply poorly rendered with animations more akin to stop motion mannequins than actual human movements. In fact, in a display of hilarious names, many times when you click Nicole to move, she will glide across the screen for a few frames before actually taking a step. It’s like the floor of each area is greased or something. This never failed to both amuse and irritate me.

Although every character model in this game is pretty ugly, the backgrounds are quite nice. Sure none of the scenes in Cuba look anything like the actual Cuba and the bits in France and Spain are suspect as well, there texturing, building designs and details on tiny little items in the game are nicely done. At least they look somewhat realistic and nice compared the strange things passing for people in this game.

A definite step down from the previous game.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

There are some serious sound bugs in the game. If a character begins talking right as you enter a new area or come out of a cutscene, the voice acting with tweak up to chipmunk speed and falsetto for the first word and a half and then go back to normal. As well, there are times when the voice acting will cut out halfway through lines even though there is more text left on the screen to read. This is why I’m glad I had the subtitles on.

Voice acting remains as poor as the first game, but with the new audio technical errors, once again AoM is a notch below the original game. There are two voice actors that actually use a French accent in this game when you are in France, and even then those are very poorly done French accents. No one in Spain has a Spanish accent, and the two Cuban have very bad exaggerated Hispanic accents. The voice acting is just poor across the board with everyone delivering their lines with a wooden flat intonation.

Sound effects are rare and inconsequential. It’s just another sloppy area in a very sloppy game.

Sound Rating: Bad

4. Control and Gameplay

aom2-3 I complained a lot about the issues with the first AoM in my original review. Sadly the sequel hasn’t improved things, and in many ways, the game has gotten worse. The extremely small click areas are back making it hard to pick up or interact with anything. They have added a hint button that highlights interactive areas on the screen. I approve of this, but the areas are just too damn small.

Another new interesting issue is that when you try to leave one area to go to another, there is some severe lag between moving the mouse and when the icon letting you move to the next area appears. In fact, sometimes, these don’t register at all which is both infuriating and yet another sign that no one bothered to do quality control. There were even times when I’d move the mouse to the movement area and nothing would happen. So I’d hit the hint tap to make sure I wasn’t off by a pixel or two because the game is that pedantic. Then I’d move my mouse on top of the area the game told me to…and still nothing. Wow is that bad or what?

Then there is the backtracking. There’s so much backtracking. Even more than in the first game, which I didn’t think was possible you go from one area to another five screens down. Then you click on something and find out you need to go back to the first screen and get an item you saw there and come back. Unlike most other adventure games where you can just collect things because you’ll need them eventually, Art of Murder 2 forces you to activate the need for an item before you can pick it up. In theory, this is a good idea. In actual practice it doubles the length of the game simply from watching your character run back and forth when you know what you need. One of the downfalls of Adventure games are their linearity, but AoM2 takes this forced straight line hand holding to a new extreme and makes the game a horrible chore to play through.

Aside from these issues and the audio and animation bugs, AoM2 plays exactly like a typical Adventure game, for good and ill. It’s the same problems as the first game with new annoying issues to add on to the original. Boo-urns.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Bad

5. Replayability

Absolutely none. I’m sorry, but there isn’t. This is one of the most linear games I’ve ever played. It’s one of the most BORING games I’ve ever played. The story is so stupid it is insulting and there is absolutely nothing here worth experiencing. It’s just a mess through and through. Although most Adventure games have problems in the replay category, at least most of those games at least boast a quality story making the adventure worth at least one repeat trip. Not here. Just stay away. FAR away.

Replayability Rating: Worthless

6. Balance

aom2-4 Ah Balance. This is the best area for me to talk about the quality of the puzzles in this game. Okay, the lack of quality in the case of this game. I actually liked the puzzles in the first game, but these? Man I HATED these.

Here’s a great example. At one point, you have to put a torn up map together. Okay, this is pretty standard fare. However, what the game doesn’t tell you is that you have to tape the map together after you finish it within only a few seconds…or it falls apart and you have to do it all over again. Usually in this game when something is timed, you are given a stop watch to warn you that speed is needed. Not here. So the first time you do this, it WILL fall apart because you have no idea that it won’t. Then you realize you need to use the tape in your inventory to put it together. However, unlike most well made games where you have an inventory screen where you can arrange things and put pieces together in a quick and easy fashion, Art of Murder 2 has a long outdated bar at the bottom of your screen and two arrows to move through the bar – ONE ITEM AT A TIME. When you do this puzzle, the map will be on one end of the bar and the tape will be on the other. Thanks to a crapload of lag between each button press and the distance between the two items without the ability to rearrange things, this is a pretty hard thing to do in the very few seconds afforded to you. You will swear. Especially if you have to put together the map three or four times due to the slowness of moving through the bar versus the limited time allotted to you.

Almost all the other puzzles in the game are both boring and illogical, making them not worth your time unless you need to consume every Adventure game ever released. The best puzzle in the game involves tracing a dungeon route on a map using a broken dagger and a key, and this is both painfully easy and boring, but at least it’s original.

The last puzzle in the game is woefully anti-climatic. You just take a board and rope you found on the screen before hand and just use them on the only clickables areas on the screen and then you get a long and painful cut scene. Okay then.

I have no idea why they bothered to make a sequel to Art of Murder, but they did. Sadly the areas where the game was interesting, puzzles and stories, are now two of the worst. Everything is easy, but it’s also boring. That’s a double kiss of death.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

aom2-7 Art of Murder: Hunt For the Puppeteer is an utterly generic game with little to no flashes of inspiration or innovation. Nothing is improved from the original, but there’s a lot that has gotten worse. This game is a perfect example of a game that exists simply to make money, and nothing else. Here’s hoping is City Interactive decides to make a third Art of Murder, they actually try something new and for god’s sake, let’s pray for a new engine.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

This game was really dull. When the game shifted from “track the serial killer” to ” let’s run around Spain stealing coins from a fountain to pay for developed photos” I about threw up my hands and asked why this game was ever made. Nothing in this game even remotely hinted at a logical sense of behaviour for a FBI agent.

It took me three days to beat this game. Not because it was long, but because it took Herculean effort to boot up the game and waste hours of my life playing this each time after my first encounter with it. I’ve sworn at games because they were too long, because there was bad control detection, and because a game was nothing but walking around for an hour or so. This is the first time I’ve ever sworn simply because a game is that BAD.

I’ve played a lot of awful Adventure games. The Path. Keepsake. Dracula 3. Art of Murder 2 however takes the cake at pure suckitude.

Addictiveness Rating: Worthless

9. Appeal Factor

aom2-9 Fans of the first game might enjoy this one, but to be honest, I’ve never HEARD of any fans of the first one. Even Adventure fans, who are some of the most forgiving gamers I know are going to find AoM2 a waste of time and twenty dollars. Still, every game is someone’s favorite and although AoM2 is buggy, poorly written and features some truly lame puzzles, it still playable and with a $19.99 purchase price, someone will be able to gleam a few kernels of joy from this.

Appeal Factor: Dreadful

10. Miscellaneous

I’m happy that City Interactive is giving games budget PC Adventure game titles. However, just because a game is cheap does not mean it is worth buying. I’m also glad to see CI trying to bring a franchise to the States from Central Europe. Again, a franchise needs to be good in the first place to suceed, and Art of Murder simply isn’t a GOOD FRANCHISE.

As I said with the first game, there are germs of good ideas lost with a lot of pushing and a very poor engine. With TIME and a real attempt at making a solid game, AoM has potential as a decent franchise for Adventure game fans. As it currently stands, only the stupid and ignorant would purchase this sequel, and I’m really hoping that doesn’t describe anyone reading this.

Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless

The Scores
Story: Dreadful
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Bad
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Bad
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: VERY BAD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Wow, has 2009 been a bad year for Adventure games or what? Although Art of Murder: Hunt For the Puppeteer isn’t as bad as The Path, it’s still one of the worst Adventure games I’ve had to sit through. It’s buggy, offers mostly bland and retread puzzles and the story is one of the worst I’ve played in any sort of game, regardless of genre. The closest thing to a positive comment I can say about this game is that at least the backgrounds aren’t hideous. Keep your twenty dollars and eight hours of your life far, far away from this stinker. Don’t Do What Donny Don’t Does.