Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express
Following on from And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express is the second game in this murder mystery series adapted from the well known Agatha Christie novels. On that stormy island in the first game there was no detective to be seen, but there is this time, none other than Hercule Poirot, voiced by none other than David Suchet. It's a real treat to meet such a familiar Poirot, and it adds an extra spark to the game.
It comes boxed along with the complete Agatha Christie novel of the same name. If you haven't read the story then my advice is to play the game first and tackle the book later. Then you won't get clues for solving a few of the puzzles, and undoubtedly there'll be more surprises in store.
However, if you have read the book (or seen the movie) then there's still something different here. Once more the game isn't simply a straight re-telling of the tale, it's been embellished leading to a third possible ending that doesn't appear in the book.
The famed Orient Express is set to leave Istanbul and all the familiar faces are there, from Samuel Ratchett, right through the varied list of travellers, down to Pierre Michel, the Conductor, plus several other railway employees who may or may not come from the book, I can't exactly remember.
You'll notice the first difference as soon as the game opens. You'll be introduced to Antoinette Marceau who works for M. Bouc, good friend of Poirot, and Director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits. In Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express M. Bouc doesn't appear, Antoinette more or less takes his place. She's been assigned to attend to Poirot who unexpectedly joins the passenger list, and must be squeezed into proper accommodation on the overcrowded Calais Coach.
As we all know murder tends to follow in M. Poirot's footsteps, but on this journey he doesn't do much footstepping as he's indisposed early on in the proceedings. It's up to Antoinette to be his eyes and ears. You direct Antoinette in her investigations and, soon after the inevitable happens, you'll be invited by Poirot either to accept his help or not. Of course the going is easier with the great detective's help, and this makes the game a particularly good choice for newcomers to adventure games. On the other hand, if you decline his gracious offer then you'll have more thinking to do, though not so much that you'll be bogged down along with the train when the avalanche hits.
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express is a third person perspective point and click adventure game with a very nicely designed user interface. There is a range of cursors, and with a mouse click Antoinette will talk, look, or even listen at doors or peek through keyholes. She will walk wherever you point to and she'll run if you double click.
As for the inventory, it gets my nod of approval. You can select the appropriate icon or simply right click to open and close it. After using items a right click also returns them back to inventory in a flash, to exactly the spot they came from. Very handy for players who carefully organise their inventory. And each item is labelled, you can inspect them in more detail as well as listen for a soft hissing sound if there's something particularly relevant to note. It's so simple once you get into the rhythm; just remember to read the manual because there is a special cog icon for combining objects or taking them apart.
There's a bit of walking back and forth to do, but the pain is lessened with an option to zap from one carriage to another once you've managed to unlock them. In fact the interface compliments the style of gameplay very well. Maybe just a couple of extras would have been good, a name tag for all the 20 or so characters to begin with. There are rather a lot to remember, especially at the start, and it's always handy to know exactly who you're talking to. Also the source of inventory items added to their description in inventory would be another useful addition. This would act as a memory jog to remind you where that telltale clue came from.
The graphics are great, much improved over And Then There Were None. Lots of attention has been paid to the detail of the various locations. The restaurant car, in particular, is impressive with tables neatly laid out with elaborate settings, and a decor that's fitting of the Orient Express. There are some interesting perspectives too, from the outside looking in, as you make your way along the railway carriages.
The character modelling is also much improved, maybe still a tinge wooden, but I'm not complaining. All the characters feel as if they just stepped out of the book, even down to their particular preference for dressing. Antoinette, of course, didn't step out of the book, but she could have. She's a proper young woman of the time, dressing demurely in a suit with crisp white collar and cuffs. Intermittently adjusting her clothes and brushing lint from her shoulder, she takes her responsibilities seriously and blends in seamlessly with the setting.
The music is intermittent which suits the game well; you don't want to miss that bump in the night because of a fanfare in the background. It does appear briefly and appropriately in various scenes but for the rest of the time there's the soft whining of the wind, the clipping of footsteps, and doors clicking open and closed. Elegant sufficiency.
Of course the voices also bring any characters alive, and all the voiceovers are exceptionally good. So many accents for the melting pot of nationalities, and the lip-synching is handled pretty well too. The well-written dialogue surely helped a lot here and we can thank Agatha Christie herself for some of it, I suspect. You couldn't fault Poirot (grin) he sounds just like Poirot, thank you David Suchet. Of course there's quite a lot of conversation with Antoinette cross-examining each suspect several times, and it's simply a matter of selecting questions from a dialogue box, you can't go wrong. Every word is captioned and you can speed through the captioning as well as many of the cutscenes with a mouse click. Unfortunately I did run into a couple of premature questions that jolted the continuity a bit, but not enough to mar the experience.
An interesting touch is that even though he keeps to his bed, Poirot is forever on the prowl with Antoinette. Sometimes giving little taunts or, maybe, words of encouragement. It's quirky, endearing even. Given his super human detecting abilities, I could easily accept Poirot as an omniscient observer. Perhaps a little too omniscient at times as it's a bit frustrating when he can detect a clue from the next carriage and Antoinette can't see it right in front of her eyes. I wondered about a few mysterious clues early on when I should have been given more information.
Still this was a small frustration, and so was an inconsistency that took me a while to pin down. An item of clothing, which is used automatically. I did have its use pegged but didn't obviously use it as expected, so I kept on trying it elsewhere to no avail. It was necessary to physically use another similar object, so this one should have been handled in the same way.
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express is divided into three parts, four if you count the introduction where there are a few things for Antoinette to take care of before boarding the train. The game pauses at other times too, at turning points in the proceedings, and usually calls for Antoinette to visit Poirot when she reports her findings. Whichever difficulty level you're playing, Poirot will suggest a plan of action and these suggestions are listed to keep you on track. Antoinette also has other useful notes to refer to including a list of character bios which are updated with pertinent clues, a timetable of events, various maps, plus a fingerprint analyser.
It's not a difficult game, but there are some satisfying challenges and it's thoroughly absorbing revealing the story. With the interrogating and the puzzling interludes there's a lot going on. The extra puzzling (ie not related to the book) is well integrated, with some inventory based teasers as well as a puzzle box to open, and a letter to fit together. Along with her tasks at the station, there's another sequence outside of the train when Antoinette must find her way in the wild, white yonder to solve a problem. It makes a pleasant interlude away from the closed-in atmosphere of narrow carriages and clicking doors.
At the very end Poirot steps in and does his usual summing up and finger pointing, with Antoinette's help, of course. It works rather well as he refers to Antoinette to provide corroborating information relating to the two endings that feature in the book. And then there's the surprise twist in the tale, of course, which is clever, a little extra fun. I liked it a lot, though it was a pity that Antoinette didn't participate here, because she didn't get the opportunity to follow through this story thread and draw her own conclusion.
All in all Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express is a trip well worth taking. Most relaxing and enjoyable I thought, with enough challenge to keep experienced adventurers entertained and enough guidance for new players to join in and have plenty of fun. And finally, if you haven't met Hercule Poirot — or Agatha Christie — it is a great place to begin.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2006.
All rights reserved.
Win 2000/XP, Pentium 3 1.4 GHz (P 4 2 GHz or higher recommended), 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended), 16x CD-ROM/DVD-ROM, 1.5 GB Hard Drive Space, 64 MB Video Card (128 MB recommended) DirectX 9 compatible, 16-bit DirectX compatible sound card (Sound Blaster recommended).