There are two modes of Agatha Christie.
There’s the one that underpins the BBC’s recent adaptation of And Then There Were None: equal parts psychological thriller and whodunit, all darkness, tension and mercenaries bringing up that time they committed genocide. Anyone could be the killer, narrator included, and everyone knows it.
Then there’s the category that Artefacts Studios’ Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders falls into. Almost anyone could be the killer in this set-up too, the main difference from the first model being that word “almost”: the murderer is anyone except the person with their own book series. No Christie character has ever glared at Jane Marple through eyes narrowed with suspicion and hate and thought: I bet she did it, the cold-blooded animal.
The difference between these modes of storytelling, really, is perspective. In the first, the audience’s point of view is internal to the world of a murderer. In the second, the audience shares an outsider viewpoint with an investigator and puzzles through a crime with him or her. Arguably, this allows for a slower, more thoughtful approach to story-telling – the kind that’s perfect for a traditional style of point and click adventuring.
Based on the preview build of Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders, Artefacts Studios appear to be making the most of this second approach, having constructed a game around Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot as much as the misdeeds that have given their game its title.
Poirot’s pomposity, ego and upwardly curled mustache are rendered in a colorful, hand-drawn style that recalls the early Broken Sword games, and these qualities drive many of the game’s interactions. Some of Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders’ most interesting mechanics are based on Poirot’s intuition and observation skills, asking players to think about suspects’ psychologies as frequently as about the Myst-style sliding block puzzles that were strewn around the crime scene I played. In doing so, Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders surmounts the central problem facing a lot of PC point and click detective games – that there’s not actually much sense of detective work.
That’s not to say that the influences of recent detective pop fiction aren’t plain. Systems from Telltale games like The Wolf Among Us, Wadjet Eye’s Blackwell series, L.A. Noire, maybe Gray Matter and probably even the BBC’s Sherlock all show up. Whether these were consciously adapted for Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders or not, their appearance isn’t necessarily a bad thing – not learning from these innovations would mean the game is swimming backwards against evolutionary history, wondering why no one loves it while its proto-foot is gnawed by something that hasn’t refused to develop wings or a respiratory tract.
The build I played did have a few issues, but these could well be fixed by the time of release. The worst of them was the awkwardness of some of the sliding block puzzles set against how straightforward the rest of the problem-solving was. Piecing together clues was fun, despite that, and could get more so later, if this is just a clumsy new-player-hand-holding phase in the game and more interesting challenges follow.
The other big question is quite how the game will explain all the object manipulation puzzles Poirot is going to encounter, if later crime scenes are anything like the first one. Is the killer a lock salesman, out of a job and driven to kill following a sudden fashion for storing important objects in containers that can be opened by any rogue with a well-waxed facial bush and a head for logic?
I’m looking forward to helping Poirot find out when Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders makes it onto PC, Mac, PS4 and Xbox One on 4th February.