A man is being pushed off a cliff to his death. It's happening right now, while you stand there watching. A murder, taking place right in front of you.
But who is the man being pushed? Who is the man doing the pushing? And where, exactly, is this cliff? These are the questions The Case of the Golden Idol demo asks you as you investigate your very first murder.
Solving this initial murder isn't too complex. By clicking clues on the screen showing a lightly animated tableau of the murder, you examine them closely, like the contents of a backpack or the items in someone's pocket. A letter might contain someone's name, or an item, when clicked, will tell you what it is. The names and descriptors you find are all collected at the bottom of your screen, and to use them you switch from the investigation panel to the 'thinking' panel. There you'll find a scroll with a number of blanks in it: Blank Blank pushed Blank Blank off a cliff in the Blank of Blank on Monkey Paw Island. There are also portraits of each character involved, and those characters need to be correctly named.
Drag and drop the names and words you collected into the scroll to present your solution to the murder. If you're wrong, the game will tell you and you can adjust your guesses or investigate further. It's a sort of Mad Libs-style murder investigation, and there's a real satisfying feel when you've dropped in the last word and solved the murder. The trailer at the top of the page, revealed at the Future Games Show today, will give you a good idea of how it all works.
But even in the demo, The Case of the Golden Idol gets tricky very quickly, with plenty of red herrings and unrelated clues, and I came to a few false conclusions. The second murder, wherin a man is dead with a nasty head wound, seemed pretty obvious to me at first just by looking at the other items in the room. When I'd plugged in all my words, however, I was wrong, and had to do a bit more careful investigating and thinking. The third murder is even more difficult, with multiple locations, tons of clues, and a healthy handful of suspects.
And it's not enough to just find the guilty party, you need to identify every single person on the premises by their full names, which has a satisfying Return of the Obra Dinn feel to it. You can make things harder on yourself, too: Clues have a little glow by default, but you can turn that off if you really want to pixel hunt. I'm here to tell you that even with the glow on, I missed a few clues even after scouring these scenes multiple times.
What's also great is that the clues aren't all contained in the things you click on. There are plenty of hints in the environment that you'll need to absorb just through observation. Figuring out a motive for a murder is important and will help all those clues make sense. Finally, the art is offbeat and a bit crude, but in a sort of pleasing way. I like pretty much everything about this game.
If you love piecing together murder mysteries, I absolutely recommend playing the free demo of The Case of the Golden Idol. There'll be another demo, with a new mystery, added at Steam Next fest in October, and here's one final bit of tantalizing intrigue for when the full game is released: All of these murders are connected. I can't wait to click around in the full game, though when it's being released is still a mystery.