Hercule Poirot's a decidedly old chappie, isn't he? What with his spooky moustache and his alarming tendency to always crop up near a murder, it's surprising that he hasn't been locked up. And Miss Marple's no better. She may look like a doddery old spinster with a mind like a steel trap, but she probably lures stray cats into her house and turns them into beer-mats for the summer fete.
And what about Lord Peter Whimsey? Or Maigret? No, in my book, all these so-called "detectives" are as dodgy as something, er, very dodgy indeed. Thank the lord then, that our hero Raoul Dusentier is a bona fide detective. A fully employed, 100 per cent legit nosy old sod. A "rozzer" in other words.
Apparently way back in the roaring twenties, Raoul was hunting down some nasty French bloke who was hiding in a restaurant, and rather than let the whippersnapper get away with it, he arrested everyone in the restaurant. Naturally, the highbrow toffs in this up-market chunder palace were a smidgen annoyed by this James Anderton-
All except for one. A Greek fella called Niklos Karaboudjan stood up for Raoul's "putting the boot in" policy and applauded him for "just doing his job". Freemasonry ahoy, eh cumns?
Anyway, just to show that there were no hard feelings, Niklos invited Raoul on a luxury cruise. Cruise, eh?
The plot begins to fall into place. All we need now is a corpse. Lo and behold, look what we have here. Poor old Niklos Wotsisname has been murdered at sea. So now we have a cruise and a corpse, which sounds like a perfect place to start the game...
We join Raoul as he discovers the body, just in time to be clobbered over the head by a sinister shadowy figure. Flippin nora, what a way to start. Anyway, Raoul has a quick, if not entirely planned, nap, and then gets on with finding the fiend who perpetrated the perpetration.
Also on board the ship are a group of friends and colleagues of Niklos, all of whom have more skeleton in their closets than clothes. It's up to Raoul to corner these suspects and quiz them about the murder. He can also pick up clues from eavesdropping on the others, and by inspecting the objects he finds. Just like that girl in Scooby Doo.
Raoul is moved around the ship with the point and click interface that seems to have become a permanent feature in this graphic adventure genre. You interact with the scenery by clicking on whatever object interests you and, as if by magic, a menu appears containing all the actions relevant to that object. For instance, click on a book and you could EXAMINE, TAKE or READ it. This means that the number of options is greatly increased, as each object can have an action that relates to it, and it alone.
As you can see, Cruise is a bit of a stunner. The graphics are bigger and better than any of its rivals, and the animation is smooth and sexy, a bit like a Galaxy bar. True, it's not the speediest game in the world, but the speed isn't what this game is about. Oh no. It's about, er, murder.
Thankfully, the arcade sequences from Operation Stealth have been dropped. There was nothing more annoying than having to spend hours ploughing through the adventure, only to come a cropper because you couldn't handle the arcade bits. So, Cruise for a Corpse is a brain-teaser from top to toe.
As all the action takes place on Niklos' ship, the game lacks Stealth's sense of size, but instead concentrates on creating the atmosphere of those Agatha Christie films, where everyone is a suspect, and anyone could be the killer. This restricted game area also allows much more detail to be included in the scenery, as you can tell from the piccies, and this helps immensely with the mood.
Another great innovation is the conversation section. Moving on another step from Monkey Island's multiple choice parser, you can now build up a library of subjects to grill your suspects over. For instance, you can talk to Tom and find out a bit about him. Now talk to Suzanne and you have the chance to talk about Tom. She may tell you about Tom's hobbies, and you can then talk about those. This way you can carry out massive discussions and expand your catalogue of questions and clues, uncovering murky secrets along the way.
The whole game is so highly polished that you could stick it to your windscreen and use it as a rear-view mirror. Just try Blu-tacking five floppy disks on to your car and see what I mean. On the other hand, that's probably illegal, so don't try it.
At first, the game seems a little off-putting, as it only takes a short while to walk around the whole ship without getting any clues. Stick with it though, and you'll slowly but surely be drawn in to one of the most intriguing and involving games you're ever likely to play. Once you get the hang of the conversation bits, the game really open up and you go forward in leaps and bounds.
There are a few niggles though. Sometimes the actions provided don't seem to suit the object. I found some highly suspicious boxes, but could only EXAMINE them. However, when I clicked on the chairs in the bar I could EXAMINE, INSPECT, PUSH, PULL, RUB, SIT DOWN and TAKE them. Needless to say, most of those options resulted in a reply along the lines of "I can't do that" whereas EXAMINING the boxes told me that, surprise surprise, they were boxes. This can lead to some pretty frustrating investigating, as you really can't afford to pass any options by in case you miss a clue.
Another niggle is the way that almost all the doors seem to be locked, and most of the characters spend a lot of time hiding away in their cabins. You can spend a long time wandering around before you get lucky and meet a new character. Perhaps I'm just impatient.
To counteract these slightly bothersome aspects, there are plenty of options to make life easier. The map, for instance, that allows you to move from place to place without actually having to walk there, or the clock that moves round every time you glean some useful information. The further the clock moves, the more options become open to you.
Also on the "that's a clever idea" side is the well thought out disk system. To cut down on swapping, each area of the ship is confined to one disk. Therefore, you need only swap disks when moving from one deck to another. This helps to keep the continuity flowing and it's a wonder that other adventures haven't used this method in the past.
It's nice to see that the game has plenty of freedom. Despite the number of "off limits" rooms, how you go about your investigating is entirely up to you. This means that progress is made through brainpower rather than trial and error, and is a welcome change.
It really has to be said that Cruise for a Corpse is a stonker of a game. It's brilliantly written, and just like the Agatha Christie novels it was inspired by, it forces you to stick around to the finish to find out whodunnit. Entertaining, exciting and, er, ambidextrous.