by Ingvi Snædal
reviewed on PC
There are many things that are easy to forgive in an independent game, developed by a small studio. Annoyances such as the occasional graphics glitch or a plot hole are among them, but some things are impossible to ignore. Things like dialogue riddled with typos and grammatical errors. Things like the game constantly crashing at the same spot in the final act. Those will make any game, quite literally, impossible to play. If you're curious as to which category Murder in the Hotel Lisbon belongs, read on.
The game's characters and art-style are reminiscent of LucasArts' Sam & Max: Hit the Road, with a lot less finesse to it. Judging from the art on the developer's website, however, I assume this is intentional. In place of a dog and a homicidal rabbit, you have the chain-smoking Inspector Justin Case and his trusty sidekick who arrived in the mail just now, Clown Bot. The game is full of colour and the character's personae match the game's pallet perfectly. Although the jokes are a bit hit-and-miss at times, the general atmosphere is playful and it kept me playing for the game's entirety. The game features a MIDI sounding soundtrack which you might get fed up with after a while, but there is no spoken dialogue, so you won't miss much if you simply turn the sound down or turn it off completely. Well, except the excellent musical experience you get in the restaurant if you ask the singer to grace you with a song.
On the case
The case you are asked to solve, by a police officer who looks like Patrick from SpongeBob, involves a man who was found dead in his room at the Hotel Lisbon. Apparently, the man committed suicide by stabbing himself in the back fourteen times. Through the game you'll have to interview numerous characters, gather and inspect evidence, and generally do all the things you'd expect to do in a point-and-click adventure game. The only thing that's a bit different is that during the interview segments of the game, you'll have to match the correct question to the correct piece of evidence in the hopes of making the subject crack and spill the proverbial beans. This system has its flaws, however, such as the fact that even though you get everything right with one of the characters, the subject might not crack unless you use the other one. The point is that some people are more vulnerable to the suave interrogation tactics of Inspector Case, while others respond better to the grinding logic of Clown Bot. At times, however, there really doesn't seem to be a point to this mechanic in the dialogue and that can lead to a lot of frustrating trial-and-error gameplay.
The interface is very simple and there really aren't that many options to play with. Each interactive object highlights when you hover the mouse over it, so most of them are hard to miss. Each of them can be inspected and picked up, while characters can be inspected, talked to, or in some cases interrogated, depending on whether or not you have gathered sufficient evidence to accuse them of involvement in the crime. All this adds up to a solid, funny point-and-click adventure game with a unique aesthetic appeal and loads of references to the classic games and films of yesteryear. Now on to the bad bits.
I've spent years of my life perfecting my English language skills and seeing a typo, a misspelled word, or a grammatical error is like a needle in the very base of my ocular nerve. I am therefore quite surprised that I still have some teeth left in my mouth after playing this game as almost every dialogue box features at least one of the above, which in each case made me grind my teeth like a drug addict. There are quite a few characters who are supposed to have foreign accents and have words intentionally misspelled in their dialogues, but nothing can excuse releasing a game where a “0” is used as an apostrophe, word order is completely wrong, subjects and verbs are in complete disagreement, and the word "irony" is used instead of "sarcasm". An argument could be made that the studio didn’t have the budget to have the game professionally localised, but the forums at modDB and indieDB are full of writers looking to get into the industry who would give their left kidneys for a chance to have their names on the credit list of a released game, even if it was only featuring the title of “editor,” and I count myself among them. In an industry that is constantly under attack for lacklustre writing, the travesty that this game's dialogue is, is simply disgraceful.
In addition to the unforgivable script, each time you fail to complete an interrogation, you'll have to go through all of the dialogue leading up to the interrogation again. Failing a couple of times and then succeeding only to find out you have to do the whole thing over again because you were using the wrong character leads to a lot of frustration. Another design choice that I find a bit iffy is contained in one of the many Easter Eggs, so if you don't want to read any spoilers, you'd better skip the next paragraph.
<Spoiler>In a hidden alley in the game, you'll meet the development team dressed as hobos. Through a dialogue, you'll be presented with the option to donate to the team. If you choose yes, the game will save, it will close the client, and a browser window will open and take you to a donation service. Not only do I think it is a bit of a classless move to include this as an Easter Egg in the game (you are being rewarded for the desire to explore with the option to donate to the team), but why close the client, forcing the user to relaunch the whole game? Why not just minimise it? Wouldn't it have been a much better idea to include a small, subtle link in the main menu? Not only would they have reached more potential donors, they would also have avoided tearing the player out of the game to do so, which, if I got my game design theory correct, is the last thing you'd want to do to the player: make him stop playing.</Spoiler>
The final gripe I have with the game is the biggest one. At a specific point in what I will assume to be the game's final act, it crashes. After loading several times and finally replaying the entire plot in order to see if it was the save file itself, I can safely conclude that the game itself is the issue. There is a lot of potential in this game in terms of humour and setting, but it is sadly offset by poor execution in script writing and in client programming. I am confident that the bugs will be fixed before the game gets Greenlit on Steam, but until then, I'd hold off on this one. And if you're a stickler for grammar like myself, I wouldn't bother at all.
Colourful setting and characters, an O.K. story, and some humorous references.
Terrible writing, questionable design choices, and game breaking crashes.