Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders, developed by Artefact Studio, is a game that piqued my interest as soon as I heard it was in development. As a fan of both classic detective stories and puzzle-based adventure games, this point-and-click mystery based on one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels appears to be a match made in heaven. I was delighted, therefore, to be able to get my hands on the demo of The ABC Murders this past week.
The game stars Hercule Poirot, one of the crime author’s most famous creations, who is known for his sharp wit and intelligence. The demo drops you off at the beginning of the mystery where the sweet, old tobacco shop owner, Mrs. Ascher, has been murdered on her own shop floor. Naturally, things aren’t as clear-cut as they initially appear, and the presence of an ABC railway guide at the crime scene tells Poirot that this murder may be the work of a systematic psychopath.
Immediately evident is the game’s art style, which goes for a slightly unconventional, bright, cartoonish look. Granted, while cel-shaded characters aren’t exactly what spring to mind when thinking of Christie’s early twentieth-century stories, the visuals suit the light-hearted tone surprisingly well.
It is clear that the creators have a strong passion for the source material and have strived to recreate Poirot’s shrewd thought process within the gameplay, which is divided into smaller modes that each lead to the discovery of a new clue. When enough clues have been obtained, Poirot will use his “little grey cells” (how he refers to his magnificent brain in the books) to establish the facts. Seen most in the preview were the ‘observing’ and ‘thinking’ modes.
While observing, Poirot will examine a certain area or person and look for visual evidence that supports his theory. For instance, he will determine if a character is relaxed from taking note of their facial expression and posture. This basically requires you to move your cursor around until it homes in on something in the frame. At this stage, it’s all very simple, with the intention of simply moving the story forward, although these segments will no doubt rise in difficulty as the game progresses.
The ‘thinking’ mode is where The ABC Murders offers you puzzles in the more traditional sense. In other words, instead of trying to comprehend the motive of a crime, you are presented with small devices with intricate mechanisms that need to be understood and solved so that you can reveal the hidden clues within. Three of these object puzzles were present in the demo, and I was impressed with their level of difficulty. The solutions are not immediately apparent and require keen observation to be discovered. Bearing in mind that these were all very early in the game, I can’t wait to see what other brain teasers come into play later in the story.
This demo also presented a glimpse at the game’s reconstruction mode, where one must pile up all of the deduced evidence from a crime scene to determine exactly how the murder went down, while taking the P.O.V of the killer in a black and white reenactment. It’s an interesting idea that I’ve personally not seen done before, and I felt that it provided a great sense of accomplishment to end the scene on.
After experiencing only the first hour of gameplay of Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders, I must admit that I’m eager to continue the mystery. The focus, like many modern adventure games, definitely seems to be on taking the player through a story with accessible game mechanics rather than challenging them with overly complex puzzles and gameplay. Don’t expect any gritty detective thriller here, though, as the game’s easy-going tone makes it feel closer to the relaxed nature of Professor Layton than, say, the hard-boiled world of L.A. Noire, which suits the source material just fine.
Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders will be released on February 4th, 2016 in Europe and on February 23rd, 2016 in North America for PS4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac.