Who Why Dunnit?
Everyone loves a good murder mystery, right? Witnessing a harrowing crime, tracking down clues, interviewing subjects—it’s all exciting (albeit morbidly so) stuff, right? I’m sure that most of us (or at least those of us who like this kind of thing) can agree on that. But is it really the only way that you can do this genre properly? What if there was a game where you weren’t solving a murder case, but, rather, the one who committed the murder? Better yet, what if you committed the murder, got caught, and were on trial for it? Now do I have your attention? Well, if so, I’ve got some good news for you. The scenario that I just offered isn’t something that I made up; it’s the premise of Bohemian Killing. Don’t get your hopes up too much, though. While the game itself features an excellent premise, several things about it could very well leave you scratching your head, too.
Despite being a murder mystery by all accounts, the beginning of Bohemian Killing is certainly different from most. Why is that? Simple; it begins with you, as one Alfred Ethon—a successful, and by all accounts brilliant, inventor of Gypsy origin—murdering one Marie Capet—a seemingly innocent maid. In today’s time, that could very well be the end of it—after all, modern technology has advanced the field of forensics exponentially. But Bohemian Killing doesn’t take place in the modern-day era; it takes place all the way back in 1894. So… you know… Those advancements don’t exist, yet. However, while the lack of forensic advancements in the 19th century may be a problem for those trying to bring justice to this case, you’ve got plenty to gain from it during your trial.
Among all of the things that Bohemian Killing has to offer, its narrative prowess is perhaps its most appealing aspect. Not only does the game set itself up in a way that, barring the very beginning, puts players in control of the story, but it does so with a noticeable theatrical flourish. Because the game centers around the criminal’s testimonial, everything that the player does is nicely, and, for the most part, seamlessly, woven into Alfred’s court testimonial—a fine point made even finer by the game’s stellar voice acting. Because you, as Alfred, are recounting the tale of Marie’s murder (or non-murder, if you so choose), there isn’t a “correct” path down which the player needs to walk, meaning that the game needs to account for many variables which may, and in most cases will, affect how the story plays out. Fortunately, it does this well, as (at least as far as I can tell) every sensible action appears to easily be assimilated into the player’s own, unique version of the game’s story—and elements that don’t make sense are quickly called out by the judge overseeing the trial.
Crafting Your Narrative
The aim of Bohemian Killing is very clear; to re-tell the events leading up to the killing Marie Capet in a way which, when combined with available evidence, proves that you’re innocent – or, at least, less guilty than people think you are. It’s not as simple as picking the correct dialogue options—after all, this isn’t a visual novel! Instead, Bohemian Killing takes place as what could best be described as a third-person adventure. Players begin in the street near their house the night Marie was killed and must literally play out the events that happened—with the player’s actions being narrated to the judge. Naturally, because of this, you can’t just traipse around willy-nilly, doing whatever you’d like. Most actions take time (although moving around, thankfully, does not), meaning that you’ll have to plan each action accordingly. Performing actions at the wrong time, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time are risky moves. On one hand, if you’ve managed to earn the trust of the judge (which is based on how you’ve played so far), you might be able to convince him that other people’s testimonials were wrong. Doing this, then, can help you point the finger at someone else (I, for example, accidentally ended up pinning the crime on my own father the first time around). On the other hand, however, diverging from the script too much can lead you down a road which ends with you doing time… or worse.
In case I haven’t made it evident by now, Bohemian Killing‘s concept is legitimately cool. It’s also very unique. Unfortunately, the execution isn’t exactly what it could have been. Its biggest problem comes in with what is perhaps its most crucial mechanic—time. Because the game occurs over the course of a single night, there are points in which the player doesn’t have anything in particular to do. While you can, depending upon your chosen “route,” use this spare time to set up defenses—which, if done correctly, can be backed up by evidence—more often than not I found myself having my character perform meaningless actions until it was time for me to do whatever necessary action was supposed to be taken next. Not only does this feel like a waste, but I also found it strange how little it impacted the case. Was it not odd that I went into a hotel room, got drunk, and made several phone calls? Or that I spent a bunch of time eating and re-reading the same newspaper? I feel as though there was a significant missed opportunity to further flesh out the game, here. While I get that not everything has to have significance, I found it strange that I was able to skip through most of the day by completing meaningless, repetitive tasks and still end up on the judge’s good side—especially given that you can zip through this game in 10 – 15 minutes.
Making A Verdict
When it comes down to it, Bohemian Killing is an excellent example of a game that relies too much on concept, and not enough on execution. I still very much stand behind the statement that this game is unique because it absolutely is. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough substance to call it “great.” Like an unpolished diamond, Bohemian Killing has plenty of innate charm, and may undoubtedly lure in many a curious eye. However, until it is further polished and refined, it can never live up to its full potential.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC; Developer: The Moonwalls; Publisher: Ultimate Games; Players: 1; Released: March 23, 2020; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: A Nintendo Switch copy of Bohemian Killing was provided by the publisher.