Written by  :  Boston Low (93)
Written on  :  Oct 20, 2011
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars

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Interwar mystery game, complete with its annoyances

The Good

Cruise for a Corpse (henceforth 'Cruise') is an obvious improvement over the earlier Delphine adventures such as Future Wars or Operation Stealth. It also owes much to Sierra's Laura Bow, following a classic AgathaChristesque mystery with a rich background story for you to uncover.

The most spectacular element of the game are perhaps the graphics, starting with the introduction which features well-drawn backgrounds with extremely smooth and detailed animations. These impressions continue into the game. The sprite of inspector Raoul Dusentier is composed of polygons much like the sprites of Another World. This allows him to be scaled according to the distance from the 'camera' and to perform freely some of the actions. The backgrounds and character portraits are detailed enough, drawn in a comic-like fashion.

Another thing which I would call an innovation, is the interface. There is no menu of commands in Cruise. You just select an object and a menu of relevant 'special' commands is shown. These vary from common ones such as 'Take' or 'Examine' to more complex ones like 'Look behind' or 'Make fall'. Each screen is full of objects recognized by the game, decorations, furniture or drawers to open and search, each one with its own set of commands. Although this seems overwhelming, most objects are red herrings and very few have something useful to show.

The vast majority of Cruise has to do with discovering backstories and motivations. Although this can be boring, the process is intellectually promising: the game is founded on a complex and intriguing backstory, revealed gradually to you with each new element or dialogue you uncover. From time to time new characters, elements and motivations emerge, complicating further the story. The final outcome is more elaborate than anything you might have imagined and is totally rewarding.

As you understand, Cruise belongs to an adventure genre which requires a lot of walking back and forth until you find new elements to advance the game. However unlike othe Laura Bow-like games, Cruise features a map which allows you to teleport to any place of the boat from the very beginning. It makes the whole exploring process much more bearable and it's a pity that such a helpful feature is absent from Cruise's 'siblings'.

Also, I must note that the language has been improved since Operation Stealth (being a French production) and you don't have to see mistyped words or awkward quasi-English sentences everywhere. But still, some of the English seem dodgy now and then.

The Bad

For me, the biggest problem in Cruise is the very genre it belongs. Cruise represents the adventure sub-sub-genre of which the Laura Bow series is perhaps the most representative, which requires a lot of exploration and investigation from the player to 'trigger' new events. By discovering new clues, the game's clock advances and new elements are 'triggered': a character, object or event appears in a place you might already have visited. You purpose is to investigate and trigger those tags that will advance the story, and then re-investigate to discover the new elements that have appeared and so on.

Drawbacks are inherent to its very philosophy, including a lot of time wasting. You are compulsed to obsessively explore and re-explore back and forth the same places: you will need hours to finish the game, even with a walkthrough. The map which allows you to teleport is generally helpful, but not in the cases when you move from room to room exploring.

While discovering and uncovering new clues and opening new dialogues can be compared to reading an elaborate storybook and be intellectually fun, no real progress of events occur in the whole story, resulting in a dull gaming experience. There are no actual gaming challenges which require reflexes or problem-solving.

In some cases you might be stuck because the 'trigger' tags are not obvious. you will find yourself in the frustrating position when the clock does not progress while you already have exhausted your dialogue options with all the available characters. In that case, you have to explore once more the whole boat more thoroughly, and this time you literally have to 'leave no stone unturned'. And this is not an easy task, since there are hundreds of items, drawers, lockers and closets to open and search. Even if you have searched a place before, new items can appear after a certain moment, so you must repeat your exploration. Since there are no clues about what might appear where and when, the whole exploration can be really overwhelming.

The situation got worse if you couple it with the speed and loading time that existed back then. I really wonder how much patience, or obsession an average player must have to investigate a series of rooms for several times, while waiting for the diskettes' loading time.

Add to this the overwhelming number of objects in each room. While at first Cruise appears to be a realistic, detailed world to explore, this is not the case: 99% of the objects are useless, the drawers are almost always empty, or Raoul will simply refuse to perform an action as unnecessary. Even his comments are uninteresting and state the obvious with no humor

Another problem with the interface is that new options are not very obvious either. The dialogue replies are listed in random order, not alphabetically, and the new options don't show up at the bottom of the list as they should. Later in the game, when the dialogue lists have grown larger, the new options are not esy to notice, and it's difficult to keep track of which have been selected before and which haven't.

As a final note I should mention that I believe the game cover to be unrelated to the game. It depicts a generic murder investigation scene on a boat. There is no elderly Poirot-like detective investigating the death of the steerman who has been stabbed on the wheel. And the characters seen on the background of the image do not appear in the game. While it is well illustrated and does not affect the game's quality, I though it was a generic, random choice.

The Bottom Line

Cruise for a Corpse is an elaborate mystery game featuring spectacular graphics and animations for its time. Although not entertaining in the traditional sense, it will unfold for you an interesting world to explore and uncover, complete with intrigues and complex relationships beween its characters.

In short, Cruise is part of the short-lived 'explore, trigger, and re-explore' genre of mystery adventure games, to which Laura Bow, Orion Conspiracy and The Last Express belong. The better part of the game is spent exploring the same screens, searching for clues and moving between the characters to open new dialogue trees and uncover more clues. The absence of challenge, progress, action and plot twists can be obvious after some time. Eventually the game might be boring or even bothering to some players who might expect more traditional puzzles for a challenge.

If you have no patience, have a walkthrough nearby. And no, I wouldn't consider this cheating!