Agatha Christie: Evil under the Sun

Developer:  AWE Games
Publisher:  The Adventure Company
Year Released:  2007

Review by Rosemary Young (November, 2007)
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express Screenshot Based on the well-known Agatha Christie murder mystery, Evil Under the Sun, this game jumps into the action after the event (or events) so to speak. That is it opens in nighttime London in 1940 during the blitz with Poirot and Hastings passing the time waiting out yet another blackout. It so happens that Poirot is peeved because Hitler has upstaged him in the newspapers and hogged all the space, there is not a single mention of the great detective's latest successful case. Poirot decides to reclaim some of the spotlight by relating the story to Hastings. However, as Hastings so often complains that he doesn't get all of the clues in their murder investigations, Poirot allows his good friend to direct the retelling of the tale and solve the crime.

Hence in Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun, you aid Hastings in directing Poirot in uncovering the murderer. Just click on a small portrait and you're transported to the scene of the crime. Although the story follows the book with the same setting, the same characters, and even the same murder, to add extra intrigue it deviates as to whodunit. So if you've read the book (or seen the movie) you'll notice the above tinkering at the beginning, and you won't be certain about who did the dastardly deed.

It's a third person perspective, mouse driven game, and this time on screen you see Poirot tripping around as you and Hastings solve the crime. The interface is simple and intuitive as the cursor changes to alert you to various possible actions such as talk, take, use, walk or, perhaps, follow or eavesdrop. Simply point and click on screen and Poirot will walk to that spot. Of course he won't be hurried, perish the thought of Poirot lolloping along, but you can double click on screen exits to fade him out and into the next location.

A relaxing holiday in the sun
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express Screenshot The story is set on Seadrift Island where Poirot is taking a well-earned break at The Smugglers Rest Hotel. The island is small so you don't travel far except to take some excursions by sea tractor across a shallow causeway to Leathercombe Bay. There are a variety of places to see though, a ruined monastery, some sandy coves, the old Smugglers Inn Pub, a nearby near-deserted village (remember the wartime evacuations), not to mention The Smugglers Rest Hotel itself. It's a rather classy hotel with a dozen or so guest rooms to snoop around in, plus the reception, dining room, bar, and a glass-enclosed viewing room at the top.

The pre-rendered graphics, whilst not state of the art, suit the game very well. They are sometimes almost dreamy outdoors with small amounts of movement such as foliage softly swaying in the breeze and the sea surging towards the shore. They are clear and detailed and the game is sprinkled with cut scenes to illustrate various pivotal events. The character modeling looks good too, if a little stiff, with faces subtly changing expression. Thanks to Ms Christie, the characters are crisply-cut and clichéd as they should be. The background music is minimal, only audible in outdoor places, and not on the main island, so you hear a lot of crunching as Poirot walks around. The voice acting is uniformly excellent and this time Poirot isn't voiced by David Suchet (he's still a David Suchet look-alike though) and Kevin Delaney does a very fine job.

If you're an Agatha Christie fan then you'll know there's a good deal of interrogating to do throughout the game. There are all sorts of goings-on to uncover between the small troop of guests involving jealousy, mistrust, and infidelity — as well as a ghost and some smugglers. I won't list everything to leave some surprises if you don't know the story. Conversations are streamlined; simply select what you want Poirot to say from a short list of questions or responses and wait for the answer. Sometimes Hastings will interject with an idea or two and this occasionally leads the way to a little lightheartedness when Hastings suggests the unexpected. All the dialogue is captioned.

An easy going trip
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express Screenshot Then there is the snooping and puzzle solving to take care of. There are various items to find to provide clues or to use in puzzle solving, and the cursor will pick them out for you. There is also one torn scrap of paper to piece together and Poirot runs a few errands to gain the cooperation of various characters. It isn't a difficult game, far from it; seasoned adventurers will have to try hard to get stuck and new adventurers should breeze along fairly smoothly as there is more than enough help available. Poirot's notebook lists the suspects as well as the tasks at hand to keep players on track. At the outset the task listing is quite detailed but later in the game it's not so meticulous and doesn't guide you every step of the way. So taking a few notes won't hurt and will remind you what you need to do.

And there's The Finger of Suspicion, too, to lend a helping hand. Poirot introduces this mysterious contraption at the start of the game; it's a little more insurance against stuckness. Although it's unlikely you'll need its assistance, you can return to Poirot any time and get some hints by selecting cards representing various characters. Only the cards for the characters you need to deal with are available, and The Finger of Suspicion, a pointer on a circular board, will spin and indicate whether you should talk to someone, or eavesdrop, or assist, or simply observe them. The Finger of Suspicion has its own associated puzzle to explain its mystery, and as you progress through your investigation Poirot will dish out word hints along the way. Figure out the puzzle and you'll know the secret of the strange contraption.

Of course when you finally get to the end of Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun there's the familiar gathering of characters when Poirot untangles the web of intrigues and points his own finger at who is responsible for what little mystery. Here all the ends are tied up including the murder. You are given the opportunity to do it yourself or allow Poirot to take charge. I tried it both ways and they seemed essentially the same, I'm not really sure of the point of this choice.

I must say this is an entertaining retelling of the original Agatha Christie tale and there's lots to think about with so many characters with secrets — some of them intertwined in various ways. The Finger of Suspicion was a bit strange at first although it was explained in a way to suit Poirot's temperament. Somehow, though, I just couldn't see him diverted by such a device — you may think differently. Regardless it's a trigger-tripping device if ever there was one, and for that I give it top marks.

A couple of other things niggled a bit. It was odd that you could start measuring distances from various places to the crime scene right from the start of the game, before the murder. Even though the story is told in flashback it would have been better if the stopwatch was used in context. Also the cat and dog puzzle was way too contrived but other than that the challenges knitted well into the game. Poirot is more active than usual but it was amusing to see him so accommodating whilst under the influence of Hastings!

Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun is the third game in the Agatha Christie series following And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express. This one is a leisurely and enjoyable journey, one to take if you just want to relax and don't want to tax your own little grey cells too severely. It's particularly good for new adventurers. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2007. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 2000/XP/VISTA, Pentium 3 - 1.4 GHz (P4 - 2.0 GHz or Higher recommended), 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended), CD-ROM/DVD-ROM: 16x, 1.5 GB Hard Drive Space, 64 MB DirectX 9 compatible video card (128 MB recommended), 16-bit DirectX compatible Sound Card, Mouse.