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Review: 'Mansfield Manor' a clever whodunit

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

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"Mystery at Mansfield Manor" is ideal for those in search of a fun challenge.

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Video games

Armchair sleuths with a knack for solving murder mysteries on TV shows or in books can put their skills to the test with a new Web-only adventure, "Mystery at Mansfield Manor."

This clever whodunit can best be described as an online interactive movie with nearly three hours of live-action video.

The game stars 14 real actors -- most of whom are suspects -- and it's your job as Detective Frank Mitchell to interrogate each one to solve the murder of a wealthy oil industrialist, Colin Mansfield Sr.

The game is first played by merely watching the lengthy introduction, which takes place shortly after your arrival at Mansfield Manor on the night of the murder. Your first suspect is the victim's young maid, Anna Mitrov, as she recounts her version of the evening's events.

The second part of Mansfield Manor lets you click on all the other suspects to hear what happened from their perspective. All suspects have alibis, yet each also has a motive as everyone involved has something to gain from Mansfield's death.

Suspects include a cigar-chomping Sen. Jim Doyle, whose political career was damaged by a widely publicized scandal; Colin Mansfield Jr., the alcoholic son of the deceased; Barry Carter, an executive at Mansfield Oil & Gas who was expected to take over the presidency after Mansfield Sr.'s retirement; and Nicole Edmunds, a former model who had an alleged "arrangement" with Mansfield Sr. in which she was permitted to live at the mansion and receive a cash allowance in exchange for accompanying him to various events.

While listening to each statement and watching the flashback sequences, you can type notes with the aid of a pop-up window.

After you deduce some theories on what really happened, the third part of the game allows you to click off if you think the suspect was lying and then drag and drop keywords over to the suspect's file such as "different sweater," "incorrect time" or "alarm beep did not sound."

Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, the game features multiple endings depending on your findings.

While a clever concept, "Mystery at Mansfield Manor" does suffer from occasional overacting, not to mention cliches, such as a renowned detective who is called to the case on the eve of his retirement; a lawyer who is holding unannounced changes to the deceased's will; and the attractive, young and money-hungry "companion" with eyes for other men.

There are a few other issues with the game. After you've solved the mystery, there is no reason to play again, unless you want to see the multiple endings. And because it's an online-only thriller, you need to be connected to the Internet to play. This is too bad because this laptop-friendly game would be terrific on a long flight.

But for $7 -- which offers unlimited access to the Web site for four days -- this murder-mystery adventure is ideal for those in search of a fun challenge. Fans of the game can also access the various bonus materials, including a behind-the-scenes "making-of" documentary and photo gallery.

"Mystery at Mansfield Manor" is not rated, but be aware of its mature subject matter, such as murder, sexual themes and alcohol use.

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