The sequel to 2022’s best murder mystery game is better, weirder and more grotesque than ever

The sequel to 2022’s best murder mystery game is better, weirder and more grotesque than ever

A murder scene at sunset by a highway in Rise of the Golden Idol

Image credit: Eurogamer/Playstack

The Case of the Golden Idol was one of 2022’s best surprises. A detective murder mystery like no other, its 12 strange deaths (or more if you count its equally exceptional DLC) all centred around a mythical golden statue whose supposed life-giving properties put it at the heart of a decades-long conspiracy. As we unravelled the tangled history of the double-crossing Cloudsley family, we poked around stuffy country manors, dingy, candlelit inns, blood-stained beaches, and hallowed cult chambers in our search for the truth, gradually picking up clues in the form of names, nouns and verbs to work out whodunnit and why in each deadly tableau.

In its best moments, its deduction process called to mind the knotty blank-filling of Return of the Obra Dinn. While the words you collected during your mouse-clicking were important, they were nothing without all the dozens of other little visual clues you’d pick up simply by surveying the scene in question, as the aftermath of each murder would be frozen in time for you to pick through the incriminating evidence stashed in pockets, bins and swapped coats.

All this returns in full in its even more elaborate sequel, Rise of the Golden Idol, which moves the action forward a couple of centuries to the even more paranoid era of the 1970s. Developer Color Gray Games has given it a gorgeous glow-up in the process, too, its gurning grotesques taking on fresh, animated life as they choke, gasp and dab insincere handkerchiefs to their eyes as we find them yet again in media bloody res. Yes, there is a twinge of sadness here. Part of the original’s charm did indeed come from its exquisitely detailed pixel art dioramas, but having spent an hour in Rise’s company, I have to say the broader brushstrokes of these more modern 3D gargoyles have just as much charm and character as their historical counterparts.

Four bodies lie in a morgue in Rise of the Golden Idol
A fresh stack of murders to solve, just the way you like it. | Image credit: Eurogamer/Playstack

As before, you’re eased into your murder solving gently, your invisible, omniscient detective tasked with solving the seemingly innocuous murder of a professor found face first in the snow at the bottom of some icy steps. These single scene deaths soon give way to more complex settings, though, and by the end of the first chapter, you’ll be piecing together clues across three separate interconnected rooms as you try and read between the lines of a (definitely not fact-checked) press conference, body-strewn morgue and a cushy executive office.

So far, so Case of the Golden Idol, albeit with more up to date set dressing. The changes Color Gray Games have made quickly make themselves apparent, though. Whereas before you had to diligently search and click on underlined words to add them to your phrase book, now they’re all listed automatically as soon as you click on a point of interest, with a further click sending them skittering down like a deck of cards to your new nav bar.

Personally, I think this robs the game of some of its investigation chops, as simply seeing a smattering of words doesn’t have quite the same brain-lodging power as hunting them down individually. It certainly cuts down on the first game’s repetition, which would underline important names repeatedly across several letters in the same scene, but I do miss the feeling of scouring every last nook and cranny for those all-important adjectives. Then again, I will fully admit to some lazy glossing over when I eventually got to the later stages of the first game, and that I would often just speed-click every underlined word immediately in front of me and file it away for later. In this sense, what difference is there, really, in having them all added to my word list as a matter of course? None, probably; and perhaps I’m just feeling sentimental about not getting to truly the rub the evidence between my fingers anymore.

Still, other bits of streamlining here are much more welcome. Instead of having to leave the scene and switch over to your ‘thinking’ board to fill in the scene’s missing blanks, here each segment appears as a moveable desktop window that sits on top of the action, allowing you to view the character sheet, say, while continuing to click into conversations to remind yourself that, yes, that guy’s Monty and that bloke’s called Ted. This is wonderful, truly, and it makes the deductive process feel so much smoother as a result. No more flipping backwards and forth to double-check tiny details that refuse to stick in the memory. Everything’s just there, ready to be pried apart and put back together again.

A news reporter is at the scene of a murder at a construction site in Rise of the Golden Idol
Image credit: Eurogamer/Playstack

Does this more computer-like interface also come across as a bit more artificial in the process, though? Possibly. It never goes quite full Her Story or anything, but when everything’s wrapped in such a familiar kind of desktop language, the illusion of being this time-hopping detective dancing above this strange and elusive conspiracy somehow doesn’t feel quite as potent as before. Even though the original game’s scroll screens were about as video game-y as they come, there’s something about the look of these desktop windows that’s a bit deflating. Each window’s faux, yellowing notepad lines and modern fonts are certainly more period appropriate, don’t get me wrong, but the mundanity of it all just reminds me that I’m sitting at my PC, looking at some other kind of PC.

These are minor nitpicks in the grand scheme of things, though, and I’m sure most of you won’t care in the slightest. Besides, while Rise’s interface may lack the eccentric charm and character that made the first game feel so fresh and exciting, the ongoing allure of this strange and legendary Golden Idol statue remains as potent as ever. Even after playing just a single chapter, it’s clear that Color Gray Games has the beginnings of another all-timer plot on its hands. Curses, conspiracies and cults are all very much present and correct in Rise of the Golden Idol’s opening hour, and I’m ravenous to find out more about how these murders most fowl will continue to unfold. How will the Idol itself come into all this? And what’s the connection between the locked-up professor of ancient Lemurian history and the deceased academic Issac Nowak, whose daughter seems to be the in pocket of some very powerful individuals?

Alas, Rise of the Golden Idol doesn’t have a full release date just yet – just 2024 at some point – so it may be some time before we find out. Here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later, otherwise I’ll have to begin my own cursed quest for the Idol to keep myself young and eternal while I wait.

Read More

Zaļā Josta - Reklāma