PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, macOS, iOS, Android
Remember Zoom quizzes? Only 2020s kids will remember this but they were all the rage in the early days of the pandemic. Many a lockdown night was spent answering trivia questions with friends and family as we tried desperately to forget about the dangers of the novel coronavirus outside.
They were forced and a little stilted, but it felt good to focus on something with low stakes. The question that Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? asks is: what if the stakes couldn’t be higher? What if a Zoom quiz was literally a life or death matter?
Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? Review
Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? is an FMV game, which stands for ‘full motion video’. It’s a somewhat archaic term that essentially means that the game is made up of filmed live action sequences, rather than computer graphics. These scenes were filmed in isolation during lockdown, and they look pretty good given the circumstances. They’re decently framed and lit, although there is a noticeable hitch whenever a new scene loads in.
You control Abigail (Abigail Hardingham), one of the youngest children of a family that controls a lucrative business. At a recent family meeting that Abigail wasn’t present for, somebody slipped Uncle Marcus (Andy Buckley) a slow-acting poison. He’s dying, and tasks Abigail with using her mum’s birthday quiz to find the truth and save his life.
Dull Motion Video
Uncle Marcus offers a very simplistic level of interactivity. At the start of each quiz round, you’re offered a choice of three family members to team up with. You’ll then be given a series of choices as to how you’ll answer quiz questions and, more crucially, grill your family members on what exactly happened at that fateful meeting.
You’re only given a few seconds to make each choice, so decisions are often made instinctively rather than thoughtfully. They also arrive without warning after long stretches of non-interactive dialogue, so you’ll need to pay close attention to avoid the game making choices for you automatically.
There’s ostensibly an element of social engineering to your questions. Will criticising June’s son make her more or less likely to open up to you? If you let your sister Lottie ramble on rather than pressing her, will she naturally let something slip? These outcomes are wholly unpredictable, though, and you’ll often be immediately shut down with no evidence to show for it.
‘Just one more thing’
Any clues you do collect get gathered into a file, but they never comes into play until the final stage of the game, where you’re asked to accuse a suspect. If you’re unsuccessful, you can carry all that evidence through into a new playthrough. Finding a new clue doesn’t open up a different line of questioning, though; the questions available to you in your first playthrough are the same as they would be in your fiftieth.
After a few (very short) playthroughs, I was nearly certain I knew the killer’s identity. This theory alone didn’t do me much good, however. I wasn’t able to specifically question other characters about my suspect, or see how they reacted to evidence I’d uncovered. I found myself brute-forcing my way through, systematically trying different combinations of questions until I found the correct branching path.
To successfully identify the killer on you first playthrough would require so much luck that it’s nearly impossible. That’s an incredibly frustrating quality to find in a murder mystery. Rather than relying on deductive reasoning, you’re at the mercy of chance an often confounding choice system. This completely undercuts any satisfaction I might have felt upon accusing the correct suspect. I didn’t feel like I’d solved a mystery; I simply felt like I had finally unlocked the correct way to manipulate the game across multiple playthroughs.
And of course, multiple playthroughs means you’ll be sitting through the same scenes again and again. Uncle Marcus does let you skip scenes you’ve already watched with a tap of the R1 button, but it only works intermittently. If you arrive at a familiar scene via a new path, the game won’t let you skip it. This might not be a problem if the game’s characters were fun to spend time with, but they’re something of a mixed bag.
Uncle Marcus’ characters themselves conform to familiar archetypes. You’ve got cousin Toby (Al Weaver), the performatively woke do-gooder on a school-building mission in Africa. There’s Aunt June (Susannah Doyle), a Princess Margaret-esque lush with an acid tongue. Abigail’s sister Lottie (Georgia Small) is a self-obsessed image-obsessed influencer. There’s an echo of Arrested Development’s Bluth family to your clan and their squabbles, but with little of the razor-sharp writing. Without that, you’re mainly left with petty bickering and sniping, none of which is much fun to endure.
The family members are all played with varying levels of absurdity, leading to a somewhat confused tone. Robbie Kay is relatively naturalistic and understated as death-obsessed teenager Bradley, but Al Weaver’s Toby mugs wildly for the camera like he’s playing to the cheap seats in a stage farce. Anyone who has taken part in a real life murder mystery knows that hammy acting comes with the territory, but many of Uncle Marcus’ characters show enough nuance to rise above the level of caricature.
The game is somewhat more successful when mining humour from the awkwardness of Zoom meetings, and the unreliability of technology. Nan can’t get her camera into the right position. Mum accidentally activates a dog filter on her face. These jokes are amusing, but they’re no funnier than the gags you’ve been making with your friends for two years now. If anything, much like the very concept of a Zoom quiz itself, they’re reminders of a time we’re all trying to forget.
Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? is probably best played with a friend or loved one beside you, maybe over a few drinks. It’s an entertaining enough diversion that you can have a bit of fun with it purely as a social activity.
As an actual murder mystery, though, Uncle Marcus is severely lacking. It’s grating to watch the same scenes time and time again, making hasty decisions based on a limited number of choices. You’re not so much a detective as you are a gambler, accruing evidence through luck rather than strategy. The conceit of criminal investigation via Zoom quiz is a good one, but UncleMarcus’ gameplay just doesn’t live up to its premise.