Murder in the Abbey Review (PC)

The Abbey is a point and click adventure game with a charming cartoon artwork style. The characters are carefully drawn yet retain a pleasing simplicity which serves to emphasize the storytelling. You control the investigator monk Leonardo. You along with your young novice, Bruno, have been sent to a forlorn abbey bearing a gift for the Abbot, but no sooner than you arrive are you asked to investigate the recent death of one of the monks.

And that is all you are given to get started. Something is wrong at the abbey, figure it out. The biggest problem I had with this game was trying to figure out what to do next. There is no hint system and, especially in the beginning, itís easy to wander about wondering what you are supposed to be doing next and what problem you are actually solving.

Characters and artwork are very charming.
Leonardo and his novice solve an inventory puzzle.

The Abbey is developed by Crimson Cow studios in Germany. The first release of the game was in German only and reports on the Internet revealed that it contained several bugs, including plot stopping errors. A patch for the German version was released to correct these flaws. The version I played was localized for English and had no bugs, crashes, or other problems that I could see so the patch must be included in the new English release of the game. Also, donít be puzzled by the multiple titles. The English version has been re-titled Murder in the Abby on most web sites and at the English publisher's site, The Adventure Company. However, all references in the game to the title including the game credits and the main title screen call it simply, The Abbey.

Each screen requires careful searching to reveal all the clickable items. Sometimes they are even behind your characters so be sure to move around before giving up on a scene. Also, itís very common for events in on one screen to change the clickable items in another. Youíll have to re-search each chamber every time you come back to see if you missed anything or if there is anything new to find.

The puzzle variety in the game is satisfyingly broad. There are inventory puzzles, logic puzzles and even dialog puzzles. The only one that had me cursing was the sliding picture puzzle. I hate those things. The inventory puzzles were well done and none of them left me scratching my head wondering what the puzzle designers had been smoking when they created it. Several of the inventory puzzles required three or more inventory items making them pleasingly complex puzzles.

One of the most obvious things about The Abbey is the voice acting and the music. The music is used very well to set the atmosphere for each scene. Gregorian type chants in the chapel, eerie music in the graveyard, and cheerful sounds in the refractory and kitchen. Much of the soundtrack was recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Your character and the monks of the abbey are all voice acted well with the exception of your novice, Bruno. His whining, stuttering voice is overplayed and eventually ends up grating. Unfortunately, you will have to talk with him several times to complete the story so just suck it up.

Another puzzling choice is the way the exterior scenes in the abbey itself fit together. Some rooms appear to only have one way directions. For example you can leave an area on the right and arrive in one place. But leaving that place again on the left takes you somewhere else than where you started. I ended up going round and around trying to find certain areas before I discovered that there was a map included in the UI. Clicking M to pull up the map allows you to just select the area of the abbey you wish to be at by double clicking on its picture.

Nothing to see here. Move along. The second victim examined.
Dark and spooky in the catacombs.

A few more conventions of recent adventure style games would improve the user experience as well. In scenes where your characters have to walk to interact with an object there is no way to make them run by double-clicking like there are in recent Telltale Games titles. Watching Leonardo plod across a chamber to see if pushing on a stone does anything gets really old after a while. I would have loved a way to speed some of those scenes up.

The story is very well told. The murder mystery turns into a multiple-murder mystery as it picks up steam and the suspects are colorful and enjoyable to interrogate. Clues for the central mystery are doled out fast enough to keep you satisfied and interested in perusing the game to its conclusion. After the first chapter it was rare to run into a situation where I had no idea what to do next.

I was a little let down by some of the plot twists in the final chapter that seemed to me were a bit too simplistic given the complexity of what had come before. It may be that the story at this point is racing to a conclusion so the designers may have felt a need to speed up the pacing of the game by simplifying the story.

As a game set in a Christian monastery it deals with Christian themes of morality and right and wrong, yet the game never preaches to the player. Characters are true to what they believe and act accordingly, including the hero Leonardo. Much is made of the beliefs of the monks yet never in a way that is overbearing Ė and in fact, the tension between what the monks espouse and the knowledge that there is a murderer on the loose living contrary to the public beliefs inside the abbey creates a nice tension in the game.

The monks contemplate another death.
I HATE these puzzles. I really really HATE them.

The Abbey attempts to use humor in several instances to lighten the brooding atmospheric presence of the medieval murder mystery. However, most of these attempts fall flat. Usually, they are delivered by Leonardo as an attempted wise-crack to another character. None of them really flow and they rarely earned more than a smirk or a grin. The story is serious and it feels serious, which is probably why the voice acting for your novice Bruno grates as much as it does. The overacting with that character is the only one that doesnít sound like it really fits in with the feel of the rest of the story.

Anyone looking for an adventure game with longer game play than some of the recent episodic games will enjoy playing The Abbey. Be prepared to draw some maps in some areas and to pixel hunt every single time you re-enter a room. There are no action sequences to detract from the puzzles and other game play so fans of pure adventure games should really enjoy this title.

Top gaming moment: Finally finding a use for the soft wax candle I had been dragging around with me.

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By ScythSoulces (SI Core) on Sep 22, 2008
The graphics SUCK on this game and the game its self (on what I read and seen) do's not look good at all.
By Florentin (SI Veteran Member) on Sep 22, 2008
in comparison with other games, the graphics look quite different.
perhaps that is done on purpose.
it is not a game that tries to impress visually.
rather, it attempts to involve the mind.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Sep 22, 2008
Its' more than a tad unfair to base a game's success or failure on graphics alone. This is an Adventure game, and as such the graphics are spot on (though I can't help feeling that Mel Blanc's voice might be sorely missing).
By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Sep 22, 2008
I find it really sad how much nowadays players consider it to be important for a game to have good graphics. This results with oversimplification of all genres (Mass Effect?), plot quality drop (Bioshock?), short gameplay time (Turok?) and general game repetitiveness (Crysis Warhead?) for the sole sake of The Almighty Graphics. All the aforementioned games are praised everywhere while they'd be only mediocre titles due their shortcomings in, say, 1995. But now gamedevs just pump the graphics up and players fall for them like those poor native Americans fallen for beads... As for me I'd play anything that has a good plot and graphics above ASCII. I understand that it's a demand and supply market, but let some games be oldschool for sake of such players like me... And as for this game's graphics I actually like it. Reminds me of the Warcraft adventure game that never came out...
By loyalknight10 (SI Member) on Sep 23, 2008
The graphics is mediocre, there is no big deal about it. Seeing the graphics it reminds me of old 90's cartoon movies.
By dtungsten (I just got here) on Sep 23, 2008
I have to agree with Herodotus and Van-d-all. This game is not supposed to have awesome 3-d hyper realistic graphics. Instead teh grapics are presented in a very specific cartoon style in order to further the telling of the story that is being presented. To that end I believe that they did an excellent job, especially with the backgrounds. The characters are a little lumpy but still fit fairly well with the gameplay. And all the graphics are very appropriate to both the game and genre.

I'm an old time gamer and I'm saddened to see the relentless chase for newer flashier graphics preventing the deeper and more interesting stories and better gameplay.
By RastaKid (SI Veteran Newbie) on Sep 24, 2008
I don't really like this game.It's not my sort of game.But it has a nice review and it looks fun to play.
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 06, 2008
The graphic reminds me 'The Hunchback of Notredame' cartoon. Walt Disney's style. I'm not a big fan of Puzzle games, but the screenshots convince me that 'this game is different'. So, maybe it's worth to try!