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DS  header logo

Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders

For: DS

Little grey cells

Product: Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders | Publisher: JoWooD Productions Software AG | Format: DS | Genre: Adventure, Film/ TV tie- in, Puzzle | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders DS, thumbnail 1
Modern writers must look on in envy at the success of the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. With over 2 billion (yes, billion) of her books having been bought worldwide, only Shakespeare and the Bible even get close to the number of copies sold.

Despite this potentially massive audience for her clever crime thrillers, it may come as a surprise that there are so few games devoted to her stories. While the DS has proved itself time and again as arguably the best platform for adventure games, The ABC Murders is the first Agatha Christie story to get a small screen(s) makeover.

The plot follows the enjoyable double act of private detective Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings as they track down the psychotic serial killer known only as ABC. As with all Poirot stories, the plot twists and turns regularly, with fingers of accusation pointed at almost all the stories’ characters.

Elephants can remember

The good news for fans of the book is that the story is pretty much intact, if a little abridged in places. Knowing whodunit before you started would be a little rubbish so Black Lantern has included a rather neat option to play the mystery with a different murderer, complete with altered testimonies and comments from Hastings.

The graphics are simple but functional, with Poirot himself looking more like David Suchet’s portrayal than Peter Ustinov. The characters occasionally say a word along the lines of ‘hello’ in an unconvincing accent, but otherwise the sound is sparse and forgettable.

The main portion of the game takes place as a kind of interactive story in which you choose from a selection of questions to ask each of the witnesses and police officers. It’s a false impression of choice, though, as you’ll end up asking every option anyway to progress, but it’s nevertheless engaging.

Cat among pigeons

The other portion of the game is spent answering maths questions and solving riddles. Sometimes these questions make sense in the context of the adventure - trying to find the fastest route to the murder scene, for instance, or solving one of Poirot’s maddening leaps of logic.

More often than not however the puzzles feel out of place. This is most apparent during the final stretch of the game, in which every single suspect won’t reveal information unless you answer yet another unrelated question about dogs or money.

The most frustrating element of the puzzles is that the game lacks an area to jot down ideas and calculations. On the whole, most of the questions can be done in your head, but there are a few notable exceptions that demand to be written down.

Dumb witness

As you progress through the story, and witnesses begin to contradict and lie, Hastings writes down his thoughts of the case into a journal automatically. It’s easy to read and look through, and vitally important when it comes to the final denouncement.

It does, however, remove much of the enjoyment that comes from reading the novels in that it takes away almost all of the sleuthing.

Having Hastings write down that a suspect likes X and have Poirot declare the murderer is the kind of person to also like X in the run up to the accusation, it’s not very hard to work out who the culprit is.

Even worse, most of the journal by the end is devoted to a single suspect - the murderer. There are red herrings in the story as it unfolds, but by not recording enough of them it makes the final denouncement fall a little flat.

Considering the DS has such a good facility for writing things down, it’s disappointing that the game doesn’t allow the player to record the clues themselves. This would have also been a good opportunity to show off the excellent stylus font the game uses, which manages to make even my illegible scribbling look classy.

Poirot investigates

Another missed opportunity comes from finding clues at the different crime scenes. Instead of hunting the picture for items that stand out, ABC Murders uses these scenes as places to hide information about Christie and the world of the novels.

They’re a nice little bonus for die-hard fans, even if the facts are scattershot in quality, but they don’t really add much to the game. Admittedly, Poirot wasn’t renowned for combing crime scenes, but it’s strange as to why the first murder has an important clue to find, and yet the others are just relayed through police accounts.

In the end Agatha Christies: ABC Murders feels like it doesn’t know what sort of game it wants to be. The story is enjoyable to play through, but you never get the sense you’re solving the case. Likewise the puzzles can be entertaining, but they lack the presentation and variety to rival Professor Layton.

This all adds up to a game that will provide some hours of enjoyment, but will eventually disappoint both detective wannabes and those looking for a few brainteasers to occupy their time.
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders
Reviewer photo
Will Wilson | 25 November 2009
It’s a good story, but those looking to emulate their favourite Belgium detective will find the repetitive brainteasers and limited sleuthing frustrating
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