- a classic point-and-click adventure game;
- adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel “A.B.C.”;
- some interesting gameplay ideas;
- very simple riddles in the reviewed portion of the game;
- colorful, cartoonish visuals.
Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery novels without a doubt make a fine material for an interactive adventure game and over the years we’ve seen many such games employ characters or storylines from books like Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile. Furthermore, we can expect even more of them to follow, as Microids, a company specializing in point-and-click adventure games (and with good results – their works include both chapters of Syberia as well as Still Life), is planning to launch a whole series of games based on Christie’s bestselling novels. This February will see the release of Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders, and we had a chance to see a nice chunk of the game beforehand.
A is for Alice
As in the Sherlock Holmes series from Frogwares, the story is divided into several episodes. However, in contrast to the aforementioned series, here the episodes are closely connected and all of them constitute a single, bigger case. We assume the role of Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective, who has to solve the mystery of a serial killer. The unique trait of the case is that the names of his victims begin with subsequent letters of the alphabet – first a person with the initials A.A., then B.B., and so on. Furthermore, the mysterious criminal intends to play cat and mouse with the detective, sending him letters with hints concerning his next murder beforehand.
The fragment we were provided with encompasses the beginning of the investigation. The detective has received a letter from the murderer during a short introduction, and soon, already at the crime scene, I was given control and began searching, questioning the witnesses, gathering proof, and, last but not least, deducing, eventually reaching a plausible reconstruction of events. The end came about rather quick – finishing the first episode requires roughly the same amount of time as completing a single episode of a Telltale Games production. A short Telltale Games production. I don’t know how many fragments like this one will be included in the complete game, but my guess is we can expect four or five of them, which would make The ABC Murders a production that can be finished in one, two evenings at most.
B is for basic
The gameplay in Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders sticks to the rules codified by the years-long existence of the adventure game in its point-and-click incarnation. As the game was developed for mobile platforms as well, it employs the mouse as its sole input method. The sleuth, Hercule. follows where we click, traversing numerous, small locations and interacting with the environment and other characters (in which case the interaction is limited to conversation). Furthermore, in a manner befitting a typical adventure game, nothing can harm the protagonist and there is no time pressure – giving us all the time we need to make our calls.
In addition to classic solutions, the gameplay in Artefacts studio’s work features several embellishing elements, some of which, in my humble opinion at least, must have been born out of fascination with the 2014 game, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments. Specifically, I’m speaking about the deduction system. In the game Poirot, by means of dialogue or careful observation, gathers various clues and scraps of information. Among them are those that, when put together, will answer some relevant questions posed by the case – i.e. at what time did the murder take place. It would be a very pleasant addition, if not for the fact that in my version of the game the controls had a bad habit of malfunctioning in these sections. The clue that I should have been able to pick up and move to the appropriate slot often got stuck and wouldn’t move until I’ve clicked its surroundings half-dead. It would seem it’s a problem that stems from the game being a beta version, and as such I expect this issue to be gone in the final release.
Another often employed mechanic is the observation mode. In some sections the game shifts into first person perspective while player moves the cursor looking for places with different image focus – finding the right spot provides us with important clues; for example, it can tell us the character trait of an NPC we will be talking to soon after. Which is important because during a conversation we can behave in different ways; selecting the behavior most “fitting” for Hercule Poirot is rewarded with so called “ego points” – a measure of how well is the case going.
The game does offer several puzzles to solve, of course. Most of them boiled down to twisting and turning an object in all possible ways as well as tampering with every interactive element I could find. In addition, at the end of the reviewed fragment, I had to put together all the things I’ve learned and reconstruct the course of events. There was a common denominator to the tasks mentioned up to now – they were all very, very simple. The hint system provided by the game turned out to be completely unnecessary. Most time I’ve spend wondering on solution to a puzzle was around three minutes. Perhaps it’s the unique specific of the first chapter, perhaps subsequent episodes will turn up the difficulty a bit. However, if what I’ve seen is representative of the game as a whole, then the gamers who prefer to earn their story progression by exerting their brain are in for a disappointment.
C is for casual
The creators made a rather peculiar choice for their game’s visual style - the game features colorful, cartoonish graphics. While it may have been dictated by the game’s simultaneous release on mobile platforms, it is not necessarily a bad thing; there were many cases where this style proved to be a good fit even for more serious themes, i.e. in The Wolf Among Us or in both seasons of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. The problem lies in a way-too-vivid color palette – in case it’s not self-explanatory: a mixture of too flashy colors can indeed have a negative impact on the reception of a serious murder mystery dealing with a serial killer. Other than the artistic style itself, the game looks decent – the locations are pleasantly detailed, the characters look good and their appearances can give away some hints about their owners’ traits. Only the movement animations are visibly stiff and are desperately calling for more polish.
I wasn’t impressed with Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders. It does have some interesting elements to set itself apart from the competition - but only if the subsequent episodes prove to be significantly more challenging than the first one. And longer-lasting, for that matter. Otherwise, the game will find acclaim among casual gamers commuting with smart phones in hand, and that’s pretty much it. The veterans will have to find other cases that are more worthy of their attention.
Michael Grygorcewicz | Gamepressure.com