Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders DS
The Professor Leyton games have made mystery titles very popular on the DS at the moment, so it’s no bad idea to take one of the greatest ever mystery writers works to the handheld as a game. Fortunately they’ve made the choice of one of Christie’s lesser-known stories so as to avoid the possibility of the majority knowing the end to the story, and therefore who is behind the murders.
The ABC Murders is a Hercule Poirot story, but rather than playing the part of the famous Belgian sleuth yourself you are put in the shoes of his sidekick Captain Hastings. You are in control of questioning all the witnesses and suspects, and some of them take a little coercion before they will open up to you. This is done by solving a puzzle that they give you, so you can prove your worth as a detective. The puzzles are pretty varied; some are anagrams, some are number based and there are plenty of convoluted logic puzzles that take some working out. I doubt any of these interactions actually occurred in the book, but it’s a good way of giving the player something to do without affecting the outcome of the story.
The chosen input system it seems is also meant to make you feel more part of things, they could have just used a touch typewriter style interface to enter text or numbers, but haven’t. Instead they use a character recognition system and you actually write your answers, one character at a time. This also feels more in keeping with the setting of the story, as do a lot of objects you will find when investigating scenes throughout the game. These come in two varieties. Firstly, you will find pens, which when touched will give you little snippets of information about Agatha Christie. You will also find some little bowler hats around the place, and these will reveal some interesting facts about Poirot.
The presentation gives a feeling of the era, with the backgrounds having an almost washed-out look, similar to a sepia photograph. The characters that appear when you interact with them are in a hand drawn style, like an illustration from a book, and have very little animation. There’s not a great deal audio wise, some faint background music, and the odd sound bite from characters, it’s all very minimalistic and fits well with the visuals.
Everything works quite well but the only problem is blandness. There’s just not enough for the player to do, the interaction with the story is minimal as you are the sidekick and it just leaves the player with a feeling of pointlessness. The only real decision the player can make regarding the story is at the very end, when it comes to accusing the murderer. Yes, there is stuff to do during the investigation, but it is all very formulaic. A murder occurs, you question the witnesses and check the crime scenes then move on to the next murder, then repeat.
Who’s this game aimed at? It’s difficult to know. On one hand the simplistic gameplay – what there is of it – seems suited to a younger player. But the complexity of the puzzles, and the subject material are definitely aimed at the more mature gamer. I’m guessing though that it is probably aimed at the very mature gamer, I just can’t think of anybody else who would have an interest in Agatha Christie and who might have problems with overly complex gameplay. But then there’s the issue that anyone that interested in Agatha Christie has probably already read the book the game is based on, which just makes the whole thing somewhat pointless.
The ABC Murders is definitely a hard game to judge. Personally I found it a bit on the dull side but perhaps it might make an ideal Christmas present for a more elderly relative, as long as they have a DS that is.