Full motion video was one of the stranger experiments of 90s video games; mostly sticking purely to the realm of adventure games like Phantasmagoria, Harvester and the infamous Night Trap, though many early Playstation and Sega Saturn titles utilised clips for cutscenes and whatnot. Putting real actors inside video games could create a certain disconnect and the generally lower budgets of games in the 90s resulted in some… memorable performances, full of schlock, ham and cheese. Even the serious takes couldn’t get away from it.
But as FMV fell out of fashion due to the rise of graphical tech, it has once again fallen to the indie developers to resurrect the genre and in spectacular fashion. I’m personally a big fan of Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure and more recently, Contradiction: Spot the Liar! Both reasonably light-hearted and silly adventures that will never fail to get a chuckle out of me, though they were clearly leaning in to that schlocky side of FMV.
In that way, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker by D’Avekki Studios is a stark turn. There’s no schlock here and very little ham. The performances are played perfectly straight and they’re all equally affecting. It’s rather fitting, considering that this is a psychological horror and murder mystery game; being schlocky would be completely at odds with the tone of the game, but D’Avekki Studios have managed to pull it off brilliantly. The standout thing about Doctor Dekker is its excellent acting combined with its horrifying narrative, with its six main actors bringing fully fleshed out and realistic though broken people to the psychiatrist’s office the game takes place in. The performances will affect you and get under your skin in every way you can imagine.
I fell in love with Marianna (Aislinn De’Ath) while being repulsed by her, I felt sympathy for Claire (Helga Ragnars) while finding her actions abhorrent, I wanted Bryce (Millin Thomas) to be a better person and to help Nathan (Dom Lister) move past his grief. I appreciated and feared Jaya (Bianca Beckles-Rose) and was charmed relentlessly by the adorable Elin (Helen Jenkinson). I was heavily invested in the characters and their fates, and knowing I could control it to an extent through my questioning was a lot of pressure. The side-characters (who only get one interview each) were every bit as interesting and managed to flesh out the world in greater detail. I was also very happy as a fan of the aforementioned Contradiction to see John Guilor in a more serious turn without chewing the scenery (I admit I miss the scenery chewing though).
The premise is a simple one: the titular Doctor Dekker has been murdered in his office, and you are his replacement. You must treat his five core patients and his assistant Jaya across five acts, while attempting to get to the bottom of just who killed him. The murderer is chosen randomly at the start of the game, meaning playthroughs will rarely be the same. Balancing the therapy with the detective work is entirely on you however, and delving too deep can have dire consequences. The gameplay itself is very simple; you simply type questions based on a keyword system into a box at the top of the screen, and your patient will answer. The interface will indicate to you if there’s anything you should follow up on in their response, though you can also type “hint” if you’re stuck for a good question. However, the system can be a little too specific in what it wants you to ask or occasionally provide an answer to question you didn’t think you were asking at all! It’s mildly frustrating.
Doctor Dekker is at its best when it feels like a real conversation and you are becoming entranced by your patients’ responses, their implications and your attempts to piece it all together. I personally managed to do this with Bryce and Marianna most; I felt connected to them and I wanted to know more while being terrified of their answers. Characters will ask you questions too, from the mundane (your favourite season) to the heavy (do you think they’re insane). It’s an experience that weighs on you and stays with you, especially because there’s no going back. You can’t un-learn or un-say things, which will impact on both your sanity and the characters’ actions. The game uses a traffic-light system to track your conversations; a red dot next to the character’s name means you need to ask more questions, orange means you’ve got all the necessary information out of them for the day, but you can keep going. Beware the green light though; it means you may have gone too far and your sanity will be impacted. They say curiosity killed the cat, but it may drive a person mad. Balancing restraint with curiosity is a key skill in managing your sanity and solving the mysteries in Doctor Dekker.
The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker has given me nightmares. It’s not a game for the faint of heart, as while nothing visual is shown, there are plenty of vivid descriptions (brought to life by the excellent actors – Aislinn De’Ath as Marianna in particular nails this), though there are a few cheeky jump scares that got me every time (god DAMN it Jaya stop interrupting my conversations). These don’t detract from the creeping dread that infests every session of Doctor Dekker though, from discussing the characters’ unique afflictions to the depravity Doctor Dekker himself sank to in his research. It’s grotesquely fascinating, deeply uncomfortable, and will hook you like few other games can. It’s a masterclass in acting and is a massive achievement in the video game medium – there’s plenty to learn here from everyone’s performance and I really want to see more from this team.
I plan to delve right back into Doctor Dekker again soon – I was too frightened to delve to the bottom of every mystery, but writing this review has solidified just how impressed I am by the game and only makes me want to plumb it further. The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker is on Steam right now for only £6.99 and I put roughly 7 hours into it during my first playthrough. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a brilliantly creepy murder mystery – and I say this as someone who has never enjoyed horror media.