Murder in Provence follows Audrey as she visits southern France on her twin sister’s invitation. Once Audrey gets into town, she can’t find her sister and the mystery begins. The story is interwoven with short hidden object scenes and simple logic puzzles. Typical microtransaction systems are heavily integrated, including an energy bar that severely slows down the game.
The main focus of the game is the hidden object scenes. Each scene has a certain number of objects to find. Six of these objects are listed at the bottom of the screen and when one is found, it is replaced with another object until the goal is met. Whenever an object is found, the combo meter is filled up. If you find objects in quick enough succession, you can get the combo meter up to 6x and each object you find will give you that many more points. Of course, the combo meter is draining constantly. The hidden object scenes use realistic graphics and look nice enough, but that’s about all that can be said in their favor.
There are a lot of problems with the hidden object scenes that really hurt how fun Murder in Provence could be. First and foremost, the scenes are super short — taking about a minute on your first play and half as much on any subsequent plays. This is because the objects are not really hidden, but sitting in plain sight. On top of that, objects are always hidden in the exact same place. Once you know where to find the sandwich, it’s going to be there every single time (to the game’s credit, at least it randomizes the list of objects you need to find each time you play a scene). Players earn score-based stars which are needed to advance the story. This sounds like a good system at first, but the star-earning score is the combined score of each time you’ve played a scene. That means the only way to earn all five stars is to play the same scene over and over again, with even the earliest levels requiring you to play a scene at least 10 times.
If you could replay scenes without limitation, earning the stars would just feel like a boring grind. Instead, you must spend 20 energy each time you play a scene, meaning you are going to hit a point where you literally cannot progress until you get your energy back. This is done by spending some premium in-game currency, spamming your Facebook friends for their help, or simply waiting. The recharge rate is one energy every three minutes, in other words, it takes an hour to recharge the energy you spend playing a 30-second hidden object scene.
After you have earned enough stars, you unlock a simple logic puzzle. Completing a puzzle will reward a bit of energy and unlock the next hidden object scene. The puzzles are reminiscent of the kind you do in elementary school. They’re really too easy; most players will breeze through them without needing a single hint (though three are readily available for each puzzle). Most puzzles are solved by clicking the correct solution of three available choices, though there are others. In the first chapter, one puzzle asks you to rearrange pieces of a chopped-up postcard to reveal its original image. Another asks you to examine an array of character portraits and background art then select the characters you have actually met and the locations you have actually visited (careful: were the airport’s chairs red or blue?).
As I mentioned earlier, a completed puzzle unlocks the next hidden object scene. The player can then grind away at the available scenes until enough stars are earned for the next puzzle. The process repeats itself through the duration of the game: hidden object scenes provide stars, stars unlock puzzles, puzzles unlock hidden object scenes. Here’s a real doozy for you though… after unlocking some hidden object scenes, Audrey must complete some task before the scene can actually be played. The tasks are silly — traveling to the destination or trying to find it. Mechanically, these are just real-time waits where players can do nothing but spend premium currency to skip the wait or replay old scenes for stars. The first wait is a mere handful of minutes, but it’s as early as the second wait time that players must wait 30 minutes before playing their newly “unlocked” scene.
Brief dialogue scenes occur before and after each puzzle. The character portraits are hand-illustrated and decent-looking. The writing is kind of bland, so the characters aren’t terribly interesting. The story is pretty clichéd and it’s silly how often characters mention that Audrey looks just like her missing sister, Jane. Yes, we know they are twins. That’s mentioned in-game before players even attempt the first hidden object scene.
Murder in Provence uses an interesting blend of narrative, hidden object, and logic puzzle, but all three of these ingredients are bland. Free-to-play elements are weirdly brought into the mix too. Not that the inclusion of free-to-play microtransactions is at all surprising, just that they horribly break up an already bad game. Constant requests to post your successes to your Facebook wall and to ask your friends for more energy are annoying and running out of energy puts your progress to a screeching halt. You can only store enough energy for five games, so even if you give the game the five hours for a full recharge, you’ll only be able to play 7–10 games in one sitting. Of course, stars require more and more points as you advance in the story. The game currently offers seven chapters (with two marked “Coming Soon”) and I expect it will take players at least two months of daily play to get through Chapter 7. That is, if players don’t want to spam their friends for energy or drop wads of real money on in-game cash. Bottom line: Murder in Provence is a mediocre game made so much worse due to poorly implemented free-to-play elements.