The story is set on alternate 19th century Earth that incorporates Steampunk elements. In this timeline, the American revolution did not happen, resulting in the North American colonies remaining a part of the British Empire and eventually developing into a nation called Vespuccia, that has retained many elements of British culture, including currency and political systems. This world's version of the Industrial Revolution was also more advanced and resulted in the development of "steam-tech" that included automated machines and airships.
The plot takes place in year of 1884 in the port city of New Bretique, where two police detectives, Miles Fordham and Bill Leger, investigate a case about a rather strange burglary of a flower shop in the run-down district of Cholmedeley. The seemly innocuous case suddenly quickly escalates to a hostage situation, and then culminates in Bill's death. In the aftermath, Miles finds himself burdened by guilt over having been unable to save Bill, but more eerily, his deceased partner's voice has begun speaking to him inside his head, always urging him to find the burglar who caused his death. Now retired from the force, Miles continues to work as a private investigator, doing several jobs fed to him from a contact at the police while hoping to find the thief of these Easter lilies, and perhaps bring closures to others as he does so. But can he solve the mystery, before his slowly fraying sanity gets the better of him?
Following Miles over five different cases, the game is quite open ended. Each case requires the player to gather clues from crime scenes, interrogating suspects, and make deductions based on the evidence available to them. But amongst the clues are also several false leads, some more subtle than others, and the player can freely pursue these too, which can potentially lead Miles to accuse the wrong people or otherwise render the case unsolvable. But a case ending up in failure doesn't result in a Game Over though; the plot advances, whether Miles finds the right answers or not, and the outcomes instead influences the overarching story in different ways.
A sequel of sorts, Rosewater, which is set in the same universe and going for a Cattle Punk motif, is currently in development and slated for a 2022 release.
This game provides examples of:
- Alas, Poor Yorick: Examining the burned skull of Desiree Lathan causes Bill to do a riff on the trope namer:Bill: Alas, poor Desiree. A woman of infinite riches, of tastes most fancy. Where is all your money now? ...Come to think of it, that question might be worth answering.
- Alternate History: There are lots of signs that this is not our world, and not just from the presence of steam technology. For instance, the country's flag is "The Jack and Stars", which still features a Union Jack in the corner. Also, Miles votes in the election for a Prime Minister instead of President. However, other conflicts still clearly occurred, as there is mention of a man who freed the slaves (and it wasn't Lincoln).
- Ambiguously Gay: It being set in 1844, it was still illegal to be a homosexual in most places in the world. However, several statements from Bill suggest that he preferred men, and that his partner knew it.
- Arranged Marriage: When pressed about it Miriam Harris will admit that her marriage with Malcolm was done as a deal between their fathers, both powerful business magnates who both thought it would be mutually beneficial for their corporations. She adds that it is by no means a happy marriage, and confesses that she regularly cheats on her husband by seeing a guy named Roland, a local piano-player behind his back as an outlet.
- Asshole Victim: Considering Madame DuPrée regularly beats her servants, locks them in an air tight room as punishment, and literally beat one to death, it's no wonder someone tried to have her buried alive.
- Badass Longcoat: Miles wears a black leather coat, it is even lampshaded as Miles remarks that said coat gives him a certain sense of "character". Bill immediately gives a snarky response to this.Bill: Right. Brooding detective in a long back coat. That's never been seen before.
Miles: What are you talking about, Bill?
- The Beard: Jean DuPrée never outright says that he is gay, but when pressed about it he eventually does admit that he is only married to Madam DuPrée because it makes him appear like "a normal man" in the eyes of society.
- Calling Card: The Serial Killer that Miles is hunting leaves Easter lilies at their crime scenes. It is first something that occurs to him later.
- The City Narrows: The Cholmondeley district is the worst neighborhood in New Bretique. Fist-fights, muggings, vandalism, and homelessness are a common daily sight in the Chum. It is so crime ridden that the police don't go out of their way to respond to much of it. In addition, since Bill grew up in Cholmondeley, he'll repeatedly mention how horrible it was growing up there and how happy he is that he and his sister left it.
- City Noir: New Bretique isn't a particularly good place to live in. Between the rampant crime and death rates (especially in Cholmondeley), the racism among both the wealthy elite and the police force, a terrorist group blowing factories, dangerous working equipment, and the unsanitary streets, almost no one in the city doesn't some sort of issues.
- The Coroner: New Bretique police force's local medical examiner, Dr. Malcolm Edwards, is still on friendly terms with Miles, despite him having quit the force, so he is quite willing to unofficially help him out with some of the technical medical questions he might stumbles on in the course of his investigations. He also likes to crack very dry jokes about his work with bodies all the while.Miles: How is the coroner business Edwards?
Dr. Edwards: Well, to be honest, it has been quite dead around here recently.
Miles: ...Don't quit your day job Edwards.
- Cop Killer: The thief from the prologue, given that he murdered Bill.
- Crazy Cat Lady: Margaret Andrews from case 3 is this to a tee. Though aside from cats, she also has a bit of a thing for squirrels as well.
- Crying After Sex: Miles interrogates Ruby, a local prostitute, about her clients, and mentions Percival McDonaugh, a local politician. Ruby says that he indeed visited with her once, and she remembers him because he started crying afterwards and said something about his wife, but apparently he was so emotional that she could barely make out what he was saying.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: Angela Maxwell seems to be an eccentric wacko at first, but she actually correctly describes Miles situation with Bill, meaning there must be at least some truth to her teachings.
- Dating What Mommy Hates: Juliette very strong implies that one thing she enjoyed about her relationship with Albert Martin, was that Albert is both bi-racial and a "lowly" member of the local university's custodial staff, and dating him made her racist and snobbish upper-class mother very upset.
- Dead Partner: Bill is this to Miles.
- Dead Person Conversation: Following his death in the Prologue, Bill's ghost keeps appearing as a voice in Miles' head, constantly chiming in with his own opinions on things.
- Downer Beginning: The opening of the ends with Miles' partner and best friend Bill Leger getting murdered by a thief, and which ever option you picked, it's Miles' fault.
- Downer Ending: Two of the Multiple Endings.
- If you have Miles throw Upton under the bus when Chief Snelling confronts you about of the sketches or you visit the wrong Reddite in case 5, Miles will be thrown in prison and Bill will endlessly nag him about getting them stuck in this mess.
- If you declare two or more of cases 1-4 to be unsolvable, Miles with admit himself into an insane asylum with him being putting a drugged up stupor so he'll stop hearing Bill's voice.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: If you manage to get through case 5, Miles will be saved from the killer either by Snelling or Upton. After the killer is dead, Miles will no longer hear Bill's voice. Satisfied that he solved Bill's murder, Miles will start up his own detective agency with Upton and Adelaide.
- Evil Luddite: This universe has their own version of them, called "The Reddites", named after one Jonathan Redd. They hate steam-tech with a passion and carry out bombings of factories using it, leading them to have a reputation as terrorists and Bomb-Throwing Anarchists.
- Evil Matriarch: Madame DuPrée from the first case. Not only has she sabotaged her daughters attempts attending university and tried to have her brake off her relationship with a black man, but she also beats her servants for relatively minor issues (all of whom are also black).
- Happily Married: Zigzagged with Miles and Addy. They start the game off very happy, but run into marital problem as the game continues, result in Addy throwing Miles out at the end of case 3. However, if you get the good ending, the ending implies that they managed to patch things up. It is also possible to have Miles tell Addy the truth about hearing Bill's voice in his head which starts to repair their marriage. Subverted in the bad endings.
- Homage: The game's conversation system is overtly designed to resemble the one in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.
- I Always Wanted to Say That: Miles will proclaim this after he announces his return to his apartment with a cheerful "Honey, I'm home!"
- If I Had a Nickel...: When Miles asks Ruby, a sex worker, if he could get to see the possessions of her deceased colleague, Lilly, she is hesitant, telling him that he isn't sure if Serafina, the madam of the brothel, would approve of that, with how much Lilly meant to her. Miles assures her that Serafina doesn't have to know about it and he promises to just "look, not touch." Ruby mutters "If I had a crown for every time I heard that..." under her breath at that.
- Insult Backfire: After interrogating the rather smug Roland Devereux, Miles becomes increasingly unimpressed with the man's character. Their conversation eventually ends like this:Miles: You're quite a piece of work, Roland.
Roland: (as smug as ever) Yeah, I know.
- Karmic Death: Guy Dumas confesses that he attempted to invoke this when he tried to have Madam DuPrée Buried Alive. As one of DuPrée's preferred methods of torture to perform on her servants was to lock them into a small, coffin-sized room without food or water for days, he felt it was only a fitting end for her to die that way.
- Lady Drunk: Desiree Lathan was infamous in her social upper-crust circles for her drinking habits.
- Lampshade Hanging: Examining Miles wardrobe causes Bill to point out how cliché a brooding detective in a long black coat is.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Downplayed. 19th century Vespuccia is on a whole implied to be somewhat more progressive on racial issues than the real world 19th century USA was at the time, presumably as an effect of Vespuccia having been affected by the British Empire's anti-slavery laws, thus ending slavery much earlier than in the real world. That said, racism does in many ways still remain a societal issue, especially amongst the nation's rich elite, and it extends to inter-racial relationships too. When speaking to Albert Martin, who is bi-racial, Miles, who is a white man, does heavily imply that his marriage to Addy, who is a black woman, was met with some kind of derision from his more conservative peers. Albert also reacts with surprise at the story, further implying that that Miles' marriage is at least somewhat out of the ordinary.
- Meaningful Background Event: In the opening, you can look at a blimp called the HMS Ligeia, and Miles will briefly mention some of the details of the voyage. Later, you learn that the blimp crashed into a park, killing not only everyone there, but everyone on board as well. While not directly involved in the main story, the effects of the crash bleed into all the other cases in the game.
- Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: If Miles decides to come clean to Addy and admit that the reason for his erratic behavior and dark mood is because he has heard Bill's voice talking to him inside his head ever since he died, Bill gets extremely upset at Miles. In the following scene, Bill's usual snarky comments if Miles tries to examining an object will instead either be coldly dismissive or be about how he is convinced that any moment now, men in white coats will show up and take Miles away to be locked up in the local asylum.
- Morton's Fork: When Bill is held at knife point by the flower shop thief, you have the option of either shooting at him or letting him go after failing to talk him down. If you shoot at him, Miles will miss his shot and hit Bill instead, killing him. If you try to let him go, Bill will try to stop him instead and the thief will punch him, causing Bill to fall to his death.
- Multiple Endings: The game has four different possible endings. Two of them are Earn Your Happy Endings and two are Downer Endings.
- Never-Forgotten Skill: When Miles discusses how detective work seems to come natural to him, Upton quips how it must be "learning how to ride a bicycle." Bill in turn quips: "It's a guaranteed way to end up with a broken arm?"
- "No. Just... No" Reaction: After Miles reads Madam DuPrée's "poetry", you can try to make him read it again, but Bill isn't having any of it.Bill: Oh dear god, no. Please, let's not expose ourselves to that drivel again.
- Noodle Incident: When Miles decides to take some ashes from a murder victim that has been burned to death for examination, and the only container he has to on him to carry the ashes around in is a pewter mug, Bill is a bit put off. But he then quickly reasons that it isn't even the weirdest or nastiest thing Miles has had to do over the course of an investigation:Bill: Remember that time we had to search for the murder victim's head?
Miles: I'd rather not, thank you.
- The Peeping Tom: Defied by Bill. When examining Miles' bed at home, Bill chimes in and assures him that he always makes sure to look away when he and Addy are having their "private time".Miles: It would be nice if you didn't spend the whole time humming.
Bill: I thought you appreciated some romantic music.
- Obligatory Joke: During one of the cases, Miles investigates a murder where the victim was burned to death. One of the few pieces of her that was untouched by the fire happens to be her hand. Bill immediately jumps on the opportunity:Bill: I'm afraid Desiree won't be able to give us a hand in this investigation.
Miles: (exasperated) Bill...
Bill: What?! I thought it was funny.
- Parental Favoritism: Juliette all but outright states that this was clearly at play between her and her brother Andrew when it came to their mother Madam Laura DuPrée. Juliette was The Unfavorite, because she was always unfailing Nice to the Waiter and went into academia, something that Madam DuPrée very much disapproved of. Andrew on the other hand was spoiled rotten by her.
- Phantasy Spelling: A variation on the trope anyway. The names of thing and places in Vespuccia is spelled in a more old-fashioned English way to underline that the nation is still a part of the British Empire. Prominent examples includes "jail" being spelled as "gaol" and "Brooklyn" being spelled as "Breuckelen".
- Polly Wants a Microphone: Somewhat more realistic that most examples. The parrot in the DuPrée Manor reacts to certain sentences Miles says to it.
- Private Detective: Miles left the police department after Bill died. He now works discreetly on cases the police are stumped on via Upton passing them along.
- Seriously Scruffy: After Bill's voice starts haunting him, Miles' appearance takes a toll from the he lack of sleep and stress he suffers as a result, going from a clean cut, well-groomed officer in the Prologue, to sporting Perma-Stubble, Messy Hair, and Exhausted Eye Bags for most of the game. Addy also fusses a bit over it, telling him he should really consider getting a haircut.
- If you ask Albert Martin's mother about him, she says he'd never harm a fly. Bill will then quip about how "Mothers always say that".
- You can play one of the themes from LOOM on the harpsichord in DuPrée Manor, to which Bill will say it reminds him of his mother. Fittingly, you get an achievement called I'm Bobbin, Are You My Mother?.
- There is an achievement called "What can you tell me about voodoo?"
- Small Name, Big Ego: The small-time pianist Roland Devereux thinks he is God's gift to music, and is quite full of himself in general, something immediately telegraphed to the player by the haughty smirk he wears in his conversation portrait. According to Addy, who worked with him a couple of times as a singer, he isn't even all that good at playing piano and even missed a few nodes on the occasions they performed together.
- Spiritual Successor: The game wears its inspiration from Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father on its sleeve, trying to evoke roughly the same structure and graphic style as Gabriel Knight, and having a haunted protagonist with Wild Hair and Perma-Stubble who has problems sleeping. Most overtly, the conservation interface is more or less directly lifted from that game.
- Steampunk: Steam devices are scattered throughout the city, in a fictional version of the Industrial Revolution. One of the background conflicts is the progress of this steam tech versus human employment.
- Stop Poking Me!: When in the flower shop in the Prologue, it is possible to make Miles ring the counter bell several times after already having used it to summon Mrs. Hanbrook. Mrs. Hanbrook will get increasingly annoyed by Miles' repeated use of the bell the more he does it, eventually culminating in her letting out a scream of frustration. Bill, though amused by Miles' antics, will step in and tell him to give it a rest at this point.
- Straight Gay: In the fourth case, Rolan and Jimbo were in a relationship. The latter outright confesses to it in an underground pub.
- The Summation: Upon naming who he thinks the culprit in a case is, Miles will go over their motive and then the method by which they carried out crime.
- Talking to the Dead: In the good ending, once Bill's spirit has been put to rest, Miles will visit his grave to say goodbye and tell Bill that he will be moving on with his life.
- Third-Person Person: Cormac the sewer worker speaks like this for this most part, though he does use "I" on a couple of occasions.
- Tragic Keepsake:
- Miles keeps Bill's old bowler hat on the top of his wardrobe. Bill's ghost complains that he should have been buried with it on, but when Miles points out that it would have meant that the hat would have rotten away with his corpse, Bill admits that it was probably good he kept it.
- Serafina, the madam of a local brothel, still keeps a lock-box belonging to her old friend and co-worker Lilly, who was killed in a scuffle with an abusive costumer, in a closet, admitting that she has never been able to bring herself to get rid of it.
- Torture Technician: Madam DuPrée would often subject her servants to cruel torture if she felt they disobeyed her or otherwise misbehaved. Her favourite methods was whipping them bloody and locking them in small room, no larger than a coffin without water and food for days.
- What the Hell, Player?: During the course of investigating Desiree Lathan's murder, Miles needs to contact a lawyer she has spoken to, but runs into the roadblock when he is asked by said lawyer's secretary to bring him evidence of her death, in order to get an appointment. If Miles previously picked up some of Lathan's ashes, this gets the player option to show the secretary said ashes as his "proof". Predictably, the poor guy is rather horrified at the sight of charred human remains and tells Miles to leave the office immediately or he will have him arrested, and refuses to speak with him anyone. It nets the player an achievement called "Total Ash-hole", and Bill also calls Miles (and the player) on out what he did.Bill: What is WRONG with you, Miles!? Have you gone insane?!