When it comes to selecting a source story for a crime-themed adventure game, you can't go wrong with anything from Agatha Christie. The author amassed 66 detective novels and 14 collections of short stories during her career, and has sold millions of copies of her books. Detective Hercule Poirot was the character that launched the author's lengthy career and it is the character's 11th novel, The A.B.C. Murders
, that provides the source material for Artefacts Studios' Point & Click title. While the novel was critically acclaimed, can the same be said about the game that it has inspired?
Poirot receives a mysterious typed letter through the post. It's author, A.B.C., promises to provide a mystery that even the esteemed private detective will find too difficult to solve. With the only clue being the English town of Andover and with the date set for July 21st, Poirot can do little to warn the police. Sure enough, Poirot is summoned to investigate the murder of Alice Ascher, the owner of a tobacco shop. It is here that players begin their journey through the novel. While the game does not follow the novel to the letter, it does follow the events closely to the point where those familiar with the source material will not find many surprises here. Others will be treated to an enjoyable 6-7 hour romp through the English country as Poirot follows the trail of a serial killer.
A solid story must be accompanied by solid gameplay. Many point & click titles can be overcomplicated, but this isn't the case with The A.B.C. MURDERS
where the gameplay is actually fairly simple. Just like Poirot investigates crimes meticulously, the game diligently guides players through every crime scene and investigation. There is never any confusion over the next course of action. Most of the crimes begin with a basic examination of the crime scene to gather clues and useful objects. All the while, Poirot adds commentary and notations are made in the notebook for later deductions. Occasionally, a closer Observation of a suspect or an area of the crime scene will need to be made. During this time, players must scroll the green icon over the screen until the icons focuses on the relevant points of interest that support Poirot's statement. The game will not move on until all of the evidence is gathered, so players never need to worry about missing anything of importance.
Tip: The body is considered to be an important clue
Some clues are hidden behind Riddles, simple puzzles that must be solved to reveal an important piece of evidence or an object that is needed to progress. Unfortunately, these never take any other form other than unlocking a type of container. The container may be shaped like a clock, or it may be shaped like a travelling case, but the objective is the same. As the game progresses, the puzzles don't get harder but they do become longer to complete. They also seem to get a little pointless. You wonder how playing a record turns into a challenge just to be able to lift the needle out of the way. However, the puzzles do serve the purpose of providing a break from the observation style gameplay that makes up the majority of crime scene investigation.
Once all of the clues have been collected, Poirot uses his Little Grey Cells to make deductions about each crime. Here, players must choose which of the numerous clues supports the theory that Poirot has posed. These start off relatively simply and never become too difficult. They do become challenging, though, simply because the latter deductions are worded more ambiguously as the game progresses. In some cases, the wording can be such that four or five of the clues could easily support Poirot's theory. As there is no punishment to the player for making the wrong choice, players will resort to picking random combinations until the game tells you that you have made the correct choices.
Poirot deduces that this letter is not a joke
One common theme throughout the game is that it is impossible to fail. An important clue can't be missed, an observation won't end until all of the evidence is found, and a wrong deduction cannot be made. The closest that players will come to failure is in the interrogation of witnesses and suspects. Here, players are offered dialogue choices where players can either be nice or they can be blunt in a fashion that is rather familiar to fans of Poirot. Player choices depict the amount of information that a witness provides and how helpful they will be to you, but even if you upset a key witness or make a mistake with your dialogue choice, the game will gently guide you back to the next important question through the intervention of another character. The only real reward for making the correct dialogue choices are the game's Ego Points, which are a representation of how closely the player replicates Poirot's detective style. While the game promises that there are achievements tied to these points, these were either removed during the development process or never existed. The result is that your Ego score becomes little more than a bragging right.
When the game's interrogations are one of the most important focal points, the voice acting is fairly important to make the characters believable. The problem is that the quality of the voice work can range widely. For many people, David Suchet's depiction of Poirot is the definitive version of the famous detective, and it is this portrayal for which the developer was aiming. While several characters are voiced by the same actor, Poirot's lines are shared between at least two people with varying results. Some lines were perfect, while others were delivered in an accent that was markedly different from that of the Belgian detective. The voice work of the various NPCs was of a similar quality. One of the major problems were the English place names -- it wasn't just the A.B.C. victims that were being murdered.
Who do you interrogate first?
It is a good job that the voice work is redeemed by the game's simple but effective cel-shaded artwork. All of the characters and their behaviour were accurately represented, although the lip syncing was lacking. Great care was taken to present a marked difference in each crime scene, the poverty stricken Andover contrasting markedly with the beautiful sea view offered at Churston. There were some clipping issues but nothing that adversely affected the game.
All that remains to be discussed is the game's achievements. While several are awarded through natural story progression, 18 of the game's 50 achievements are missable. Unlike the Riddles, Little Grey Cells and Interrogations, some of the game's Observations are missable, meaning that players need to comb each scene carefully with an Eagle's Eye
. There are also avoidable objects, such as the Newspapers
or the mirrors
. Most of the missables, though, are related to the game's conversation options during Interrogations. It is for this reason that players will need two playthroughs to get the completion, especially as there is one major event that can be done in three different ways, two of which offer a different achievement. The second playthrough won't take as long as the first and the completion can be achieved in less than ten hours.
Agatha Christie - The A.B.C. MURDERS is a simple point-and-click game that won't tax many of those little grey cells. The game constantly guides the player through the events of Agatha Christie's novel and the no-fail approach means that Adventure game novices can reach the end of the story, although the lack of challenge may discourage more ardent Adventure players from trying the title. The different types of puzzles blend well and prevent the game from becoming monotonous, even if some of them are ambiguous enough to involve trial and error and the voice acting is of questionable quality. However, the burning question is likely to be whether this game is really worth its £31.99 / €39.99 price tag? At just 6-7 hours for a single playthrough and with little replayability outside of the achievements, I'm not entirely sure that it does justify that high a price, especially when there are other similar titles that offer more for a lower price point.
- Good adaptation of a familiar story
- Simple gameplay that is accessible to everyone
- Voice acting can be awful
- Some puzzles are too ambiguous
The author spent just under 7 hours reliving the story of the A.B.C. murders. Despite living near Leicester for 18 years, she can say with certainty that Lychester is the most inventive pronunciation of that name that she has ever heard. After another three hours, the author had unlocked all of the game's 50 achievements. An Xbox One copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.