Review: Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders

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Everyone’s favorite eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is back on the case in The ABC Murders, the latest video game adaptation of Agatha Christie’s long-running series of crime fiction. Based on the novel of the same name, The ABC Murders follows Poirot, accompanied as always by Arthur Hastings, as he attempts to crack the case of the alphabet killer, a murderer so bold enough as to send letters directly to Poirot tipping off his planned crimes.

I’ve never read the book, but from the summaries I’ve subsequently looked up online I can say that the storylines differ slightly in spots but stick to the same main plot trajectory. For the most part the story is well told and does a decent job of keeping you wondering “who done it?” until the culprit is revealed in the final act. No, David Suchet does not reprise his iconic role, but given the constraints the actors fill in admirably at capturing the tone and personalities of the familiar characters, even if some of the performances are a bit hammy.

Poirot’s investigations span a variety of different gameplay mechanics that all work in unison to convey the feeling of working a case–even though individually each element is incredibly simplistic and the outcomes have already been pre-determined. Like any respectable point-and-click adventure, the game has the usual inventory and item inspection interactions. However, sometimes when examining certain parts of the environment or eyeballing witnesses/suspects before the questioning begins, the game will trigger an Observation scene in which Poirot will make a general comment setting you up to find a few key points in the scene to affirm his statement and generate further clues. These moments unfold like streamlined hidden object hunts where you scan the screen with a circular cursor until it zooms in and glows green over the relevant hotspots.

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Conversations naturally make up a large part of the game. The dialogue system allows you to choose from a selection of different speech boxes to determine the tone and direction of a conversation. Depending on the subject of the interrogation, you’re often afforded the opportunity to be accusative and confrontational, more probing and inquisitive, or to try to lend a sympathetic ear in hopes of winning over the interviewee’s trust. Choices don’t result in game-changing consequences, however when dealing with certain characters there are “right” and “wrong” ways to proceed (at least superficially), and the dialogue does vary based on your ability to follow the optimal conversation tree. Primarily, though, the rewards for perfect interrogations are achievements and a higher output in Ego Points, a scoring system that seems to solely exist to let you know if you are “doing it like Poirot would do it.” (On a side note, always make sure to have Poirot primp and preen his mustache in any mirror you come across for some easy ego inflation.)

Unfortunately, though the game’s cel-shaded visuals bring a fresh pop to the Agatha Christie series, the animations are stiff, especially the character faces. So instead of actually being able to read body language and facial reactions to steer the course of an interrogation, a character’s emotional reaction to each question is blatantly spelled out on the screen. Adjectives literally appear in bold white lettering to inform you if the response is considered “Suspicious,” or “Sad,” or “Sincere,” or “Contemptuous.” L.A. Noire this game is not. (Not that it’s fair to expect it to be.)

Puzzles come into play in the form of interactive riddle boxes reminiscent of the indie puzzle game The Room. Apparently, London is a hotbed for people that buy cabinets, chests, and cash registers featuring secret compartments secured by all manner of locking mechanisms and slider puzzles, as there’s at least one such box of conundrums to figure out wherever you go. Though the riddle compartments defy logic contextually speaking, within the broader logic parameters of an adventure game they fulfill their purpose to hide important items like keys and are the only sections that truly require some brainpower to solve. The game definitely has some tricky code-cracking, clue-deciphering puzzles, as well as actual instances of detective work such as reassembling documents that have been torn and burned, or comparing the killer’s letters to find matching typewriter defects and confirm that they all came from the same person.

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After enough evidence and character data has been obtained, Poirot will pose questions and have you assemble deduction webs by taking the available clues, represented by circular icons or tokens, and dragging them into the correct slots to form final conclusions about things like whether or not a character has an alibi to clear them of involvement, or a provable motive to keep them in the suspect pile. Each deduction has a correct solution, and if the correct clues aren’t obvious you can simply swap them in and out until the proper combination is found. That’s a shame, because for a crime-solving adventure it would have been a bit more interesting if you could make mistakes and accidently reach false conclusions that would alter the course of the storyline along dynamic, branching paths.

Once the evidentiary investigation is complete, each of the three primary crime scenes closes with a murder reconstruction event, which is more or less an interactive cutscene that pauses at key points, presents a selection of possible actions, and forces you to reflect on the case and correctly organize the events to reenact how the deadly deed unfolded. The murder reconstructions, like most elements of the game, aren’t particularly challenging, but they do succeed as a clever way to further draw you into the storyline in the role of a brilliant investigator.

The interface is elegantly clean and intuitive, equally adaptable to both mouse and keyboard (well, just a mouse really) as well as gamepads (a good thing since the game is on PC and coming soon to consoles). A tab at the bottom-right corner of the screen provides immediate access to inventory items, the objective list, investigation notebook, and deduction charts. Control and interaction with a mouse sticks to the traditional point-and-click method. Playing with a gamepad provides direct 3D control over Poirot using the left analog stick while the cursor movement is handled by the right stick, with conversation, menu, and observation selections mapped to face buttons.

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In terms of length, the game took me, an experienced player well versed in adventure-game, murder-mystery logic, between six and seven hours to complete, with a number of achievements and Ego Points still unaccounted for. A hint system is included, but I never felt stumped enough to consider using it. A few of the riddle boxes present a tricky challenge, though, so it’s fair to assume that average play time will vary quite a bit based on the puzzle-solving skills of each player.

The ABC Murders marks a solid, good-but-not-outstanding return for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to the world of video games. It may not be as advanced as the modern Sherlock Holmes games it so clearly attempts to emulate, but the game is a respectably compelling whodunnit that tickles the little grey cells enough to warrant consideration from fans of murder mysteries and adventure games. Most especially anyone who enjoyed the previous Agatha Christie games, like the excellent Murder on the Orient Express.

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Pros:
+ Variety of investigation methods make you feel like Poirot
+ Clean, intuitive interface for both mouse and gamepads
+ Sharp cel-shaded graphics
+ Faithful adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery storytelling

Cons:
– Slow, stiff character animations
– A bit too oversimplified; holds the player’s hand too much
– Choices don’t lead to any grand, case-altering consequences

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also coming soon to PS4 and Xbox One
Publisher: Microïds
Developer: Artefacts Studio
Release Date: PC – 2/4/2016; Consoles – 2/23/2016
Genre: Adventure/Mystery
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Steam, Amazon

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!