Friday 4 March 2016

Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders

Have you been looking for a game that allows you to step into the shoes of a short, slightly overweight, balding, middle-aged rich guy? Then boy, have you come to the right place here! Oh, and he's also one of history's most famous fictional detectives.

Published by Microids and out now for Xbox One, PS4, PC and Mac is Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders. This isn't some sort of alternate universe imagining where Christie was a serial killer rather than an author. No you fool, it's a(nother) videogame adaptation of the book! Despite the cartoon graphics, the story hasn't been sugar-coated from the original. There's death, desire, deception, despair, and an assortment of awesomely alliterative actions such as – okay, I'll stop now.

You waddle around the screen as Hercule Poirot, presented here in a way that will be instantly familiar to any fans of David Suchet's celebrated performance. Credit where it's due in fact, Poirot's representation here remains faithful above and beyond appearances. His flawed personality has been recreated very well, his calm and calculated thinking expressed well through both gameplay and dialogue. Heck, you can even interact with any nearby mirrors in order to feed his vanity; and each time you do so, you'll earn yourself a few 'ego points'.

The ego points system is a great idea that's well implemented, though perhaps best appreciated by those who have read the book. The basic idea is that, the more you act like the 'real' Poirot throughout the investigation, the more ego points you earn. This means not only admiring yourself in the mirror despite the fact that there's a body beginning to rot a short walk away, but working things out for yourself and, sometimes, acting or replying in the exact way that Poirot did in the original adventure. There's no such thing as a 'wrong' course of action, in that no choice will force you back to a checkpoint. You might be chastised for your actions by your faithful companion Hastings however, and/or the witness or suspect you're talking to might become aggressive or offended.

The 'working things out for yourself' thing relates to not using the 'hint' system. Although this would be better named the 'Poirot automatically does the next bit for you' system, it's a great inclusion that the industry ought to consider spreading around a bit. It just means that he'll, say, toddle over to that interactive piece of scenery you missed, or he'll complete the current section of puzzle for you. God knows I had to use it myself a few times, as I found one or two of the puzzles to be confusing and illogical. I can't discount the possibility that it was just me being a bit thick, though.

The puzzles, almost without exception, are prosaic items with hilariously overcomplicated locking systems that you must bypass. They're presented in a horrid mobile game style – in that the items float in front of you as you inspect and rotate them, as Poirot apparently has psychokinetic powers – but most of them are at least interesting. You'll also be recreating murders once you've gathered enough evidence, and combining statements and facts to produce new ideas and conclusions. Very detectivey

It sounds like a nice little game – and it is, with a nice little(ish) price to match – but it ain't perfect. I've already mentioned what I found to be dodgy puzzles, but dodgier still is the acting. It's variable, with most the wrong side of mediocre. The guy playing Poirot is actually very good; but the same can't be said for the consistency of his accent. Sometimes it's perfect, other times – especially in the second half of the game – Poirot sounds like he hails from an as-yet-undiscovered country. It won't take you long to finish (six hours, or thereabouts) and, despite the ego points and even an alternate ending, there's little reason to replay for most people. Especially as there are no chapters, checkpoints, or multiple saves. Worst of all, wherever the subtitles have the iconic “little grey cells” line, the actor says “brain cells” instead. What the hell!

A good way to kill some time. 3/5.


Luke Kemp

Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders at CeX

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