Peter Moorhead’s Murder is everything that critics of indie games despise. It’s a stylised pixel-art short story with minimal actual gameplay, and it is wrapped up in less than twenty minutes. Whether or not this classifies it as a “good” game (or even a game) will be down to your interpretation of the experience. It will certainly prove divisive, but that doesn’t necessarily diminish the experience.
You take the role of Motomeru Minori, a lieutenant in a futuristic Tokyo. She has been plagued for many days by dreams of her own murder at the hands of a robot, and when she arrives at the scene of a crime, a series of events lead her to a number of uncomfortable questions spanning the boundaries of morality and philosophy. This is a Neo-Tokyo where robotic life lives alongside humanity but is treated with disdain by the populace, a typically consumerist approach made apparent by the broken droid sat outside your neighbour’s apartment, waiting to be scrapped.
Even though they are limited by their pixel-art confines, the environments are striking. The smog and neon of Minori’s downtown apartment area feels intoxicating and oppressive, and the lighting effects - particularly to highlight Minori’s chain-smoking addiction - are lovely. Additionally, Murder pumps out brooding synth beats to cement the cyberpunk feel, although the hip-hop opening theme jars.
It’s a shame that the story isn’t able to capitalise on its setting. Excluding the tutorial, if you interacted with every hotspot and read every line of text, you’ll be watching the credits roll within fifteen minutes. If there was a well-rounded story here it might be forgivable, but the admittedly decent voice-acting has to make do with clunky dialogue pulled straight from a seventies cop show or a weak episode of The Outer Limits.
Sentience amongst robotic life has been covered in pretty much every decade since the later 1800s, and Murder does nothing new with it. Thematically, the idea of linking into a robot’s consciousness is interesting, but it is barely touched on other than at the denouement. The gameplay elements consist of clicking on optional hotspots in the environment, then clicking on “critical” hotspots to advance the story. There are no puzzle elements, and the single choice we came across amounted to looking at two different areas of a hard drive, which took about thirty seconds.
Murder is Blade Runner without the story, and Beneath a Steel Sky without the gameplay. Even at a couple of quid, some people might feel hard done by. Hopefully Moorhead will expand on it with a more substantial game in the future as there is the seed of a greater experience here, almost as if this was released to test the gaming community’s appetite for its setting. You can’t fault the backdrop but with very little for you to engage with - either from a narrative or agency standpoint - it seems like a missed opportunity. It’s the gaming equivalent of an amuse-bouche: a brief, pleasant introductory snackette for you to nibble on, which is almost immediately forgotten when something far more substantial arrives.