Murder mystery games on computer have been much neglected. It's a genre ripe for exploration, especially with the new era of CDTV just around the corner. In fact, the only recent attempts - which include Vera Cruz, Cruise for a Corpse and Operation Stealth (displaying a predominantly French slant to the genre) - have been graphically impressive, but lacking in the all-important gameplay area.
In addition, the games often lose a lot in the translation with some very odd phrases turning up - a trait that seems to have been carried through with Maupiti. For instance, the box blurb says: 'When we arrived I immediately knew there would be a heated ambiance... a very heated ambiance.' There's nothing I like more than heated ambiance - whatever that might mean!
Fortunately, though, these lingual 'oddities' don't detract from making this one of the best whodunits I've played. It's impressive graphically, superb in the music and sound effects department and plays simple and easily.
The plot revolves around one Detective Jerome Lange, the gumshoe who first made an appearance in Lankhor's Mortville Manor back in 1989. His return sees him investigating odd goings-on at the eponymous Maupiti Island. A girl named Marie - or Mary if the contradictory box blurb is to be believed - has been kidnapped, so Jerome sets about solving the case by roaming the tropical paradise, and scouring for clues.
During this time, several characters, both dodgy and seemingly normal, can be interrogated and clues are liberally dropped during the course of these conversations. However, someone is out to stop your investigations and most of my sleuthing ended in murder - namely mine.
The game opens with Jerome in his cabin, and above this a series of icons and secreted within an attractive bamboo border. These are then accessed with the mouse, and enable Jerome to talk, take, read, argue, and question, along with a whole host of other options which appear as and when they are needed.
There are some very nice animated touches, such as moving fans and butterflies, which add to the claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere really well - you can feel the heat of the tropics coming off the screen! Couple this with some amazing music and sound effects, and the development team have created a quality that's often lacking in computer games and vital in whodunits - the all-important atmosphere. Occasionally, though, this atmosphere is punctured by the aforementioned bad translations, one of which informed me that, while searching my own cabin and trying to lift a desk lid I was, 'badly raised'. Quite what it meant, I'll never know.
On entering a new screen, the game informs you of who else is within the room. And from here, the collection of clues begins. Anyone who is present has their name shown at the top of the screen, and simply by clicking the pointer onto their sprite, a conversation can be struck up. As their face appears in close-up, their answers come across via some rather robotic synthesis, and anything useful that is said can be committed to memory.
Once again, though, these conversations fall foul of the dubious translation. Take my questioning of Bruce, a rough-looking sea dog type, for instance. From the start I was thrown by his greeting: 'Hello, sailor'. Was I hearing things? Rather worried, I pressed on. What did he think of the island, I asked? 'I like stopping at Maupiti. I have my little habits there,' he replied. I decided I didn't want to know about his little habits and moved on.
For the tougher characters, an option allows you to lay into them, but the manual recommends that you avoid this avenue as much as possible. In addition, as an undercover sleuth, it will also draw attention to your movements and make your task even harder. Although not up to the standard of Operation Stealth, Maupiti Island is a neat game let down by the dodgy translations. OK, so this is a minor point, but it can get annoying and I would have hoped that more care could have been taken.
Even so, solving Marie's (or Mary's) kidnapping should keep all you would-be Philip Marlowes and Mike Hammers busy, and is recommended for its novelty value alone.