There’s not a whole lot I enjoy more than the use of FMV in video games. When real actors and their campy performances are the focus of a game I just know I have to play it, I can’t help myself. It’s fair to say that the vast majority of FMV games are a little light on the gameplay though, usually only featuring a few dialogue options or simple point and click mechanics. Murderous Muses wasn’t satisfied with that, and instead features a full 3d art gallery to explore and a murder mystery to solve.
One of the great mysteries of Mirlhaven island is the murder of Mordechai Grey. This famous artist was killed just before a big exhibition at the local gallery, and the only suspects in the case are the six people he was painting before his demise. As the new gallery security guard you’re in a unique position to try and find out more about the situation, especially because the paintings of the six subjects come to life at night.
Murderous Muses takes place over three days of work at the gallery. You’ll start in the daytime with the task of hanging up some pictures of Mirlhaven in their correctly labeled location. You have to try and figure out where they go based on what’s painted in the picture, which isn’t always obvious. Once they lock in place you can listen to a bit of information about the piece by pressing the button next to them, which often reveals a slightly sinister side to this community.
Once you’ve done your daytime chores it’s time to start the night shift. It becomes pretty obvious that something isn’t normal about this evening job, because when you start you’re stuck in a tiny square room with a painting of a key. This is to teach you how to put gems called Mordechai’s eyes into the pictures, which are needed to activate the paintings to solve puzzles. Honestly it’s not very well explained, but with a bit of trial and error you’ll get to see the real hook of the game.
The main goal of each night in Murderous Muses is to view specific FMV scenes from the six suspects. This is done by placing the pictures on specific spots on the wall and using the gems to play a short video. Watching these little scenes about the characters helps you learn a little about them, and the reasons they might want to murder Mordechai.
There are some interesting folks who might be murderers. One of the suspects is the only funeral director on the island who is massively into making death eco-friendly, another is a disgraced ventriloquist. I enjoyed getting to find out as much as I could about these unique characters, but not all of them are as interesting as the others.
At the end of each night you’ll be asked by the museum curator to send one of the six suspect paintings away to another exhibit, and once you do then that’s all you’ll find out about that character because it’s gone for good. You need to try to figure out who has an alibi as quickly as possible, otherwise you might fail your investigation at the first hurdle without even knowing.
If you guess wrong in a playthrough though it isn’t the end of the world, because Murderous Muses isn’t a one and done game. Each run takes around two hours, and you’ll see different scenes, paintings and there’ll be a different murderer in each of them. It’s a really interesting way to make a story focused game like this replayable, but even with all the changes it won’t take too many runs to start seeing repeated scenes and voice lines.
There’s more than just hanging pictures and watching characters talk in Murderous Muses too. Each night has a simple puzzle to solve that will reveal a bit of lore if you manage it, and special urns can unlock more cutscenes in a weird wing of the gallery that contains everything you’ve seen in prior playthroughs. There’s a lot to discover as you guard the museum overnight, and you’re left to your own devices to just figure it out yourself.
The biggest issue with Murderous Muses shows itself during the evening sections. Everything you do in these periods revolves around seeing the FMV scenes you need to, which involves (without spoiling too much) figuring out how to get the right titles to show up in the gallery. This can mean cycling through a whole load of unnecessary scenes, and alongside this you are often required to see the same scene multiple times in a row. I have no idea why you’d want to watch a forty second cutscene twice, but the game seems to think it’s a good idea.
Ultimately Murderous Muses just can’t tell a fully fleshed out story with the amount of FMV cutscenes you see in a single run, and having to play the game multiple times to get a few extra scraps of content is just frustrating. I also just wish some of the characters were a little more interesting to me, because especially when I got unlucky on a run and all my favourites were proven innocent early, I had to spend a hell of a lot of time with the boring ones.
Murderous Muses has some interesting idea on how to use FMV in a video game, but because of this the story isn’t told in a very digestible way. I really wanted to find out more about some of my favourite characters, but far too often I had to focus on the ones I didn’t care about for a couple of hours. If you’re really starving for some delightful full motion video then this might scratch the itch, but there are plenty of other games I’d play first.
An interesting idea for a replayable FMV game
Some great characters
A secretly sinister setting
Takes a lot of playthroughs for the story to flesh out
Doesn't really teach you any of the mechanics
Some of the characters just aren't that interesting
Having to watch the same scene multiple times is a drag