Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders PS4 Review
Publisher: Microids Developer: Artefacts Studios Genre: Adventure Players: 1
Age Rating: 12+ Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One
The Belgium Sleuth with the trim moustache, Hercule Poirot, is back, this time on consoles, with murder most foul that begins when a shop owner is found bludgeoned to death on her own shop floor. Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders is a mixed bag of good and bad elements, with the first part of the game drawing you in with its clever puzzles, art style and sense of mystery and then somewhere along the line taking a sudden downward turn, becoming tedious and even boring in parts as the game progresses. A steady point-and-click adventure, as well as puzzle-solving there is some exploring to do as you search different areas for clues and interrogations to conduct, all to delve deep into the lives of the various individuals, with the goal being to put together a bigger picture and ultimately find the culprit behind the killings.
The biggest disappoint the game has to offer is the story and the way in which it is executed. Unfortunately, due to drab voice acting, stiff animations and uninteresting, run-of-the-mill characters, the story didn’t pull me in very well at all, and what kept me playing was the fact that I only wanted to know who the killer was. The sections in which characters have to interact with one another is rather boring to listen to, and outside of what you learn about the characters through objects and letters you find in the environments, the characters themselves don’t show any sort of personality whatsoever and come across as rather stilted. This is all thanks to the equally stilted voice work, with only Poirot managing to keep my attention for the most part. There is no tension and a lack of suspense, and with the game having a murder mystery plot, that shouldn’t be the case. A game based on an Agatha Christie story should have made much more of an effort in its characterisation and plot, and unfortunately it does not do the original story of The ABC Murders much justice at all.
As mentioned, there are also puzzles to be found, though even some of these can be rather tedious to complete. The first puzzles really get your brain thinking, and it is interesting in how you solve one part of a puzzle to open up the next, but then, unfortunately, even the puzzles take a nose-dive during the second half of the game, becoming almost none existent and far too tedious to solve, not adding anything remarkably interesting to the story and feeling unrewarding after completion. One of the puzzles includes having to examine letters sent by the killer to Poirot, and this really isn’t implemented well at all, having to examine several letters in exactly the same manner, even though it is clearly obvious the letters are all the same. Once would have been just enough, with Poirot then noticing the similarities himself automatically with later letters. There is also a ‘clue’ system which I ended up using quite a bit for later puzzles, as they just weren’t clever or interesting enough to bother putting the brain-work into solving. Later puzzles feel rather tacked-on, as though the developers felt there wasn’t enough puzzles and so added a couple at the last minute. The clue system is also more of a ‘solve’ system, as rather than giving you hints, it will just solve a section of a puzzle for you, and given this, it is very tempting not to continue using it until the puzzle is completely solved, especially for the later ones in the way that I did. Once you have used a hint, it needs to recharge for a bit, but that won’t prevent lazy thinkers from using it often, compromising any challenge offered.
Despite its bad aspects, some intriguing parts of the game include sections in which you call into question the motives of the killer and break down the personalities of all involved, with Poirot asking questions that you then have to find the answer to. The way in which this is done is novel, with the comments of other characters, Poirot’s own comments, and letters and items found during your investigation being worded on-screen accompanied by circular pictures of the characters and items, with you having to choose a certain combination in order to resolve the question and receive more insight into the situation and people.
The art style of the game is also beautiful and, whilst it does not have the most awe-inspiring of visuals, it still adds to the sense of the 1935 era, with crisp, bright colours and sharp cell-shading effects. The design of each character is very reminiscent of the era also, as are the environments, and the overall style has a very film noir feel to it.
Another intriguing element is the way in which you conduct interrogations. Be it with one person or a group, you can choose to examine a characters current state, with Poirot taking a close look at their body language, state of dress – their overall composition – all to gauge what they are currently feeling. You can then interrogate that character and, depending on your choices, words will appear on-screen to indicate how that character is feeling, whether they are angry, at ease or feeling something else. Choosing certain questions and answers will also reward you with Ego Points, for acting in the same manner as Poirot would. There are 600 Ego Points to collect in total, though these points offer no real reward.
You also get to reconstruct the murders once Poirot has all the necessary information, with Poirot speaking to his partner Hastings as you choose just how the murder played out. The reconstructions are the only parts of the game that have any real animation and movement, with you choosing from multiple actions that appear on-screen that fit with the evidence you have found prior to that reconstruction. These sections certainly break up the monotony of the game and offer some much welcome variety.
It is also a joy to be set free and allowed to roam around different environments, examining anything and everything and gathering all the pieces of information to build up an image of what certain people are like, and what is happening in their lives. Finding items and letters does give you a greater insight into the characters themselves and helps to pad out their personalities, but as mentioned earlier, the characters themselves, when on-screen, are too wooden and you really don’t end up caring about their predicaments at all, bar one particular integral character, I would say. It is still enjoyable searching the environments for clues and items, and it’s fun to explore every nook and cranny.
Still, the negative parts of the game do overshadow any good the game offers, with some other odd decisions including not using Poirot’s famous ‘grey cells’ line, instead opting for ‘brain cells’ or ‘grey matter’, even though the on-screen subtitles always say ‘grey cells’. Another rather tacked-on feature is the ability to take apart or put together items, a system that is only used for two items throughout the entire game. This could have been put to much better use and could have added an extra layer of importance when solving puzzles.
Overall, Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders, whilst an interesting story on its own, is probably not the best as game material. The game does feel rather on the short side, with puzzles and other elements feeling tacked-on to lengthen the game’s playtime. The story just isn’t very interesting here and the bland characters and animation doesn’t help to pull you in to the games world, and with murder at its core, needed to make you care, but it just doesn’t. The first half of the game is the most enjoyable, but the second half seems lacking, with puzzles becoming almost absent and a lot of question solving and interrogations taking centre stage, which starts to bog down the flow of the game. It’s by no means a terrible, unplayable game and has a very relaxed pace, but could have done with just a bit more spit and polish, especially as it is based on an Agatha Christie story.