Murderous Pursuits is the spiritual successor to The Ship: Murder Party, a game where deception and quick-wits reigned. Developed by the triple-threat studio Blazing Griffin, who work on films, post-processing effects, and of course, murder-themed video games, Murderous Pursuits follows pretty closely in The Ships’ footsteps, but with a few key changes.
Murderous Pursuits isn’t about gratuitous violence despite its goal being wanton murder. Instead, it’s more like a cute, stylized hide-and-seek in a place where dastardly deeds don’t seem too out of place. Despite violence being the main goal, Murderous Pursuits’ charm and style go a long way to make murdering fellow partygoers not feel out of place. The setting does a lot to help with this, too: it may look like you’re on a ship from the turn of the last century, and you are, but it’s also a time-travelling cruise liner making its way across history. As great as the setting is, it really is just that: a backdrop to the action, unfortunately never capitalized upon much further beyond that.
As a self-proclaimed “stealth ‘em up” your objective in Murderous Pursuits is to kill a random passenger–an assigned target–while sneakily avoiding hunters who are trying to do the same to you. It’s an interesting premise–one that’s been tried to varying success over the years. In Murderous Pursuits you attempt to blend into goings-on as much as possible, both by trying to look like a normal non-player character, and also by trying not to give away too much of your intentions. It’s a tricky dance to get such gameplay to be fun, but Murderous Pursuits ends up stepping on one too many toes.
You can play as one of eight different guests—each charmingly rendered, and distinctly shaped. I only mention this because it’s important for a multiplayer shooter featuring different characters have those characters tout unique characteristics such as different body shapes and clothing. Murderous Pursuits does an amazing job of this—better than some hero shooters have. But, sadly, these wonderful characters are hardly more than props. They all have a personality and backstory, but they’re all mechanically similar during gameplay, making their choice a purely aesthetic one. You can be the femme fatale or the foreign tourist, whatever, it doesn’t really matter.
You do have the ability to choose different loadouts for your characters, specifically; different abilities that can help you identify your target during a hunt. There is the ability to stun nearby players if you need to get away, or a countermeasure to stop a would-be assassin from ending your hunt prematurely. Another useful ability allows you to unmask passengers, so to speak, and reveal their role (if any) in your hunt. You are chased, and will be chasing other players into groups of lookalike passengers, all walking around and acting like they belong while trying to suss out who they will be trying to kill.
Part of the charm of these type of stealth ‘em up games is trying to act as much like a non-player character as possible to avoid detection. Simultaneously, you will want to be on the lookout for other players. But, the thing is, blending in really doesn’t matter that much in Murderous Pursuits. Most of your blending in is actually measured by an in-game metric called “evasion.” If your evasion is lower, you’re more likely to be caught by those trying to catch/evade you. If it goes to zero, you’re unmasked, so to speak, and your hunters and prey can see your assigned intentions. You can fill your evasion meter by blending in using vignettes. These predetermined areas will have your character interacting with other characters, eating food, or generally looking like they belong.
You can’t just go around killing willy-nilly, either. Attempting to kill a passenger that isn’t your prey will result in you getting a penalty and a new target assigned. You CAN attack your hunter (or hunters) if you discover one. This makes them get a new target, too. If you kill or attempt to kill in front of a guard, you are also penalized by getting frozen in place by a guard for a set amount of time. This is not nearly as harsh as The Ships’ prison system, which had you moved to a holding cell for a minute or two, but it doesn’t kill the pacing as much, either. While everything might be streamlined to assist with the pace, it sort of ruins some of the charm that The Ship had.
Instead of trying to determine your target by any defining characteristic, the way you hunt your prey in Murderous Pursuits is by following a green bar, which tells you which direction and how far away your target it, as well as if they’re on the same floor as you. I really wish there was some other way of determining your target, as most matches have me looking away from the beautifully realized Victorian Age levels to stare at a green meter.
Also missing from Murderous Pursuits is the loot system. In The Ship you would scour rooms and belongings for a better arsenal to dispatch foes, but in Murderous Pursuits you mostly get new weapons so you can get a higher score for your kills. This makes Murderous Pursuits more about trying to get the best scoring kill combination of evasion plus weapon, rather than the focus being on the hunt and be hunted aspect.
The main mode of play is against other players, but you can also choose to practice against the AI. While playing against humans is the preferred and vastly more fun way to play, training against the AI isn’t a bad way to spend your time. Unfortunately, player progression is halted during AI training, with playing against other players being the only way to unlock cosmetic costume alterations.
Another major missed opportunity is the time-travelling cruise ship angle. Though it does have steampunk highlights, most of the Victorian age aesthetic holds no overt hints at time travel, neither in the stages nor the characters.
There are four stages that rotate throughout play. Each is interesting enough visually, but hold very little difference in strategy save for stairway placement and location of vignettes. The meter which shows the location and proximity of your prey sort of undoes any nuance of the levels—removing any way, or reason to hide.
Murderous Pursuits shares a lot of similarities with its spiritual predecessor The Ship, but it can be described as a more streamlined process. I’m usually for streamlining and simplification, especially to speed up fun and remove obfuscation, but Murderous Pursuits, in my opinion, removes the soul that made The Ship so special. No loot hunting, no prison, no ability to kill random players for a penalty. All of that made The Ship a unique experience, and one with much more emergent gameplay. Murderous Pursuits feels so locked down as to be boring. There are still enough people playing that finding a match isn’t impossible, and the developers do have some updates incoming shortly, but unless there are some fundamental changes made to Murderous Pursuits, even its appealing aesthetic can’t save it from multiplayer death.
Murderous Pursuits is available now on PC.
A copy of this game was provided to us for review purposes.