I’ve had a bad run of adventures lately. Over the past month I’ve reviewed four adventures -- Sinking Island, Nikopol, Dracula 3, and now Murder in the Abbey -- and only Nikopol has been even halfway decent. The others have been disasters, but Murder in the Abbey holds the distinction of not only receiving the lowest score of the bunch, but also of combining the worst elements of those other games. The premise is preposterous (Nikopol), you control a religious person who has no problem lying, stealing and cheating (Dracula 3), and you investigate one of the dullest murder mysterious ever conceived (Sinking Island). To say that Murder in the Abbey is a waste of time is to put it mildly. It’s one of those titles that makes me wonder just how low the bar is to get a game published.
Anyway, in the game you control a monk named Leonardo de Toledo, who seems to be some sort of roving investigator for the Catholic Church. One night the gatekeeper of an abbey is killed under mysterious circumstances (a censer falls on his head), and you’re called in with your apprentice Bruno to investigate the matter. Obviously it was murder, but why? Was the gatekeeper just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or did he know something incriminating, or did somebody need to pass through the gate without being seen? As other monks start dying, you discover that Evil has found its way into the abbey, and that means you have to solve all the riddles before the Holy Inquisition shows up and starts burning people at the stake.
Like most investigative adventures, you spend a lot of time in Murder in the Abbey talking to people. Unfortunately, the dialogue is dull and rambling, and it rarely has anything to do with the case or with character development. It just drones on and on in an effort to put you to sleep. The worst culprit is the ending sequence, which takes about a half hour to play out, and which painstakingly and slowly reveals every mystery of the game, whether you care about it or not. Only the voice actor for Leonardo does a decent job. The other actors sound like they’re auditioning for a Saturday morning cartoon, and they never deliver their lines in a believable manner (and that’s if their dialogue plays at all, which isn’t always the case).
Then there are the puzzles, which aren’t much better. Murder in the Abbey is played using fixed camera views, where you click where you want Leonard to go, and you click on inventory objects to pick them up. Most of the puzzles involve picking up items and using them in the right place (such as finding a key and using it to unlock a door), but even with that simple mechanic a lot of them don’t make any sense. As an example, at one point a monk hints that if you were to bring him some food, then he’d help you out. So you go to the kitchen, and the cook actually offers you food, but you can’t accept it. Instead, you have to sneak around and try to steal a cup of soup. Later, you encounter a puzzle that Leonardo won’t even contemplate without the proper clue, and where do you find it? Why, in the casket of the recently deceased monk, of course, even though there’s absolutely no hint that you’d find anything there. I know the first thing I always do when I get stuck in life is go dig up some dead people.
Finally, there’s the story, which might be the worst part of the game. Your character isn’t believable, since you seem to have no trouble lying and stealing and digging up dead bodies for fun. The abbey isn’t believable, since it contains enough treasure to make Fort Knox envious, and since its library looks like it was designed by M.C. Escher’s less talented cousin. And the murder investigation isn’t believable, since nobody in the abbey seems smart enough to breathe, let alone plan a murder, and since nobody will help you do anything, forcing you to solve all number of inane puzzles to get anywhere.
And so, obviously, Murder in the Abbey (or just The Abbey, as it is known in Europe) is an adventure game to skip. The cartoon style it uses for its look is effective, but too much of the game feels like a cartoon, with over-the-top voice acting and silly situations, and that forms a disturbing dichotomy with how seriously the game takes itself. Plus, the puzzles are awful and the story is worse, and so there isn’t anything in the game to recommend. Pass this adventure by, even if you see it sitting invitingly in a bargain bin.