Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders

 abc murders

Designing any interactive media that pits the player as an ingenious and brilliant detective while retaining a sense of free will would be, I’d expect, rather difficult. To suggest the player should commandeer this genius agent of deduction and carry out an investigation in any credible way without holding their hand would be to assume they already possess genius skills of deduction. To take that hand and lead them through a string of scenes to marvel at this character’s glorious intellect would be to create a lifeless work ill suited to the medium. Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders (2016) does very well to include the player on a linear tale of murder by designing a loophole of a game mechanic; the flesh of the game is not in possessing Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot, but in directing his subconscious in pursuit of a serial killer.

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The crime scene. People die in this game, by the way. Spoiler alert.

The narrative of this title follows closely to the original hyper-popular tale of the same name – which celebrated its 80th birthday last month – and while those already familiar with the story will not be as moved by its mysteries as newcomers, the developers have entwined a system to reward this familiarity. “Ego points” are rewarded for acting as Poirot would in canon, giving a potentially gratifying accuracy percentage for those who want to show off how closely they can replicate the story. This is lost on newcomers though, and I personally felt the breeze of jokes and references flying over my head more than once.

Players trot along through a linear progression of locations in classic point-and-click adventure fashion, combing crime scenes and interviewing witnesses. Most of the clue-hunting follows a consistent pattern: Poirot inspects an area and ponders a hypothesis, the player identifies three pieces of evidence, confirming the thought, and this becomes a clue to use later; the sort of mental process a detective might go through in a split second. When enough evidence is collected, players get Poirot’s little “grey cells” working, connecting figurative and literal dots to progress the investigation.

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Feel like an ultimate genius! Figure out what Hercule Poirot would be able to deduce in mere milliseconds. You get to take as long as you like! These segments are very satisfying.

Some clues are hidden inside needlessly complex boxes, drawers and cabinets, and these undirected stages of puzzle completion are meaty puzzlers, even if partly due to that lack of direction. The odd choice of control scheme for these sections adds some artificial and undesirable difficulty, sending an object spinning in place when I had meant to simply trace the cursor across it. Though sometimes conflicting, these sections add some enjoyable length to the game.

There are some issues with polish through this seven-to-nine hour experience that leave a sour taste in the mouth that can’t be washed out. Voiceovers are almost universally unconvincing, and I’d place the blame neither on poor actors or poor writing, but on a lack of voice direction. The script feels chopped and without emotion, and not at all like a natural interchange between humans with personalities. A murder mystery in which no one is ever shocked or saddened or excited by anything is rather odd. Mysterious, even… I suspect this is due to a rushed translation into English, and cannot vouch for the French voiceovers.

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He’s smiling. He’s relaxed. His hat is oddly perched atop his dome. Observation at its prime.

The constant option to interact with certain objects only to have Poirot reflect that “this is not the time” is a minor but persistent bother. It feels like I’m being condescendingly scolded for trying something that has proved to be rewarding in past levels. I freely interacted with a stranger’s private belongings earlier and uncovered a crucial clue, but now I’m being treated like a misguided child for glancing in the direction of a glass door I just passed through. This symptom is at its worst when it’s revealed that this particular door is never once used, except to ridicule you for trying to use. Thanks, game.

Artefacts Studios have clearly dedicated a significant amount of attention and love in recreating the licensed Agatha Christie property, and the end result is something to be very proud of. The representation of Hercule Poirot – as inspired by David Suchet’s signature portrayal – is very honest to the established character. The comic-book cel-shading art direction brings the ensemble of characters and set pieces to life and establishes ABC Murders as an independently remarkable  and unique iteration of the property.

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Share with me your secrets, cash register… and your lunch money.

A 1930’s period piece CSI game using the Telltale Games narrative formula, ABC Murders is at its best when it allows you to connect the dots of deduction independently, wrapping you up into the narrative. If it fails to grasp you and pull you in, this lack of immersion will likely turn you off, highlighting the uneven surfaces and inconsistent polish. If you’re a crime junkie that enjoys Telltale games and tall tales, this game is on point, warts and all.

7/10

Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders by Mindscape.

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