Review – Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders (Switch)
I’ve been a long time fan of Agatha Christie’s novels, with And Then There Were None being one of my all time favorites. So naturally, I was drawn to a game based on one of her most popular books. Add in the fact that it’s an investigative puzzle game and it seemed like a match made in heaven. So how did Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders stand up to its source material? Let’s break out the mustache wax and take a closer inspection.
In Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders, you play as Christie’s legendary mustachioed detective, Hercule Poirot. After being called upon to investigate a murder, Poirot finds himself on the trail of a serial killer who only identifies himself as ABC. It’s up to him to find connections between his ever growing list of victims, in the hopes that he can track down the murderer before he strikes again. Since this is based off of a famous Agatha Christie novel, you can rest assured that the story is compelling the whole way through.
As far as the gameplay, Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders is a point-and-click investigative puzzle game. Considering the nature of the premise, this is definitely the smartest way to present this theme. Unfortunately, what should have been a great game falls short of splendor. The problem lies in its execution. This game has numerous technical issues and some odd design choices which detract from the overall experience.
For starters, being a point-and-click style game that’s been ported to the Switch, you’d think it would make use of the Switch’s touchscreen. I was amazed to discover that it doesn’t at all. Instead you’ll have to use the Joy-Cons to move your cursors around the screen. The problem with this is, for one, it takes longer than it would if you could just use your finger to tap exactly what you want to interact with and two, it’s very easy to keep missing some of the tinier details. I got frustrated a few times trying to click on some minuscule button or lever, but ended up just overshooting the mark by a hair. I can’t even imagine trying to play it if either of your Joy-Cons have any sort of drifting issues.
The next problem, which is by far the most important, is how buggy it is. After solving a few puzzles or investigating a crime scene or two, the game will suddenly stop registering certain actions. It doesn’t freeze the game, but you might find yourself becoming irritated when you see something that you’re obviously suppose to interact with and the game won’t let you. At this point, you’ll have to exit out to the title screen and then try going back in. Luckily, this always seemed to work for me, but it really kills the flow of the experience, especially when it happens so frequently.
Another issue with Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders lies in some of its animations and design choices. This game isn’t a looker in terms of its graphics. It features an overly simplistic cel-shaded art style with a slight blockiness to some of the characters. The animations are very stiff and almost jerky at times. Plus Hercule Poirot moves agonizingly slow, even when you push the button to make him walk faster. I suppose it’s appropriate considering he’s an overweight, pompous person, but it’s a struggle trying to get him to move from one side of the screen to the next.
The scenery typically looks alright, but the people are a different story. This can be especially problematic when you enter sections where you have to make observations about suspects or crime scenes. For example, there was an instance where I was suppose to take note of a suspect having clenched fists, but their hands looked just like everyone else’s. Another time, I was suppose to notice that a suspect’s clothes were crumpled, but they appeared clean and normal. This didn’t stop me from getting the information I needed, but it made for some times of needless confusion.
Fortunately, these problems and inconsistencies didn’t break the game and I found the story and the puzzles very entertaining. Even though I was already familiar with the source material, I still enjoyed the way in which it was presented. Surprisingly, most of the puzzles actually felt like they belonged in the game as an organic part of the story. There’s a nice variety to them as well. While many of them are on the easy side, a few are actually quite clever and had me scratching my head for a moment.
The investigative aspects are somewhat hit and miss though. Poirot will have to use his keen sense of observation to look for clues and details around crime scenes and suspects. I love this idea, but these sections are far too easy. It’s pretty much impossible to miss anything. At certain times you’ll automatically go into Observation Mode and have to scan the area for points of interest. However, as you move the cursor around the screen, it will vibrate when you get in the general vicinity of a clue. Not only that, but the proximity range on the cursor is huge, so even if you’re not on the clue it will still register it. Plus, it tells you how many points of interest you can find during each observation, so there’s no risk of missing anything important.
After collecting enough clues, Poirot will “use his gray cells” to make deductions. This is another aspect that I love the the idea of, but it’s just far too easy. He will ask himself questions about the case and you’ll have to connect specific pieces of knowledge or evidence together in order to deduce facts about people or circumstances. Once again, the problem is that it’s basically impossible to fail these deduction sections. Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders would have benefited greatly by having the possibility of missing pieces of evidence or coming up with incorrect deductions that would throw off your progress. There’s simply not enough difficulty or risk.
Although, there is one aspect of the game that does provide a challenge. Poirot will have to interrogate plenty of suspects and witnesses throughout the game. Aside from the actual puzzles, I enjoyed these parts the most. Poirot will have various dialogue options in each interrogation and you’ll have to be careful with which responses and questions you choose. Each person requires a specific approach in order to get them to give you information. Coming on too strong or even being too sympathetic can cause them to shut down and refuse to talk to you anymore. It all depends on that particular character. This is the only area of the game that has some sort of consequences.
The interrogations are particularly enjoyable as well thanks to the good voice acting. Just about everyone delivers a solid performance. The animations might not always be the best at conveying character’s emotions, but thankfully the vocal performances get the job done. The musical score fits the game well, but there’s only a few different tunes so it does get repetitive after a while.
While Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders has the right idea in terms of how to best present a murder mystery in video game form, it unfortunately misses the mark. Having to exit the game and come back after completing a few tasks really kills the immersion and flow. I also think not making use of the Switch’s touchscreen was a huge missed opportunity. However, the puzzles are a lot of fun, even if they are often a tad too easy. That’s not to mention how engaging the story is, which is to be expected being taken from one of the greatest literary minds of all time. If you’re a fan of murder mysteries and solving puzzles, then Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders might be worth investigating for yourself.
The animations are stiff and the art style is overly simplistic. Sometimes the characters aren’t even designed to show certain clues that you’re expected to observe, like clenched fists and crumpled clothing.
Hercule Poirot moves very slowly, even when pressing the button to make him walk faster. Periodically you’ll have to exit to the home screen and restart, as it will stop registering certain actions. There’s no use of the touchscreen, which is shocking for a point-and-click game on the Switch.
The voice acting is very good all around. The music, while fitting, does become repetitive.
Despite its technical issues, there’s still a solid story and some truly clever puzzles.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, and Android.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders was provided by the publisher.