So you have an urge to be a detective, but you don’t want to muck around with that whole licensing thing. Forget watching people for hours on end. Getting shot at? Yeah, I’d skip that too. I invite you then, to discover Sleuth for DOS based computers.
The game, released in 1983, places you as a detective (sleuth is slang for detective) who is at a house where a murder has been committed. Your task is to talk to all of the house guests who were here at during the murder and search the house for the murder weapon as you attempt to figure out who the murderer is, before they murder you! Sleuth is a graphical text adventure, in that it uses ASCII characters to show some minimal graphics, namely the layout of the house, and your explorations of it. (I always liked that little ASCII face). Like last weeks game Star Trek: The Kobyashi Alternative, you’ll enter text commands at a prompt to interact with the game, but here you’ll also use arrow keys to move around.
The interactions are fairly straight forward. You can QUESTION people, SEARCH people, EXAMINE rooms, and so on. Once you’ve heard everyone’s story, you may find that someone has an ALIBI that doesn’t jive with other people. There’s your killer! Unfortunately, the murderer will become suspicious about your investigation and will eventually try to do you in as well, so you must act quickly.
The house is actually two stories, with both levels being shown on the screen at the same time. As you wander around the house a description of each room is displayed. I consider this game a halfway point between a full text adventure, and the later Sierra “Quest” games, where this game has text that appears in each room in place of full graphics. It’s a step above “West. West. North. Up.” Every game play in Sleuth is random, so it will never be the same murderer or murder weapon, adding greatly to re-playability.
There is absolutely zero sound in this game, save for your increasingly heavy breathing while constantly looking behind your back to avoid getting stabbed to death, and if you want to use a mouse, I laugh in your general direction. This is made up for by the simple fact that the game offers a personalized option. You can name all the house guests, and thus the murderer, yourself! Want to make your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/uncle/aunt/dog/car a murder suspect? Simply add their name to the list. When I was in elementary school I’d base house-guest names on real life people I didn’t like at school. Twisted? I suppose, but it worked. I’d grin as I held a glass of coffee milk, knowing that Jimmy* was in fact the murderer! Bwahahaha!
You’ll need DOSbox in order to properly play Sleuth, but as a reader of my column, you most likely already have it. If you like to think (a little) and are up for a quick challenge, do some detective work and give Sleuth the Fair Shake, or else someone will get away with murder…
*Name changed to protect the innocent.