The Deed Trilogy

FBT is really crap at getting away with murder.

The Deed series is a reverse murder mystery. Instead of playing the dogged dick or super sleuth, you’re the killer. In each scenario, you work out the best way to murder someone who wronged you, pin it on an innocent victim, then see if your plan withstands an investigation – get away with it, and riches/revenge is yours. Get caught and jail, or worse, awaits.

To look at, The Deed series is a basic, isometric, text-based game from the 90s. But that retro look helps with getting into character. Which is good because each game is only about ten minutes long. The fun is in restarting and trying a hundred different permutations to reach the end and hope the detective says, “no further questions” rather than “please accompany me to the station”…

In The Deed, we’re Arran Bruce, who arrives at the family estate after years away to find his estranged family hasn’t changed much; your ill-tempered dad and delicate mom still dote over your hateful sister and find you a disappointment. Arran’s plan is murder sis and ensure he’s the only heir to the family fortune. How to do it?

What’s so clever about The Deed is you feel somewhat sympathetic towards Arran. His sister is a spoiled and vain brat, Mother dismisses him as troublesome and his father is an abusive bully; they all deserve it. But who are we going to pin the murder on? No matter how hard I try, I can’t convince the inspector that the Butler did it…

The idea is you wander the house, chatting to the other occupants and gaining info and ideas. Once you’ve picked a murder weapon and a piece of evidence, the dinner-bell will ring and its chow time. After that, you plant the evidence, do the deed and scarper, waiting for someone to discover the body. And then the Inspector arrives...

TD is one of those games you win by losing. Like a murderous Groundhog, after each failed attempt you restart, but the previous failures give you nefarious ideas. Quickly it becomes an obsession, subtly altering or completely changing your plan trying to commit the perfect murder. Setting up a patsy isn’t just about planting something incriminating – you need ensure the detective doesn’t become suspicious of you. You can provoke people at dinner, create tensions, feed people misinformation, all of which gets back to the detective during his questioning and can throw him off your trail.

One niggle is the (obvious) repetitiveness of it. Everyone will have the same lines, comments, and reactions, so after a few goes, skipping dialogue becomes the norm – problem is, I get a bit skip-happy and accidently trigger actions as well, like strangling my sis when I meant to shoot her; little mistakes like that. Murder takes patience.

Ultimately though, while I have loads of fun, The Deed isn’t quite as clever as you first think it is – it defaults to you being guilty even with a total lack of evidence if there’s no clear suspect. After ten or so goes, you realise there’s not a great deal to it; it’s a clever concept, but when it relies on repeating, you start to notice its limitations.

The Deed: Dynasty is much the same, but this time we’re three will-be murderers – a young man looking to avenge his mother after her fortune was squandered by a toy-boy, a woman during the wild west era trying to escape her brutal cowboy boyfriend and a woman looking to off the brother who took credit – and the money – for the novels she wrote.

One of the central threats of this game is that the death penalty is all but guaranteed. But that doesn’t add to the pressure in playing. It’s the same process, and luck that the original had, but with less options/outcomes. Also, this time around it feels a bit more dastardly. At least Arran had a reason to off his sister, and indifferent parents to take the fall. Plus you could play him as friendly, cold or a cad. Here, the motivations don’t quite gel with framing some innocent bystander for the deed. Those characters are driven by revenge while Arran was a classic Agatha Christie killer. You wonder why, at least in the first and third stories, if some unpleasant accident would be a safer, and a more satisfying approach than framing someone and leaving the victim unaware of your motivations. In the middle episode, given it’s the wild west, justifiable homicide is commonplace; even the Sherriff says what a violent and dangerous man the victim was, then hangs us for what he just described as self-defence.

I played all three stories at least ten times and only managed one successful murder. In the western one I used a prostitute’s knife, left a bloody rag in her room and was in the loo when the body was found, and the Sherriff still arrested me. Its more about proving you didn't do it when everyone knows you did, somehow. They are more compact that the original’s single story, and so feel less opportunistic with fewer chances - or maybe I’m just tired of all the killing. Perhaps I need a change of scene…

The Deed II does iron out almost all of the issues present in the previous games – dialogue changes in re-tries, you can carry more evidence to plant, there’s multiple choices that lead to more options, stronger characters, and it’s far bigger – basically everything I moaned about has been fixed. But this is the least fun of them all. Murderers, never happy.

Set in 1930s Paris, Miller, who spent time in a brutal mental asylum, spots one of the Orderlies/tormentors entering a house of ill fame. Compelled to follow him, Miller has one hour to decide how he’ll avenge himself. Or just sample the delights and get over his torture.

The frustrating thing about TDII is the time limit. It makes sense and adds urgency but also stops you from enjoying the experience. It’s a lot more complex but you spend all the time clock-watching. In one go I got so distracted by the delights I was out of time and panicked so I kicked down a door and bludgeoned him in front of a prostitute.

In order to build up your alibi, it’s important to prove your visit was on the level – that means spending time with a prostitute. While the setting, and some of the dialogue is pleasingly mature, at times it does feel a bit ‘Allo ‘Allo and since time is such a factor, you don’t really want to waste it asking a prostitute her backstory. And again, I’m not comfortable framing a put-upon prostitute for his murder; our hero is a desperate man driven by trauma but putting it onto someone innocent seems wrong for him, and they all back up each other’s stories convincingly anyway. There’s one NPC, a brit-hating gang-member that deserves to be fingered – for the crime that is – but it’s practically impossible to get him banged up for it.

Its odd, and perhaps realistic, that the more complex this series has gotten, the harder and less exciting murder has become. It might be a moral quandary, choosing someone to take the fall, but given the victim is alone on a balcony, how come ‘push’ isn’t an option – whats wrong with an accident, do we have to resort to murder, aren’t we more civilised than that nowadays?

The best bit though is being taken in for questioning. Whereas in the original, you waited to see if it worked, but you don’t know what he knows, or what responses he’s looking for so it becomes critical that you have your story ready. The interrogation is the best part of it, even better than the murder – or visiting a prostitute.

I think if it wasn’t for the timer element, TDII would be a top game, and of course you can replay over and over to get a full sense but relying on that replay makes it feel like a chore; and this time the only way you can progress is to fail – it’s the only way to learn everyone’s routines; you just don’t have as much fun as you should considering you’re an insane murderer prowling a whorehouse in 1930s Paris.

For obvious reasons, in a Deed game everything is against you – murder shouldn’t be easy, but in this context it should be fun. Initially it is, but you get the feeling the game is actually designed to punish you for even trying. There’s other games out there that explore murderous tendencies much more successfully/fun, such as the Lucius series.

But, despite this, I would have loved The Deed if it were on iOS/Android – it’s the ideal commute timewaster. I already spend most of my time on the tube thinking about murder. It is the kind of game you constantly get pulled back into, thinking ‘oh, what about poison?’ but feels too much of a faff to load up on the PC. As a quick app-play it would be perfect.