Clue Chronicles: Fatal Illusion

Developer/Publisher:  Engineering Animation Interactive
Year Released:  2000

Review by Rosemary Young (March, 2000)
clue.jpgTo my knowledge there are already a couple of computer games based on the original Cluedo or Clue Board Game, but this is the first that leaves the board game 'feel' behind and transforms into a murder mystery adventure game.

Setting the scene
It's April, 1911, somewhere in The Valley of the Kings, when a very hot and sticky archaeologist sits down to type out his daily notes. Someone sneaks up behind him and contemplates murder as they survey their collection of deadly weapons: a rope, a candlestick, a gun, a lead pipe, a wrench and a knife (have I missed anything here?). They promptly plunge the latter into the back of the unsuspecting victim.

Jump to New Years Eve 1938 somewhere on the Rhine aboard Ian Masque's plush yacht, Rhine Maiden. You are heading towards Mr Masque's mountaintop retreat where you have been invited to bring along your private detective skills and join him and his guests at a New Year's Eve Party. As yet you have no inkling of what you are investigating but one of your colourful fellow guests: Peacock, Green, Scarlet, Mustard, Plumb or White is bound to be up to no good. They are accompanied by a number of other suspicious characters including a German psychiatrist, a Russian Hypnotist and a Spanish Clairvoyant. What a potent concoction on the eve of 1939!

Food for thought
Apart from her human cargo the Rhine Maiden is also carrying some priceless Egyptian artefacts and your mountaintop destination has been converted into a private museum filled to the brim with more ancient goodies. A strong motive for murder, maybe? Perhaps this is why millionaire, Ian Masque, has requested your company! But why has he elected to celebrate New Year's Eve with this particular group of people? What motives do they have for accepting his invitation? And by whom is Masque mysteriously killed even before you make it to your destination?

So many questions and this first-person perspective game allows you to step in and play the role of detective to solve the mystery. Your investigation begins on the water where there's lots of talking to do plus a few fairly simple puzzles. It then takes flight in the middle section which involves getting a cable car to work, and finally reaches dry ground at Masque's chateaux where you get tied up with more interrogations and with six riddles and six hidden gems.

Interface and gameplay
Armed with your notebook it is your task to work out what is going on in this familiar point and click adventure. This involves simply selecting a character to call up your notebook where there is a list of questions to ask. As you learn more, more topics are listed and each question is checked as you ask it so that you know where you are at all times. This latter feature is particularly useful as it's always easy in detective games to waste time repeating questions, although it is disconcerting that the questions aren't standardised despite having standard topics.

The main menu drops down at the top of the screen and provides access to suspect biographies as well as game options and saving and loading. Similarly the inventory appears at the bottom of the screen where inventory objects can be manipulated or inspected in close up. This bar also displays the 'clue' option where you can get incremental hints if you are stuck, making Clue Chronicles friendly for novice players. It's also good for hearing-impaired players as all the dialogue is subtitled.

The navigation which has a number of distinctive arrows for travelling in different directions is simple to use. Movement is smooth between set 'nodes' and the graphics are quite detailed even if they don't excel. There is very little character animation but this is probably a good thing because I encountered a lot of glitches in the graphics. Characters disappearing altogether (or doubling up sometimes) as well as other weird effects that were quite persistent.

Puzzles and problems
As well as chatting to your fellow passengers there's quite a range of teasers in this game including some riddles and abstract puzzles to get the gems, a maze, and some limited inventory-based puzzles. A couple of the problems require intricate cursor control, but patience is the answer rather than high dexterity.

All in all this game has the right stuff to make a good mystery adventure including a twist to the plot which is not entirely unexpected. Indeed, Clue Chronicles is quite an enjoyable little mystery with some entertaining puzzles and problems (personally I thoroughly appreciated working out the riddles and chasing up the gems) but it falls short of being a really good adventure game. Unfortunately, as well as the graphics glitches and some show-stopping bugs (you will need the patch before you tackle this one) it was let down by its relative shortness and its failure to capitalise on all the potential.

The trouble is that it sets up so many possibilities and then doesn't run with the good ideas. For instance, suspicious characters who are never really anything more than props. This is because the 'detecting' in this game is almost wholly confined to conversations, hence there is no 'hands-on' detective work. No opportunity to snoop around and find incriminating evidence plus a red herring or two to put a spanner in the works and keep you thinking. This is what it is lacking, the opportunity to play detective and slowly build up a picture of what is (or what might be) happening. If only there was more to do in the castle, more locations to explore and clues to find. The game might have been better without the cable car section in the middle which was fairly ordinary and didn't impact on the mystery, leaving more room for greater emphasis on the final part with plenty of detective work to wade through and lots of suspicious goings-on to think about.

Despite my complaints Clue Chronicles is a very playable mystery adventure if you don't expect too much. I enjoyed it despite its shortcomings. It is possibly a good choice as a short diversionary trip for mystery fans but, despite having a good hint system, novice players should be wary because of the bugs.

Note: You can find the patch and other useful troubleshooting tips here. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2000. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Pentium 133, Windows 95/98, 16 MB RAM, 2 MB SVGA video card compatible with DirectX version 6.0 or higher, 80 MB free hard drive space, Keyboard, Mouse.