Note: This review was originally published April 23, 2002
When I first heard about a game called The Elk Moon Murder I was intrigued and somewhat baffled because the name made no sense to me. The game's box offered no explanation, just a hint: Elk Moon Murder is one of the Santa Fe Mysteries games and Indians (or Native Americans to be politically correct, although I find both terms equally semantically misleading) play a prominent role here. The box also boasts the names of several presumably well known names from the American TV industry (Shannon Gilligan, Sam Egan, Amanda Donohoe) but I'm afraid the effect was completely lost on me since I never really watched American TV.
The name mystery was quickly explained as soon as I saw the opening sequence of the game: a TV reporter tells us about the murder of Elk Moon, Santa Fe's prominent Native American artist. You play the role of a Santa Fe Police Dept homicide squad investigator (I think) and you are summoned to the Chief's office. He explains that Elk Moon was a well connected person and a strong pressure is being applied on the Police Dept to solve the case very quickly. If the SFPD can't show results soon, FBI will take over - and the Chief won't have that. You are given five days to apprehend the murderer (or murderers). As if one problem wasn't enough, since Elk Moon was Indian, the case needs to be handled with utmost care. Because you (as a white American presumably) are not deemed capable of handling the investigation on your own, you are assigned a Native American colleague, John Night Sky (very poetic name) who should "do all the talking" - and he will.
You start the investigation equipped with a PDA and a map. The map predictably allows you to move around - but you can only visit a location after someone has told you about it, hence there are not many places to go at the beginning but quite a few near the end of the investigation. The PDA handles communications with the Police HQ and forensic lab and also records information about suspects, informants and clues. There is no inventory in the game.
The first place to visit is Elk Moon's studio where she had been murdered (killed with one shot to the head to be exact). You can discover some clues there and then assign the forensic lab to analyze them. The trick is that the analysis takes considerable time - which you do not have. Thus you need to decide which objects are more likely to provide some leads and concentrate on those.
The next activity is interrogation of Elk Moon's husband - the first of many (interrogations, not husbands that is - the husband is Elk Moon's second in fact). Your buddy Night Sky does the talking (your character in fact never says a word in the entire game) but you decide what he should ask about. Again, asking each question takes some time (15 minutes of game time which seems ridiculous) so you should only pick the questions promising to uncover some clues and point to the suspects.
And there will be suspects galore. You will soon discover that Elk Moon led a colorful life and managed to make a number of enemies. More than that, at the time of her death she was restoring an extremely valuable piece of Indian art, and ancient pot - which is now (not too surprisingly) missing. And very conveniently, there is a number of people around who wanted to get their hands on this pot and might even kill for it. And as if that weren't enough, there are ex-husbands, ex-wives and ex-employees who for one reason or other might have wanted to murder Elk Moon. After you talk to each of the suspects, you can have a colleague at the Police HQ check their alibi. The trouble is that almost nobody has one. Yet again, checking an alibi takes a while so you have to pick your suspects carefully.
When the five days are up, you have to arrest the suspect you think is most likely of having committed the crime. And this is where I had a big problem with this game. I ended up with nearly 10 suspects of which none had an alibi, each had a motive and the clues were pointing in no particular direction. So I chose trial and error approach - that rarely fails (it sure didn't in this case).
But before I nailed the right culprit I had my frustration level raised pretty high. It is possible to get an arrest warrant for any of the suspects without alibi (ie. nearly everyone in the game) after you select the correct relationship to the victim and the suspected motive, which is not too difficult. With the warrant in hand you can pay a visit to the suspect. Only in some cases the Chief will intercept you and tell you what an idiot you are since this or that guy has a bulletproof alibi. Which is rather strange since your fellow investigators told you that he or she had no alibi whatsoever - and why the heck didn't the Chief tellyou if he knew better? With other suspects you can actually attempt to apprehend them. Only they will shoot you or beat you to death with blunt instruments. Which is again totally ridiculous since you are armed (I hope!) and not alone.
But the list of suspects is not endless and eventually I did find the right one. Apprehending the suspect was not entirely easy and a little chase was involved. But in the end the mystery was solved and the Chief was happy, probably more than me.
But enough ranting, let's take a look at the technical side of The Elk Moon Murder. The game comes on two CDs and a moderate amount of disc swapping is involved. The game runs on DOS, Win9x as well as the Macintosh. From the above paragraphs it is probably clear that it is more of an "interactive movie" than an adventure game (which I do not consider a problem by itself). Hence there is a lot of FMV sequences in the game.
The game runs in 640x480 resolution and the movie clips are interlaced (every other line is black) as is typical for many mid-1990s games (it looks better than it sounds). The video quality is not great but quite tolerable. I am bad at judging the quality of acting but it was certainly good enough to convince me that practically every character in the game was a suspect. The quality of the sound recording is quite good.
There are no puzzles in The Elk Moon Murder - the entire game is just one long puzzle. Consequently it doesn't take very long to finish the game, it took me just one evening - and that included seeing almost every possible bad ending (and the one good ending).
Before concluding the review I should mention that as usual, the RSAC Advisory label on the box did not fail to amuse me (in this case it was certainly funnier than the game itself). If a mild game like this rates 3 out of 4 on the violence scale, how much do games like Soldier of Fortune rate? 8 out of 4? Similarly, rating The Elk Moon Murder 2 out of 4 for both Nudity/Sex and Language seems a little too strong to me. Curiously enough, the European rating (ELSPA) deems this game appropriate for ages 11 and up, which is more in line with what I would expect. Oh well, I suppose that just reveals that I'm a dirty European myself.
The Elk Moon Murder is a race against time and nasty surprises set up to trip up unsuspecting adventurers by the game's creators. The game is technically very well made but calling it an adventure game is probably not appropriate due to the lack of puzzles. The game's story is not uninteresting, although it is perhaps a little too complex and it's not easy to keep track of who's who, especially at the beginning. Thus my final grade is a C+.
Final Grade: C+
486 DX2-66 MHz or higher,
Min 8MB memory,
DOS 6.0 or later,
Hard disk with 35Mb free space,
Double speed CD-ROM drive or faster,
16-bit High color SVGA video graphic card (VESA Local Bus or PCI recommended),
Microsoft mouse or 100% compatibles.
100% Sound Blaster 16-compatible sound card (for digital and general MIDI audio)
Designed for DOS & Windows 95 operating systems.
68LC040 33/66 MHz
16 MB RAM
2X CD ROM drive