Murder mysteries are a classic genre that is well traversed and represented in all forms of media. With the recent successes of the Sherlock Holmes games, it was only a matter of time before we saw more licensed murder mysteries come to current generation consoles. Enter Microids’s adventure and investigation game, Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name. The ABC Murders follows Christie’s classic character, Hercule Poirot, as he investigates a series of murders by a mysterious killer known as ABC.
Puzzles are the mainstay of any adventure game, and that is where The ABC Murders shines. There is a great variety of puzzles in the game, with no two of them being quite the same. Even from the beginning, the puzzles are multi-layered and complex, and that is amazing to see. Early on, you have your first puzzle presented to you, and the game expects you to work it out yourself without guidance. If you get stuck you have the option to get a clue from the menu, which effectively completes the next required action, but it’s refreshing to see a game expect you to work something out yourself instead of holding your hand. The only negative is that there could have been a couple more puzzles, as the examination pieces during the game are quite bland and boring.
Your other main objectives are conducting and completing interviews with suspects and persons of interest in the game, and answering questions using the clues you find in each area. Interviews present you with multiple questions or responses to choose from when speaking to your suspects and witnesses, with correct responses continuing the interview and incorrect answers eventually locking you out. I never found a situation where failing an interview put me in a bad position, the game simply taps you on the shoulder to let you know you made a mistake and another character interjects to keep it going for you. Using your little grey cells to answer your questions is simply a way to piece together the clues you have obtained during an investigation and continue the story. They involve selecting between 1 to 4 clues that answer the current question you have, with most covering general details of the crime. These can range from narrowing down the time of death to performing a psychoanalysis of the murderer. Using a suspect’s emotional state to your advantage makes the interviews interesting, but the questions, while in the spirit of Hercule Poirot, just feel like time wasters and I feel they would have worked better as spoken pieces.
The voice acting in The ABC Murders is extremely hit-and-miss. The voice acting for Hercule Poirot himself is excellent, with a great quality recording and great delivery from his voice actor, however, this can’t be said for the rest of the voice acting in the game. The rest of the characters’ voice acting falls somewhere between passable and horrendous. Early in the game you come across a grocer whose voice recording quality is so low that the ringing and static coming through caused me to lower the volume of the game whenever she spoke. Most characters in the game have a somewhat disjointed way of speaking, as though they didn’t have much time to rehearse their lines and leaving sentences that don’t flow correctly. For a game where conversation is so important, it’s disappointing that more attention wasn’t paid to the voice acting.
The writing itself is solid in The ABC Murders, with conversations being well written and believable, as well as having a good flow. The dialogue lends itself a certain ambiguity at times, which matches with the murder mystery plot line of the game, without becoming too heavy handed. Again, it’s a situation where the most time and effort has been clearly put in Poirot’s line and dialogue, but other characters don’t miss out as much in attention to detail as they do in the voice work. This is all likely helped by having the original novel as source material to work from, but it is still worth noting that the writing has been adapted well to the video game format.
Graphically, The ABC Murders treads a road often travelled by lower budget titles, with a colourful cel-shaded art-style. By no means does The ABC Murders look bad, but it is somewhat uninspiring to see an art style that is quickly becoming overused. Textures look fine, if sometimes simplistic, but edges can be jagged at times. The areas that you explore and investigate are also fairly small, but they are fairly populated, so the environs can be pretty interesting at times. Animations are very stiff, especially when trying to move quickly, but they don’t really detract from the experience.
On the other hand, the controls in The ABC Murders are something that detract from the overall experience of the game. The cursor, a mainstay of all point and click adventures and puzzle games, is extremely sluggish on the default settings and needs to be turned up as soon as you boot the game. Even when sprinting, Poirot moves sluggishly as well, never moving at more than a slow power walk. While it’s not a deal breaker, it does get frustrating when you have to go from one end of an area to the other. Movement puzzles, like turning the numbers on a lock, are extremely frustrating due to the control choices. Instead of simply flicking numbers up or down using the right stick, you instead need to click a button to grasp the numbers and move your reticule to the top of the screen to scroll through 2-3 numbers. It becomes old quickly, as you then need to bring the reticule back down to the lock again and repeat the process. With movement puzzles being a common trend in the game, this could have done with a better implementation. There was also the odd situation where the appropriate actions wouldn’t trigger, despite the reticule being in the correct spot. This only happened occasionally, and was quickly corrected by moving the reticule away and bringing it back, but it was a minor annoyance.
The ABC Murders has both strong and weak points, with the clearest example of this being the vast chasm between the quality and care put towards Poirot’s character when compared to the lack of it given to any other character. The puzzles are great, but there aren’t enough, and there are enough niggles in the voice acting and controls to take away from the experience as a whole. Microids’s Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders is a great starting point for a franchise, with enough positives being shown that I would look forward to seeing what they could do with any subsequent games.
Accurate representation of Hercule Poirot
Good puzzle variety
Bad voice acting for everyone other than Poirot
Not enough puzzles