Released earlier this month, Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders is based on the 1936 novel of the same name, and the thirteenth book written by British author Agatha Christie chronicling the career of her renowned Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. It's a point-and-click puzzler relying on the player's skill to pick apart numerous mysteries and events as Poirot himself, who along with trusted colleagues Arthur Hastings and Detective Inspector Japp, must solve the case of the ABC Murderer plaguing various regions of the UK. Given the genre and the subject matter, we weren't expecting a groundbreaking gaming experience. However, whilst it did little to exceed our expectations, we also didn't come away terribly disappointed either.
Making use of cel-shaded visuals, it's reminiscent of the games developed by Telltale, such as The Walking Dead and Tales from the Borderlands. The different locations vary from being wonderfully vibrant to forebodingly dark and atmospheric. Perhaps the best example of how both these ideas come together in the same overall location is the Clarke mansion in Churston. Areas set outside include a tranquil-looking cliff edge surrounded by flowers and greenery overlooking a church in the distance, and the attention to detail put into the mansion's back garden is enough to warrant a compliment from Poirot himself. In stark contrast, however, the interior of the house, most notably the basement, is anxiously quiet, barely lit and strewn with stuffed animal trophies, creating a more tense ambience. The constant music in the background also works quite well and it adds to the experience; despite the direction that the game's atmosphere is taken in.
The ABC Murders relies on the player's ability to leave no stone unturned. Objectives include cross-examining witnesses or suspects to gather as much information or testimony as possible, and examining various crime scenes and locations to find evidence or objects of interest that the player can use to either access new areas or advance further into the game. You'll also be accessing specific objects of interest using other items or information found at scenes of crimes, using the evidence you've accumulated to find answers to questions regarding specific mysteries or scenarios in a bid to further uncover the overall truth, and reconstructing murder scenes to determine how each individual murder was carried out. It has a little more in-game variety than the average point-and-click adventure and challenges players to think on their feet (for the most part). However, in contrast there are puzzles that are profoundly easy to solve, so the game's difficulty can seem somewhat inconsistent throughout.
For players who wish to explore every facet of the mystery, there's the added objective of accumulating all 600 ego points in the game, which is achieved by examining as much as possible and picking the right conversation options during interrogation sequences. However, collecting them does not unlock anything else within the game, leaving a fair bit to be desired in terms of replay value.
There are next to no problems to be found with the game's control scheme. The only issue we encountered is that at one or two locations, commands can be misinterpreted (so if players click in a certain place or corner of a room, it may sometimes send the character somewhere entirely different). We found this to happen mostly in the kitchen of Poirot's apartment, but since there isn't much to investigate there throughout the course of the game, it's simply a case of splitting hairs.
Disappointingly, the game only lasts around two to three hours, which in comparison to other point-and-click adventures, or even other mystery games made in the same vein (of which there have been quite a few released over the years), is meagre. In any follow-up we'd like to see more mysteries or longer investigations.
The story of the game follows Hercule Poirot in his attempt to solve the case of a mysterious and calculating murderer dubbed the ABC Killer, who at first seemingly murders indiscriminately and leaves an ABC railway guide near the body of the deceased. But as events unfold, Poirot slowly but surely uncovers a much more sinister and in-depth motive behind the killings that will have players guessing until the very end. We found the plot itself to be very interesting throughout and capable of holding the attention of either fans of the character and newcomers alike.
The biggest problem we had with it was the voice acting, which was questionable at times. An example of this could be after Poirot has cross-examined the niece of the first victim, he instructs Hastings to take her home, to which he replies "my pleasure," but in an upbeat manner when the niece is in visible distress over the killing. It does nothing but contradict the gravity of the situation. Another example of this comes later on when Poirot is cross-examining a different character, and irrespective of the seriousness of the enquiry, she talks to Poirot with an overly optimistic and happy tone. As well as this, there are also typographical errors in the subtitles that also manage to mar the experience somewhat.
In terms of variety in the gameplay, there aren't many mystery games that attempt the range of the things that we see here, and therefore it's clear that they've made an effort to stand out from the deluge of games in the genre based on other detective series, such as Sherlock Holmes, The Hardy Boys, CSI and the Mystery Case Files series. Our biggest wish after finishing it was that there was more in the way of incentive to return, and that completing additional criteria within the game would unlock more worthwhile things than merely story reels and the facility to replay the reconstruction sequences.
Overall, The ABC Murders is an enjoyable mystery for the little time that it lasts, but it does have its flaws. The voice acting can be below par at times, which can work against its attempt to take things seriously. Fans of Poirot will certainly take something away from the experience, but it's a shame that after completing it once there isn't much reason to play it a second time.