Platforms: PC (reviewed)
In my recent closed beta impressions piece, I said that Murderous Pursuits, the new competitive stealth/murder title from developer Blazing Griffin, had a lot of potential in terms of both aesthetic and gameplay.
Sadly, after having played the finished product, I’d like to amend that statement by saying that the game’s inviting potential is ultimately dragged down by a gameplay experience which is both very shallow and, in several cases, contradicts itself in a frustrating manner. There’s a lot to like about the game, but there’s a lot more you probably won’t like.
Let the games begin
Murderous Pursuits serves as a spiritual sequel to The Ship: Murder Party, a 2006 game that was made by Blazing Griffin’s predecessor Outerlight. That game’s central concept involves dropping a group of players into an environment full of NPC bystanders who resemble the characters the players are controlling.
Each player is assigned another player to hunt, and they must use the various methods at their disposal to sniff out and ultimately kill their target, all while another player is trying to do the same to them. If this sounds familiar, that’s because Ubisoft co-opted that very same concept for the competitive multiplayer component of the Assassin’s Creed franchise (Ubisoft partnered with Outerlight in 2010 to make a game called Bloody Good Time which functioned in a manner similar to The Ship).
As an overall concept, Murderous Pursuits works rather well, providing a competitive experience that favors patience and cunning over twitch reflexes. It can be exhilarating when you’re caught up in a close match, deftly maneuvering through the crowd to reach your target while you keep a wary eye out for any other players who are also hunting you.
Plus, Blazing Griffin’s latest makes some noticeable departures from the established Assassin’s Creed formula, most notably in its Victorian setting that sees players hunting each other on a massive time-travelling airship at the behest of their mysterious benefactor, a mask-wearing man known only as Mr. X.
Those departures extend to the gameplay as well. Unlike in the Assassin’s Creed games, Murderous Pursuits players have to keep an eye out for patrolling NPC guards in addition to their targets and hunters. If you try to kill your target when a guard is nearby, they’ll immediately cancel your attempt, allowing your target to escape and leaving you exposed for any nearby hunters to swoop in for an easy kill.
Players are also encouraged to constantly switch up their weapon of choice using chests placed around the map since different weapons have different ‘favor point’ (i.e. the points awarded for killing targets and stunning hunters) values associated with scoring a kill (between one and five), and a given weapon’s favor point value always drops to one after you use it to kill a target.
Blazing Griffin was kind enough to also include Private Match and Practice vs. AI modes, and I can actually see the game being very fun for a small group of friends who stick to only private matches. The bots you’re pitted against in Practice vs. AI are also surprisingly competent, and in a perfect world the mode would serve as a worthy alternative for those who’d rather not brave the wilds of Quick Play.
But this isn’t a perfect world.
In the transition from beta to full game, Blazing Griffin added two forms of progression into Murderous Pursuits: unlockable skins for each playable character (skins which can only be unlocked by earning favor points as that character in Quick Play), and a more traditional XP-based system that allows players to level up by completing Quick Play matches.
The problem is that neither of these progression systems is very deep or compelling. The “skins” are mostly just color palate swaps of the character’s default outfit. There is also a collection of more unique-looking ‘Mr. X skins,’ but they can only be obtained by purchasing the game’s $29.99 deluxe version (the non-deluxe version is $19.99).
As for the XP-based progression, it doesn’t appear to offer any tangible rewards. I leveled up several times during my review playthrough and received nothing for my efforts other than the opportunity to watch my profile level number slowly rise.
I imagine the profile levels tie into the game’s online matchmaking in some way, i.e. matching players of a similar level and (in theory) skill level together, but that’s just my theory. Also, bizarrely enough, you can’t earn XP from private matches and Practice vs. AI games, but you can earn XP from Quick Play games in which you’re the only human player (bots will replace any open player slots in a Quick Play match).
Aside from the skins, the only other way you can customize a given character is by picking which two abilities (out of five) they have equipped. Having to narrow your choice to two is surprisingly difficult, because all of the abilities can be handy in a given situation. Of course, you start out with all five abilities unlocked immidiatly, so players who were hoping there’d be some form of longterm goal to work towards will, again, be disappointed.
The abilities themselves include familiar-looking Assassin’s Creed mainstays like a disguise that temporarily switches your appearance to that of a random NPC, a taunt that award bonus favor points after you score a kill, and a flash bomb that stuns nearby targets and hunters.
I really wanted to like Murderous Pursuits, but the game’s shallow progression mechanics and bizarre ancillary rules ultimately spoiled whatever positive impressions I had. I don’t like being forced to play against other players if I want to gain XP and/or unlock cosmetic rewards, and I was left scratching my head when I discovered I could circumvent that restriction simply by joining an empty Quick Play lobby. That combined with the lack of longterm incentives beyond a handful of skins also made me wonder why Blazing Griffin even bothered implementing such a restriction in the first place.
Going by the current Steam reviews, it’s clear my opinion on Murderous Pursuits is the minority, and I can actually see where the positive reviews are coming from. Under the right circumstances, Blazing Griffin’s newest game can provide some excellent short-term thrills, especially if you can round up a few friends to play with (which shouldn’t be too hard given the game’s low price point). However, if you’re looking for a game that will constantly reward you for playing, or one that provides an expansive and evolving gameplay loop, you’re better off looking elsewhere.