Murders on a schedule, a train schedule. No it’s not the Orient Express, but Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is on the case anyway: It’s the ABC Murders!
Publisher: Gravity Europe
Release Date: November 2015
Played: Full playthrough
Purchase At: Steam
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders is an adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel starring the Belgian super-detective, Hercule Poirot. In it, a peculiar serial killer sends letters to Poirot to warn him of his alphabetically chosen victims. In addition to these calling cards, the killer leaves ABC Guides (train schedules) on the corpses, hence dubbed the ABC Killer. The crimes all have different potential motives from those closest to the victims, but knowing there is already someone claiming responsibility in advance makes Poirot’s case much more complicated.
I won’t reveal the plot as it’s a mystery novel and anything beyond the premise can spoil the surprise, but I’ll at least say that it follows the traditional Poirot style: Murders happen and then Poirot investigates the crime-scenes, talks to people, annoys others, puts it all together and then brings everyone into the room to reveal who the murderer is. If you’ve watched any of David Suchet’s Poirot films, you’ll know how it goes. As an adaptation, there’s no problem with it following this style instead of breaking off on its own, as it keeps the central characters rooted in their expected roles and it’s easier for Christie readers to connect with their favourite Belgian detective.
The downside is that Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders follows the novel’s story to the letter. Sure, it changes a couple things here and there but the overall mystery remains the same, including culprits and motives. For Christie readers this will be disappointing as there will be no mystery to solve. I would have preferred them use the story as a basis, keeping the overall premise but changing the characters, locations, etc. to make it compelling for newcomers and fans alike.
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders is a point & click adventure game, so the controls will be instantly familiar. You move your cursor with the mouse and you only have one click option, though the action performed by Poirot will change depending on the icon. With the glasses, he’ll observe while he’ll interact with the hand cursor. The glasses cursor can also trigger Observation sequences where you scan the environment and zoom into important details, though I never got the impression they had much of an impact, nor was there any challenge to them.
There is a hint system in place but you need “Ego Points” to buy the hints. To get these you need to act as Poirot would, such as checking your moustache in the mirror, or acting the way you know he would on conversations, knowing when to be stern and when to be manipulative. These add something of a roleplay element to the game, giving you a chance to somewhat alter Poirot’s personality from the established one. The change is never too great, as he remains rooted in the established narrative, but it is pretty fun.
Puzzles come in three varieties: Inventory are the minority, with simple items and straightforward uses. Logic puzzles come second, with all victims and suspects having complex puzzle boxes or rooms in their possession. These puzzles while really fun, feel shoehorned, as it’s highly unlikely that all characters would have such complex mechanisms to hide their belongings or to start record players. The last one of these, involving a trunk and a map, makes no sense when you consider the characters involved. Finally, there are the Deduction puzzles, which I’m separating from the usual logic ones, because these are all about using Poirot’s “little grey cells.” In these puzzles you deduce important clues and even the culprits from the evidence found and the testimonies heard. There are also reconstructions of crime-scenes, which will be a blast to anyone who’s ever seen an Agatha Christie adaptation film.
The deduction puzzles do get a bit more obtuse as the end draws near, with the wording becoming more and more ambiguous. This along with the multitude of clues and testimonies can turn some of the later deductions into a case of use everything with everything. At one point I was to choose things that proved someone’s innocence, but the clues I had were snippets of conversations that lacked enough context for me to make the logic leap required to solve the puzzle effectively.
Visuals have a nice cel-shaded style that works better than I expected. It makes Poirot’s England a wonderfully colourful place, and with the different shades and tones, you can feel the difference in the environments: the happy and the sad, the rich and the downtrodden. The first victim’s street is gray and dirty, while the second victim lived near the beach, so there’s clear blue water and a nice café by the sea. The environments are full of details that give them character and help them feel as other characters in the story. Because of the details in objects and backgrounds I manged to note a few anachronisms, such as a book with a blurb that mentioned travel routes in 1937 when the game takes place in 1935. I hope it’s on purpose as it’s a glaring mistake to make in a Poirot game.
Characters look wonderfully, particularly Poirot and his impeccable moustache, but their animations are stiff as boards. To those of us who know the mincing gait of Hercule Poirot, it’s shocking to watch him walk like an animatronic puppet. Lip sync is as bad as the walking animation, making most characters look like marionettes. Poirot is perhaps the worst, his lips barely moving at all when he speaks.
Music is pretty nice, with some fantastic ambient songs that add tension to investigative scenes and an air of mystery to the experience. One point of particular note is the record you find of the second victim. Lovely song that helps you understand that character’s motivations and what she hoped to find in the world. Voice acting is strong throughout, though it annoyed me to no end to hear the Poirot actor say “brain cells” when the character is saying “little grey cells” in the subtitles. Also, the latter is the correct catchphrase.
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders is a pretty nice adventure game that will give players a look into the world of Hercule Poirot. Christie fans won’t find anything new here and there is an element of frustration with the deductions and the strange contraptions you have to solve.
3/5 – Alright