On the fifteenth day of the RPS Advent Calendar you open the door with some trepidation, because you've heard there's a strange series of crimes and murders on the other side. But you needn't have worried, because all the weirdo miscreants involved seem to be frozen in time for the moment.
But can you solve the mysteries of The Case Of The Golden Idol with just a snapshot from the moment after they happened?
Katharine: Detective games are a tricky beast to get right. Giving players all the right clues to solve the mystery at hand is one thing, but giving them the freedom, scope and choice to draw their own conclusions from them (even if it's canonically incorrect) is a rare thing indeed. In my book, Lucas Pope's Return Of The Obra Dinn is still the absolute pinnacle of modern detect 'em ups, but Color Gray Games' The Case Of The Golden Idol comes very close to capturing that same kind of Sherlockian brilliance.
With 12 murders to solve over a period of almost 100 years, the meat of your deduction involves scanning a crime scene for word-based clues (names, objects and the occasional verb) to fill in the gaps of a scroll describing what happened. The murder scenes themselves are visual delights, offering up a treasure trove of interconnected rooms to poke and prod for clues and telling bits of information, and a gurning, misshapen cast members who have all been frozen in time seconds after the crime in question has been committed. Their needling expressions, curiously stuffed pockets, snarky comments and deceptive inner monologues give you plenty to chew and coo over while you go about solving whodunnit and howtheydunnit, and seeing certain characters crop up time and again to cause more mischief does a brilliant job of pulling you deep into its overarching mystery.
They're a fun, if devilish bunch, and figuring out how all these seemingly standalone tableaus connect together over time is one of Golden Idol's greatest deductive flourishes. Alas, there's still only one correct solution for each of its dozen murders, but extracting it from your pool of collected words is still intensely fun and satisfying as cases grow in complexity. Plus, you're not just solving the meat and potatoes of whodunwhat, either, as each case also has accompanying puzzles to fill out as well, adding even more detail to its already artfully constructed murder scenes.
It's by far the best detective game I've played this year, and certainly the one that's come closest to recapturing Obra Dinn's brilliance in the four years since the latter changed the genre forever. If you fancy a big meaty mystery to chew over this Christmas, it would be an actual crime to pass this up.
Rachel: You know a mystery game is going to be good when you’re reaching for a pen and paper to take notes, and by the end of my playthrough of The Case Of The Golden Idol, my notebook page was a chaotic biro scrawl of crude facial descriptions, messy family trees, cryptic symbols, and cluttered event timelines. So. Many. Timelines. It’s one of those mystery games that leaves the detective work all down to you (the best kind of detective game), but there’s a handy hint system if you’re really stumped. Its fill-the-blank system is smart, intuitive, and never gets tiresome, and together with its creepy anthology of whodunnits - of which there are twelve in total, what a treat - makes it a stonking good game.