Cruise For A Corpse
Review By: Gringo

Ever wanted to be Hercule Poirot? No? Me neither. However, ignoring people like us, back in 1991 Delphine released Cruise For A Corpse, in which the player's character is none other than a sleuthing European detective. Unlike the Belgian Poirot, the character you play hails from France. Raoul Dusentier is your average overwhelmingly tall, comically moustached middle-aged detective who gets invited out to the maiden cruise of a millionaire's new luxury yacht; the Karaboudjan III. Only there isn't going to be time to get drunk, do something far too embarrassing and then deny it vehemently the next day. There's murder on board, and you're going to have to put your detective skills to use.

Following a rather nicely animated and well written introductory sequence, the game proper starts with the ship's butler bursting in to your room to tell you that the owner of the ship (and the man who pays his wages), Mr. Niklos Karaboudjan, has been murdered. Being the detective you are, you agree to investigate. However, whilst observing the body someone knocks you out. The first moment you can control Raoul is when you come to, in a small study room aboard the yacht. I can't tell you much of the storyline without giving some of the twists and turns away, but suffice to say that this game is worthy of anyone who likes a clever detective story. There are several false leads throughout the game, shady characters, and even the required major twist at the end of the tale.

Controlling Raoul throughout the well-crafted murder story is incredibly simple. During the game, one right-click of the button brings up a choice between your inventory or a map of the ship. The map is convenient because it allows you to jump from room to room without having to undergo the lengthy walking distance. Simply click on the room you want to go to and you are transported. Left click meanwhile is used when the cursor is placed over something or someone that can be used. It will bring up a list of options if it's an inanimate object, or let you select questions if you're speaking to someone. Finally, a joint right-left click brings up the system menu, letting you quit if all the detective nonsense starts to overwhelm you. For instance, if you begin to put on a bad Belgian accent and recite bits from Murder On The Orient Express.

Like that Agatha Christie novel, this game takes place within a confined area; the aforementioned luxury ship of the murdered millionaire. It all looks very nice throughout the game; the rooms and exterior decks are presented in detailed graphics. Even locations as seemingly insignificant as the laundry have had time devoted to them, so that the graphics of each room appear very well done. In addition, when you speak to a character, the picture changes to a close-up between Raoul and whoever is being interrogated. The characters are invariably well drawn (see the screenshots) and for a non-voice acted game their speech matches the movement of their lips quite well. It's a professional touch that makes the game earn a few more credit points. Outside of interrogation, the characters lose their detail but still manage to avoid looking like drawing them has been a lazy afterthought.

As for the cut-scenes; well, they're a mix and match of in-game style graphics and the more cinematic look of the opening sequence. And it works; it makes the game look more original. Story is the main reason behind cut-scenes in Cruise For A Corpse, with some great material to be found in the non-playable parts; from a crucial reel of film being projected to a tense scene where you could find yourself on the receiving end of several bullets as one of the characters finally loses it under the eye of suspicion. The cut-scenes work well in the overall scheme of the game - despite the fact that they're only ever ten or twenty seconds long - and as the final few hours of your investigation draw near, they become more and more helpful.

And you're going to need that help like I need help with my grammar (you should never start a sentence with 'and'). On board are a varied collection of characters; from the priest who likes a drink or two to the curiously quiet businessman who seems oblivious to what's been happening. Cheating wives, men who steal from one another and others who lose it at the sight of a whisky bottle are just some of the people you'll meet on board. The game's setting - at sea - is perfectly claustrophobic, making you determined to solve the murder so you can get back onto the mainland and away from the assortment of misfits you've been trapped with. Red herrings abound, and it's a nice touch that the characters try and incriminate other people on board, leading you up several false trails as you try to find the murderer.

In Cruise For A Corpse, the music is more than adequate, carrying off the required 1920's style (the game is set in 1926). It changes for almost every different room you enter, most notably in the bar - where it's upbeat and fast-paced - and the smoking lounge, where the music comes from a Victorola in the corner. Playing off any standard soundcard, the game's score is suitable, enjoyable and adds to the atmosphere. In other words, it performs everything required of it. If you're unfortunate in that there's no other choice than to play the music through your computer's internal speaker, I'd strongly recommend you choose silence instead. The static beeps interfere with the experience of the game and sound nothing like music; they just resemble a mess of robotic beeps. As for the sound effects, one sentence will suffice - there's hardly any, save for a clock ticking or a strange clunking sound whenever you open a door.

Let's look at the checklist; good story, strong characters and dialogue, decent soundtrack. What's left? Well, an adventure game can be undone by dire puzzles, even if it has all these elements. The challenge of the puzzles starts off relatively easy. It won't take more than a minute or two to find your first relevant piece of evidence; it's in the room you start in. However, as the game progresses so does the difficulty of the puzzles. One problem is an overwhelming portion of the game relies on conversation rather than logical thought. If it's mazes, object combinations and practical obstacles you want to overcome, try another game. Cruise For A Corpse is a very talky game; you are going to have to listen to many, many conversations if you want to complete it - but relief comes in the form that character's don't tend to reveal new information later in the game about a question they've already answered. This saves having to trawl through every dialogue option, as you simply select whatever new questions to ask your searches on the ship have brought about.

There's practically no action element to this game whatsoever. The only non-adventure challenge is a fist fight, and even that can be circumvented through logical thought. The game has a steady pace set against a clock. You're not timed however. Instead, whenever you achieve something, time advances slowly towards your goal. Once you solve a certain puzzle or ask a particular question, time goes forward ten more minutes. You need to get up to half past six in the afternoon before the grand finale takes place. That's a lot of sleuthing, seeing as the game starts off at eight o' clock in the morning. Time passes slowly to begin with, but as the bigger clues are found towards the end of the game it progresses quickly to the finale.

And in true detective style - well, not true at all - I will bring this review to a dramatic finale. The crime is making a fantastic adventure game that isn't as well known as it should be. The suspects are good graphics, strong storyline, interesting dialogue and a fair amount of challenge. Assembling them all together, twirling my Hercule Poirot moustache, I deduce that it was the game's developers, using all of the above, in the programming room that are guilty. Oh, wait. I've just realised how horribly cliché and highly irritating this paragraph is. Better sum the game up another way.

Here goes. Cruise For A Corpse has many individual charms, and when they're combined as they are in this game, they work well. Overall, it all adds up to make a fantastic adventure game that boasts plenty of atmosphere, a varied mix of suspicious characters and dialogue that's actually worth reading. It may not be 3D, ultra-realistic in presentation, and because it's mouse-driven, there's no ability to be fully in control of wandering around the ship. However, those are far from essentials when it comes to what makes a great adventure game. Cruise For A Corpse has what it takes. Whilst it may involve a lot of talking and piecing together of seemingly unconnected clues, it's worth it in the end. Try the game out - you won't be disappointed. Guaranteed*.

(*Guarantee void in Tennessee).

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