Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders 2016: Unravel The Mystery
February 4th, 2016
Artefacts Studio, Tower Five
Examinations: The player can collect information by examining suspects and paying attention to what they say, how they say it, and how they feel.
Puzzles: The player will have to solve puzzles in order to obtain more clues.
Brain Deductions: Depending on the clues collected, the player will be able to make deductions and find out more about the murderer.
Timeline: As the player draws conclusions and progresses through the story, he can use Poirot's Timeline. This means that Hercule Poirot can build a timeline with all the relevant events revealed during the investigation.
Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders is a lighthearted point-and-click adventure game that combines mystery box puzzles with witness narrative. Since its debut in 1936, The ABC Murders has enchanted millions of whodunit lovers with its intriguing premise and early demonstration of what we now call behavioral psychology. Soon after officially retiring, the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is challenged by a would-be-killer through a mysterious letter to solve a series of murders targeting people whose names begin with successive letters in the alphabet, a challenge you will spend anywhere between 5 and 8 hours solving.
The narrative of The ABC Murders has been adapted for the big screen several times – Agatha Christie aficionados will recognize an episode from season 4 of Poirot, as well as a BBC three-parter starring John Malkovich – and is one of Christie’s best-known works. As a result, many players will go in knowing the killer’s identity and motivation, as the game’s plot hits most of the same beats as the source material, and in fact is somewhat compressed, significantly modifying the plot to benefit the last murder victim. As a result, let’s look into the game’s components and see if they stand up.
The plot of The ABC Murders is strong on its own. Indeed, the clarity and flow of a seasoned detective’s deductive powers locked in a battle of wits with an astute killer who keeps taunting him, baiting both the player and the larger police forces hunting him with various red herrings has stood the test of time: We imagine the unraveling backstories and speculations will be quite satisfying to anyone experiencing The ABC Murders for the first time.
Unfortunately, some of the subtleties that gave the novel its zing did not make the cut. The running gag of Poirot being mistaken for a Frenchman, for example, or the lampshade conversation with Arthur Hastings about how multiple murders make a story less boring, or the numerous elements of foreshadowing present in the source material have been toned down or abandoned entirely, diluting Christie’s vivid world, but thankfully all of the essential subplots and characters are present in their original functions.
However, the voice acting is mediocre in The ABC Murders, albeit passable, and the characters’ charm and complexity have been mostly lost in the simplistic animations and forgettable interpretations. While the video game medium may provide less complexity than television or cinema, we can’t say we were impressed with any of the characters in the game. We didn’t find them grating either, but there’s something to be said about a game that features dozens of scenarios in which you scrutinize someone’s mood for clues while the quality of their faces is frozen in cel-shaded blockiness.
The mystery in The ABC Murders will keep you engrossed on its own – and as far as adaptations go, this game is written in such a way that is structurally faithful to the original novel – but there’s also a nice feature that could only work as a video game adaptation – the game gives you the choice of obtaining one of two endings, depending on whether your idea of justice is congruent with Poirot’s original prevention of an easy death or not. The decisional moment is also obvious, so you won’t be startled by the mechanic.
The great portion of the game is spent visiting each crime scene, inspecting the characters and environs for evidence, and combining them to deduce reasonable truths about how, why, and when each murder was committed. Throughout the inquiry in The ABC Murders, a half-dozen or so witnesses and suspects arise, and progressing through the plot mostly requires common sense and attentiveness. There are a few item puzzles, although none is especially challenging, and the only potential brain teasers are the various mystery box puzzles. In the style of games like The Room, you will be turning items, punching codes, opening secret chambers, and repairing cogwheels to gain access to documents that disclose snippets of the plot. While not very difficult, these sections were the one portion of the game where we felt we were slow, but once you get into a specific mindset, opening them becomes a matter of focus and attention to detail.
The ABC Murders game will occasionally transport you to the Little Grey Cells portion, where you must connect the pertinent information to specific questions, such as: Is the killer X? And you must evaluate if the evidence you have gathered rules out or incriminates a particular individual. It’s not the most interesting approach to be led through the story, but it maintains our attention on the narrative and within this framework where small subtleties and minute observations reveal so much more than we see at first look.
However, on a standard adventure difficulty scale, what ABC has to offer is very lightweight — thankfully, no pixel hunting is involved here, but most puzzles are encountered and solved within the confines of the same screen and are communicated in a very straightforward manner, and there’s even a hint system, though we’d be surprised if anyone ever needed to use it. Your inventory will include no more than four objects, and their use will never be unconventional or irrational – their function is obvious from their shape or name.
The ABC Murder’s aesthetics are nothing to write home about: The cel-shaded industry-standard quality for 2016 represents a time in England that is neither inspiring nor memorable: the entire game contains about four or five outside scenes and as many inside, and none of them will leave an indelible impression on you. It’s fair to say that this game is a pocket-sized adaptation that retains the scale, pacing, and setpieces of its source material but loses some of its charms in the streamlining inherent in the video game medium: dialogue choices and character investigations lead you through the murder mystery in an organic fashion.
While the animations of The ABC Murders are amusing, especially Poirot’s strutting around and gesticulating in his customary pompous manner, there is little refinement in what the movement and rigging in this game express. The sound design is equally underwhelming – there’s very little emotion and a little too much detachment in a scene that’s ripe with dramatic possibilities: the numerous red herrings, the Reveal, and even the reconstructions of the murders could have been orchestrated in a much more cinematic or emotionally arresting manner.