Augmented reality true crime tour opens a virtual window to the past
If catching critters in your local park no longer does it for you, location-based augmented reality (AR) games are expanding into all kinds of other avenues. Eastern Market Murder tasks players with solving a true crime mystery from over a century ago, in the actual locations where it all went down. New Atlas hit the streets to test it out.
Eastern Market Murder is the second game from the small indie team at True Crime Mysteries. Like the first title, Misadventure in Little Lon, the new game is a kind of interactive walking history tour, taking players on a 2.5-km (1.6-mile) trek around the streets and alleyways of Melbourne, Australia. In each location along the way, virtual characters will pop up over the real-world scene, as viewed through your phone’s camera.
This time around, players are tasked with investigating an 1899 murder at the sprawling Eastern Market, where a long-time rivalry between stallholders has bubbled over into a violent confrontation.
Emory Gordon Medor attacks Annie Stevens with a revolver, apparently frustrated at losing customers to her fortune telling business, which he regards as quackery – ironic, given his own trade is phrenology, the long-debunked pseudoscience of predicting a person’s mental and emotional capabilities by measuring bumps and dips on their skull.
While Annie escapes with just a broken arm, her husband Frank confronts Medor and is killed. The player must then interrogate witnesses and other people of interest, gathering enough evidence to pin the crime on Medor.
Between the meticulously researched history and the inventive use of technology, the game blends the past and present together in a super satisfying way. It’s the most impressive example of AR that I’ve seen yet.
The scenes have much more variety than last time. You’ll find a woman standing in front of a row of virtual post boxes, in front of a building that housed a post office 120 years ago. In a plaza in Chinatown, a pair of doctors sit at a table sharing a drink – which you pour for them by tipping your phone over their virtual glasses.
Even more striking is when you visit the real-life scene of the crime. Medor’s phrenology clinic has been digitally recreated, letting you physically walk into the shop to examine the evidence, even reading letters cribbed from history that are sitting on his desk. In another scene, you can wander around a neighboring florist, using your phone to peer into every nook and cranny.
But perhaps the most intriguing sections are those where the tech is used to place a literal window into the past. Players visit the building, still standing, where Medor actually lived 120 years ago. In the real world, you can see the outline of an old window in the brickwork, long since patched up. But through your phone, that window reappears, and you can peer into the phrenologist’s bedroom for clues to his character.
It all culminates in a confrontation with Medor in his jail cell, via another virtual window projected on a real world building – a 19th century jailhouse that has since been converted into an upmarket wine bar.
All up, it’s a fantastic way to gain a new appreciation for your city, especially if you fall in the overlap between “true crime buff” and “tech enthusiast” on the Venn diagram. I had no idea, for instance, that my favorite Chinese restaurant was, a century ago, the original office for a local newspaper (which covered the story at the time).
If you’re in or near Melbourne, Eastern Market Murder is best experienced on-site, but there is an off-site option too, which can be played anywhere. While you miss out on the thrill of seeing the real-world locations, it’s still an intriguing story brought to life in an immersive way.
The overall experience has been fine-tuned and improved from the previous game. The dialog menu is both cleaner and more complex, changing what used to be just a list of questions to ask into folders of people and objects to inquire about. The game also automatically takes notes for you, so you don’t need to pull out the cork board and red string to keep track of everything yourself.
While the first two games have so far been set in Melbourne, the team has expressed interest in exploring similar stories in other cities rich in dark history.
Eastern Market Murder is available now on iOS and Android.
Product page: True Crime Mysteries