By: Brian Gunn
In the video game space, Hercule Poirot is perhaps a bit less known than Sherlock Holmes, but stepping into his shoes will feel quickly familiar. However the title from developers Microids and Artefacts Studios often struggles to stand out in Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders.
Point-and-click adventure titles are known for simplistic controls, and it’s not a wheel reinvented by The ABC Murders. Point Poirot to something of interest, and he’ll look at it or interact. Occasionally some inventory items will need to be used via drag-and-drop methods, but there aren’t many and there are no particularly complicated inventory combinations like in the genre’s past.
There are a few puzzles, often with esoteric locking mechanisms, however, that can be a bit frustrating; not in the logical sense, but in that it can be tough to tell how they control. I ended up using the hint system in game for one that required putting liquid on a rag and then rubbing it on some documents. I knew that was what the puzzle wanted of me, but I couldn’t get it to actually progress.
The ABC Murders has a generally pleasant look about it, albeit a bit bland. Environments are the general standout, offering an atmosphere of British upper class. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the character models. They are often stiff and oddly animated, with some scenes barely having lips move to match dialogue. Several characters even look alike.
There is also an inspection mechanic where Poirot looks at people to guess their character, and often highlights body parts of clothes. The text will suggest things about their eyes or perhaps their clothing being crumpled, but in the actual image they rarely appear much different than the rest of the cast.
Given the title’s setting in the early 1900s, and the public domain nature of the title, it is no surprise that the game features a decent amount of classical music. It is used fairly well, and I especially liked the track used during the brief crime recreation scenes.
Voice acting is fairly stilted across the board, but nothing too awful. The lead character is an over the top Belgian detective as a matter of character, and the performance reflects that. After decades of TV and film versions of the character it feels harsh to compare, but I could see this performance getting on people’s nerves.
By the time the game takes places, our hero, Hercule Poirot, is already a bit of an established and famous detective. As pop culture tells us, this means a genius serial killer was bound to focus on him and challenge him to a game of wits. In this particular case, it is the ABC killer, a murderer with a fondness for the alphabet and trains. Poirot is told the name of an area and a date, and he must race to stop any further murders from occurring.
Frogwares’ recent Sherlock Holmes series, especially the latest installment, Crimes and Punishments, seems like a clear inspiration for The ABC Murders. This is to be expected, given the lead characters are constantly compared to one another, but it uses some of the same elements from that title, like inspecting people’s tiny details for deductions and linking of thoughts interface.
For the most part the first half of the game involved investigating crime scenes and establishing that random acts of violence or theft are not the solution to the police. It’s obvious early on it’s an elaborate plot to the player and lead characters, so the task of simply proving to the police what the crimes are is quite a bit less fun than actually progressing on the mystery. Thankfully, this lets up in the second half of the game.
The game is a bit on the easy side, often requiring little deduction on the player’s part. There are, for instance, sections where you put Poirot’s “little gray cells” to work and need to combine thoughts gleaned from clues and conversations. The majority of these moments are incredibly obvious, often including the few relevant pieces of information and a few red herrings that are so totally unrelated that I can’t imagine anyone would choose them.
The ABC Murders also struggles with its low budget constraining the world. One victim appears to have lived, worked and died within a 10-foot radius because they needed to put all the locations on a single street.
My favorite element of the game is the Ego Points system. This basically amounts to rewarding role-playing, as you are graded on how much like the character your choices are. If you act like a boorish oaf, you’ll get fewer points. This is the only real element of replay value as well, in case you screwed up the first time through, though I don’t see it adding too much for any but the most diehard or those looking to stretch out the fairly short game experience.
OVERALL (2.5 /5)
Poirot’s adventures to catch the ABC killer are not an awful experience, but Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders lacks in polish and presentation. For those looking for a quick, breezy romp, however, it may prove a fruitful pursuit.