Published on March 22nd, 2017 | by Graham0
Danse Macabre: Lethal Letters Review
Summary: Though way too easy and riddled with plot holes, it's beautifully presented and makes for an entertaining enough evening.
Danse Macabre: Lethal Letters is the fifth in the popular Danse Macabre series from developers Eipix, and the first one I’ve tried. Coming straight from another recent Eipix adventure Mystery Case Files: Broken Hour, which I loved, I had high expectations going in – which Lethal Letters only partially matches.
It all starts very promisingly. You play a famous cognitive psychologist, who’s been drawn to St. Petersburg to help a Count who’s complaining that his fiancee has been acting oddly of late. You meet the Count in a theatre as a performance is about to start. Sitting behind him, you watch as his fiancee takes the stage… then removes a gun from a bouquet of flowers she’s holding, and shoots him in the heart.
It’s a strong start to a story, that initially at least is intriguing (it goes downhill, but we’ll get to that later). With a well-animated intro movie that hints at the mysteries to come, and with Eipix’s typically sky-high production values, I was drawn in straight away.
However, it’s also a good introduction to the net of plot-holes and incongruities that make up the rest of the story. Straightaway, our only friend, a senior detective, leads everyone from the theatre, locking us – an unarmed civilian – in alone to pursue an armed woman who’s just fatally murdered someone. This seems an odd action for a police officer to take. Later the murderer is whisked off to a mental hospital rather than, say, the police station.
Normally I’m perfectly happy to suspend disbelief for these games – let’s face it, an over-the-top mystery plot is far from unknown in this genre. But the story just gets more and more hokey as the game progresses, with so many “but why doesn’t she just do X?!” moments, to the point where I found it hard to get particularly drawn into it.
And without a great story, the game is reliant on its puzzles to keep you engaged – and it’s here than Danse Macabre: Lethal Letters’ problems continue.
The game is waaay too easy. There’s nothing that’s likely to hold you up for very long, and I breezed through the game in 3.5 hours. It’s a mix of inventory puzzles, hidden object scenes, and puzzles that you’ve probably seen before in other games. I did like a few, including one where you’re juggling overlapping valves to find the perfect pressure, one where you’re guiding a car through comically over-obstructed streets (patches of ice, fallen objects, open bridges, it’s a wonder that anyone in St. Petersburg bothers getting in their vehicles), and one where you’re leapfrogging objects over each other, trying to remove all of them.
But only the latter required any thought at all, with most puzzles solvable on auto-pilot.
The hidden object scenes are short but quite nice, with Eipix’s standard high presentation values, and some good elements where you’re given formulae to solve such as “bee + flower = ?”, with the solution being a pot of honey. These are sometimes a little obscure and closest the game comes to a challenge. There’s several difficulty levels, but as usual they don’t affect the difficulty of the puzzles, simply how quickly your hint meter refills and whether usable objects glint. I played on the hardest, as a puzzlin’ bad-ass.
The oddness of the plot extends to the inventory puzzles. Now, I know it’s par for the course in this genre to open a box that happens to contain some weird object that you need to solve a puzzle in some unrelated building, but some games make a bit more effort to hide the incongruities. Here almost every single inventory puzzle revolves around finding objects where they’ve no place being, and nothing makes a lick o’ sense.
And some puzzles are just weirdly redundant. There’s a shallow basin of water, containing an object. Can you just reach it and take the object? Nope, course not. Instead you’ve got to use a plunger to empty the basin first. It’s not even implied that the basin is blocked and needs a plunger in the first place. It feels like these were just added as padding to a short game.
But I don’t want to be too down on Danse Macabre: Lethal Letters. Let’s hit the positives – the scenes are drawn in sumptuous detail, and all dialogue is pretty well voice acted. It is a bit of a notch down in presentation from Broken Hour, which carefully animated every single interaction you make with the environment – jar tops unscrewing, that kind of thing. Here, items just fade between different states, and if a character needs to move he’ll kind of jerkily teleport through just three or frames of animation. Maybe it’s unfair for me to hold the game up against the very best that Eipix can do, but they’ve set their own bar higher than this (both games came out in 2016, so it’s not an age thing).
I should mention that, though the presentation is very good overall, there’s a slight blurriness to the graphics that are particularly obvious in the hidden object scenes. This is despite the game’s window being the same size as in Broken Hour, where I didn’t have this problem. It looks like Eipix were using some overly strong compression on the images here, but they seem to have fixed this in their later games.
Still, overall, it’s a handsome game, and I largely enjoyed my time with it – just in an absent-minded, autopilot whizz through the puzzles kind of way. It’s just that, while I love the adventure/hidden-object genre, it has a reputation for certain elements – dodgy and hole-ridden plots, items conveniently stashed where they’ve no reason to be, puzzles that are too easy and/or don’t make sense – and Danse Macabre: Lethal Letters exemplifies every one of them.