The opening cinematic of City Interactive’s new adventure, Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer, is impressive: in New Orleans, a SWAT squad marches toward what appears to be an unused warehouse, and a search of the dusty, shadowy building reveals a tormented corpse, suspended in the air by hooks and wires piercing his dead skin. The vision is sudden, macabre and shocking. As soon as I saw it, I thought: “This game is going be better than the first one”, and I meant it. It seemed to me, judging from that opening cutscene, more daring and brave, more grim and catchy than the competent but lackluster first chapter, FBI Confidential. Unfortunately, it took only five minutes of actual play to dispel this hopeful illusion, and while the rest of the game displays some improvements over the first title, particularly in regard to graphics and sound, the underwhelming core of the series remains unchanged.
Let’s start with the premise: the FBI is searching for an elusive serial killer nicknamed The Puppeteer, who has a penchant for arranging his victims like in Edgar Degas’ paintings. If you have seen The Silence of the Lambs or played Still Life, this basic foundation can’t help but feel a little overdone, if not unwelcome. The bad news is that the more the game expands the plot and its inevitable twists, the stronger this sense of déjà vu grows. Unfriendly local inspector? Check. Stupid police officers easily duped by a doughnut (only in this case it is a croissant)? Check. Moonlit stroll on a cornice with cracked bricks? Check. I can go on, but the point is made. This is not to say the story is never interesting, and if you are willing to overlook the complete lack of originality and the dim-witted dialogues, Art of Murder 2’s plot can offer up some mildly decent entertainment at times.
Players will once again control Special Agent Nicole Bonnet, returning from the first game and sent this time to Paris to investigate a new murder with a similar M.O. Upon arriving, Nicole finds proof that the Puppeteer has indeed fled America for Europe, and a new string of hideous killings leads her to an American tourist researching his roots. Nicole starts digging into his story to expose its many secrets, and after teaming up with a private detective, she realizes that the Puppeteer is choosing his victims according to a pattern tracing back to one of the darkest periods of European history. So begins a journey to Azarra, Spain, where the Puppeteer’s next chosen victim might live, and this is only the start of a dangerous adventure that will take her across the ocean to exotic Havana, and then back to the City of Lights.
Even an unoriginal story can be saved by good writing and well-rounded characters. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case here, because the writing is poor and equally unimaginative, compounded by being filled with mistakes about French culture. For example, the writers not only mixed up Decadentism, Bohemianism and Impressionism, often mistaking them for the same thing, but they also botched Paris’ geography, placing the famous Moulin Rouge in Montmartre, while the cabaret is really in the red-light district of Pigalle. Even aside from these quibbles, the overall dialogue is uninspired and flat. Nicole seldom describes anything around her while examining certain objects or rooms, and her comments are extremely simplistic, offering nothing more than plain, informative statements without any spark of creativity. Sometimes they are downright laughable: when Nicole enters a secret room hidden in the killer’s hideaway, she cleverly notes “Blood in the dressing room. That’s suspicious.” This after finding two enormous chalkboards full of photographs of the slaughtered Puppeteer’s victims in the living room.
Aggravating the situation, the characters are, with the possibile exception of the sarcastic FBI secretary, paper-thin and shallow, and even the protagonist is an uninteresting lead without the slightest sign of a personality. Nicole often shows a presumptuous attitude that was clearly intended as a token of inner strength but is really just a bothersome, failed attempt at characterization. The supporting cast is even worse: from the gourmand Inspector Pety, more interested in novelle cuisine than the investigation, to the rowdy P.I with a fondness for hard-boiled talk or the dusty librarian who refuses modern technology, they are forgettable clichés if not ludicrous caricatures.
At least these characters are brought to life by a cast of decent actors. The lines – even the ones that don’t make much sense because of dialogue translation problems – are spoken clearly and believably, often with proper emphasis and a striking dose of sarcasm. Even this praise comes with a major caveat, however, as the dreadful pronunciation of French words totally undermines the first half of the adventure. There aren’t many games out there, new or old, that manage to simulate an acceptable French accent, but Art of Murder 2 is in a league of its own: French characters distort names of people and places and, most importantly, often drop the fake French inflection right in the middle of a sentence. Listening to the lines of Louis Carnot, a pivotal character, was so painful that I had to turn the volume down because it distracted me from the story.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer
Posted by emric on May 22, 2012
definitely better than the first 'art of murder'. still hindered by poor english translation
The main problem i have with these "Art of Murder" games (this is the second one) from City Interactive is complete lack of originality. The characters are stereotypical and the plot is totally trying to emulate much better games such as "Still Life". However,...