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Blood On The Thames Preview: Rough around the edges whodunit

Blood On The Thames Preview: Rough around the edges whodunit

There's too much blood, sweat, and tears

Saying a game is a murder mystery with supernatural elements to me is like giving a cat catnip; I’ll never say no. Even when I’m certain my expectations are too high for the experience to ever live up to what I’ve envisioned in my head.

This is exactly what happened when I played Blood On The Thames, an upcoming Steam game set in a "gothic, Lovecraftian world”. From the off, you can see that this is an indie creation, and thus it lacks some of the panache you’d expect to see from larger studios. However, that didn’t perturb me.

What did, however, was how unpleasant it is to play. Not because it’s a bad game – there are plenty of aspects and features that work well, and that I favour being an avid visual novel supporter. Yet, Blood On The Thames never manages to transition from rough-hewn tale to indie darling, for it lacks that special something to tie all of its components together.

Check out Blood On The Thames for yourself below

For starters, the aesthetic isn’t pleasing on the eyes. I love games that have a distinct art style, but this looks like an uninventive grainy filter has been slapped on top of the imagery to give it that old fashioned feel.

When you have illustrative masterpieces like Slay the Princess, other titles that adopt a similar style are destined to face scrutiny because they struggle to compete. But this isn’t about a lack of artistic flair as such, but rather a lack of originality in the visuals delivered; it has no depth nor personality. It’s wholly generic.

Not ignoring the obvious fact that it’s difficult to pinpoint visual details because it's just a black and white fuzzy mess. Even the magnifying glass, which highlights interactable objects, fails to offer clarity when navigating this twisting tale. I appreciate what the developers were aiming for, but, sadly, they miss the mark.

Similarly disconcerting is the use of modern computer displays and hissing TV static in between cutscenes like we’re hacking into a system or attempting to retrieve lost data. We’re meant to be in Victorian London, so these contemporary signifiers throw us off, and while it may hint at a deeper secret we’ve yet to discover, it’s thrown in so haphazardly it creates this disconnect between the story, experience, and expectations.

On a more positive note, it helps create motivation to learn more about this strange world so that we can answer the questions multiplying in our minds. But enough to make it past the initial couple of chapters? Not for me, my interest quickly waned.

There was no sense of urgency, of needing to solve this mystery – even the puzzles left me unmoved because I could immediately skip them if I couldn’t be bothered. While I welcome the opportunity to bypass a puzzle that has stumped you, I also believe an out shouldn’t automatically be given; allow players to attempt to work it out first. If you remove that sense of challenge, you remove an integral part of what makes a murder mystery/hidden object game so fun: your determination. I didn’t want to use my brain when I could ignore the puzzle entirely because it all felt pointless when solution wasn’t necessary for me to progress.

What does work in Blood On The Thames’ favour, though, is its writing. You won’t find perfect prose every time, but, for the most part, the scenes and characters are well written. There’s a depth to the writing that conveys passion for world building, it’s just a shame this is the only aspect of the game that so strongly comes across.

I loathe writing previews that only seem to criticise. Whenever I play a new game, I always hope I discover a hidden gem (as tired and trite a phrase as that’s become). Struggling to find positives is an uncomfortable position to be in. I believe there’s potential in Blood On The Thames, but it’s so mired in clunky gameplay, unattractive visuals, and a general lack of finesse that it’s too laborious to see beneath the muck.

Featured Image Credit: Team Firestorm

Topics: Steam, Indie Games, PC, Preview