Murder at The Abbey (or simply The Abbey, as it is known in Europe) is an adventure game and it seems one of the few releases these days which doesn’t try a million things at once. If one could peek into the The Book of Game, one would find The Abbey under point-and-click adventure. It follows strictly the tested and tried formula of classics in this genre, and this may or not be a plus, depending on what you want out of a game nowadays.
You take the role of Leonardo de Toledo, the former consultant to the royal court, and along with his apprentice Bruno enter the famous abbey and begin your adventure. Actually, it begins even earlier, on your way up the cliffs when a mysterious figure makes an attempt on your and Bruno’s lives. Interestingly enough, I read the book by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, last summer, and this game is based on the events narrated there, but obviously very loosely and not nearly in much depth. However, it was very nice to be able to solve a mystery myself since I enjoyed the book immensely. The setting is a major plus with the game; it doesn’t happen often that you get to spend a week in some 14th century abbey to witness the lives of a group of overfed monks devoted to religion and books. This alone made me interested in the game, since I had run around the globe saving the world at least a half dozen times in the past year and was ready for something more local.
As soon as you pass through the gate of The Abbey, you’re informed that one of the monks has died under suspicious circumstances, and the abbot requests you to make an investigation into the matter. From there on you begin your quest into the lives of The Abbey’s inhabitants. One of the good things about a game taking place in single location is that you get to know the characters very well. Each of the monks has a unique personality, and the more you interact with them the more immersed you get. Their lives are not very exciting or varied, unless you think of grooming horses or writing manuscripts as such, but the game nevertheless succeeds in making the player involved and interested in what will happen next.
At the beginning I made a complete tour of The Abbey and spoke with everyone to get myself acquainted, and in the process I acquired a few items in my inventory. If you paid attention to what was said and explored the areas thoroughly, you’d know what needed to be done next. The game is definitely not easy – I consulted a walkthrough a few times – but the good thing is that after reading the hints my reaction was not “How was I supposed to guess that?” but “Of course! Why I didn’t think of that?”. The game really requires the player to pay attention, which is further reinforced by the fact that objects on the map are not highlighted and don’t stand out in any way. You need to go item hunting yourself. Prepare for a lot of pointing and clicking around the screen, but this comes with the territory; it’s a puzzle game, after all. What I liked about it is that not only items do items not stand out from the environment, but there are many that you don’t need for the quest at all but can be still viewed. For example, in the kitchen, among a whole bunch of other stuff, were a sack of potatoes and some kind of cooking leaves. At the start of the game you really have no idea if you’ll need the potatoes or the leaves or both, so you have to know what you’re doing in order to complete the puzzles.
If you’re not a fan of backtracking you won’t enjoy your time in The Abbey, because it needs a lot of it. The game is divided into a few acts, and cut scenes move the plot forward, and it’s usually after these sequences that you’ll need to go back and revisit the various locations until you find out what has changed. Traveling, thankfully, is quick, as you can instantly move to another area by double clicking your way there, and keeping in mind that The Abbey is not huge by any means. Most adventure games require backtracking anyway, it’s just that here the playing area is more condensed, and it seems like you’re doing it more often than average.
A thing I felt missing from making the adventure complete was more cinematic polish to heighten the drama. The game tried to inject impact in some of the tense scenes, but it fell through because it never tried hard enough. This was also a game I expected would be entirely bug free, but surprisingly I came across a number of them, all concerning speech and subtitles. On a few occasions the voice work was mismatched and on others the text spoken was entirely different than the one written. This is not the first foreign game to suffer this fate, but being stable and bug free otherwise can be forgiven.
Dialogue and voice acting can make or break an adventure game, so I was happy to discover that The Abbey did a fine job with both. The monk’s accents seemed to be a little exaggerated in some cases, but the lines were well written and well played. Ambient sounds were sparse, but that is nothing huge to complain about, considering that the musical score was quite nicely done.
Visually, the game is hit-and-miss. Even though it’s a murder mystery it uses cartoon style graphics, and for me personally, this worked great. Had they used realistic graphics and presentation it would have darkened the tone of the game considerably, but as it is it remains a light hearted game but with a sinister premise, and the combination is a very good one. Characters are 3D-rendered with a distinct cel-shaded appearance, and they fit perfectly with the surroundings. However they are also the problem, courtesy of poor animation and facial expressions. During conversation, the camera usually gets up close and you clearly see the rudimentary animations. They certainly get the job done, but score no points for immersion. Other than that, the overall look of the game is fantastic, and the developers have certainly done their best with the limited environment of an abbey they had to work with. There are no exotic or diverse locations to visit, unfortunately, so if you’re a sucker for grand adventures spanning the globe I advise you to pick something else up.
Overall this is a perfect example of a game I would recommend only to adventure fans. It is not polished enough, and it’s too formulaic to take someone away from their favorite genre to spend some time in the abbey looking for a murderer. However the likable characters, the great voice work and the unique atmosphere will no doubt be sufficient reasons for many to pick this one up. It doesn’t drag along, and it’s not overly difficult. so it’s a perfect diversion while you’re waiting for some bigger releases.