Platform PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC Genre Adventure, Point & Click
Developer Microids, Artefacts Studios Publisher Gravity Europe SAS
Platform Played PC
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders tells an interesting story, drawing faithfully from its 1936 source material. However, this is all that keeps the game afloat, as it fails to craft its own identity gameplay wise because of repetitive and mundane tasks.
Adapted from Agatha Christie’s famous novel of the same name, The ABC Murders sees famous French detective Hercule Poirot trying to work out the identity of a serial killer who sends him letters which give him clues about where his next murder will take place. True to the murder mystery narrative structure, there are a wide range of interesting characters that you meet, all with potential reasons to want the murder victims dead.
In fact, all of the presentation elements surrounding the gameplay are very well done. The ABC Murders clearly draws from TellTale’s cel-shaded visual style, but I’d argue it looks better. This is largely due to the lighting, which looks natural and makes colours look gorgeous. The game also runs extremely well, with a constant frame rate maintained throughout the whole experience, although there aren’t many action scenes which would be particularly demanding on the engine. It made the repetitive gameplay elements a little more forgivable. All of the characters are well voice acted, except perhaps Captain Hastings who sounded like he was yelling every line.
The story is similar to that of the novel it is based on, with a few alterations. As a result, despite offering different choices during interrogations, there is only one correct choice to advance the narrative. If you choose a response that is not correct, Poirot will correct the player, essentially saying they were wrong. Despite telling a solid narrative, I never felt like I was truly stepping into the shoes of Poirot because I didn’t feel like I was on the same line of thinking as him.
Gameplay in The ABC Murders is a point and click affair, with players solving puzzles, interrogating witnesses and making observations about people and the crime scenes. It’s very simple gameplay, and despite trying to provide variation, you’re essentially performing the same few tasks throughout the six to seven hour story. Each crime scene requires observation of the crime scene, which is performed by moving the mouse around the screen until a pair of glasses appear on certain objects such as a murder weapon. A similar action takes place before speaking to witnesses, with the player moving their mouse around the screen to highlight observations. However, the tasks are mundane because it is inherently obvious what has happened or how a person is acting from first glance. For example, Poirot observes that someone appears to be a smoker as she is seen holding a cigarette. It’s obvious, yet the player still has to take the time to identify the cigarette, and an ashtray to confirm this.
Solving puzzles will take up the most time in The ABC Murders because it’s the main clue finding method. You’ll also come to realise why companies tell you not to write your password down, because, if the game world is to be believed, everyone in 1936 used to write their codes on whatever it is they had locked. Most puzzles in The ABC Murders require the player to examine an object – usually some form of storage device like a cash register or suitcase – to work out how to unlock it. They tend to be multiple step processes, which require manipulating moving parts on the objects to unlock the next step. These can include matching up tokens, reconnecting missing parts, and solving mazes. The puzzles do all feel different, but in retrospect, you’re essentially doing similar things each time.
Furthermore, moving around the objects is a slow process because it takes a few seconds to zoom in and zoom out on different areas of the object. When you’re trying different things to see what works, this can get frustrating because you can’t quickly see if something will work out not. Poirot also likes to talk after you successfully complete a step, which is good to tell the player what their action did, but it slows down the puzzle solving stage again because you can’t perform any actions while he is talking without skipping the dialogue. If these design issues didn’t exist, The ABC Murders would have been a more free flowing experience. Instead it made the tasks feel mundane and tiresome after a while.
The final gameplay mechanic is using information you’ve found out through interrogations, observations and puzzle solving to answer questions. Examples of questions include “does this person have a motive for the murder”, or “what time was a murder committed”. The problem is that there is no penalty for an incorrect guess. You’re given more information than you need so you have to determine which information gives the answer, but getting the wrong combination does not punish the player in any way. As a result, I felt like I was just dragging and dropping different bits of information until I got the right combination. I never really felt like I understood how Poirot was jumping to the conclusions he was making. There felt like a randomness to the answers to the questions.
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders tries to be a lot of different games in one, but it doesn’t really succeed at being any of them. While the narrative and world are faithful to the source material, and the presentation of the story is great, the different gameplay elements let the game down. The point and click gameplay with puzzle solving gets repetitive and cumbersome due to choices regarding navigating around puzzles. The choice based dialogue actually only allows one answer to advance the narrative, and despite seeing the same clues as Poirot, I mostly didn’t feel like I was on the same page as him – it made me feel like I was watching the narrative unfold rather than influencing it. If you’re a fan of the world, you might enjoy seeing it in video game form, but for others not interested in the story, there’s little draw here.
- Faithful recreation of Agatha Christie’s classic detective and narrative
- Beautiful presentation, especially the lighting and voice acting
- Repetitive puzzle solving
- Poor puzzle navigation
- Mundane activities like making observations
- I felt like I was watching the mystery unravel, rather than influencing it