‘Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders’ Preview

There are some challenging puzzles in the first hour of Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders, but they are surrounded by a slowly paced narrative and other gameplay features, which may bring the experience down.

With Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders, developers Microids and Artefacts Studios, are adapting Agatha Christie’s famous 1936 novel, The ABC Murders, into a video game. If you’re unfamiliar with The ABC Murders, it’s a murder mystery book in which famous private detective Hercule Poirot must work out why someone called “ABC” is killing people. Unfortunately, a key scene at the start of the game has the potential to take most of the suspense away from the narrative: it appears that the killer is revealed in one of the opening scenes. Scenes like this are fine in television or film because it can still be exciting to watch as the characters begin to work out who the killer is, but in a video game where the viewer is controlling the main character, it doesn’t work. I’m hoping there’s a twist in the narrative because if there isn’t, it will make some key gameplay elements such as interrogating potential suspects seem mundane and cumbersome.

In the first hour of Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders, the player will be visiting the first crime scene which is in a tobacco shop. Gameplay is very much a point and click affair, with the player using the mouse (on PC) to interact with the environment in order to question suspects, examine crime scenes and solve puzzles. You will be making observations, interrogating witnesses, finding clues and solving puzzles. And that’s all just within the first hour. It seems safe to assume that the game will have multiple crime scenes all utilising these core gameplay mechanics.

Solving the game’s early puzzles were some of my favourite moments from my short play time. There is very little direction given to the player, so it felt rewarding figuring out solutions. The puzzles were quite varied too, with one requiring a correct number combination, and another being a two-part puzzle that first required moving a token through a maze, and then matching up other tokens to unlock a box. These puzzles required using the mouse to rotate around an object, and then clicking to focus in on a particular side of it. Based just on my experience early in the game, it looks like later puzzles could get quite complicated, which should be fun for players who like games that don’t hold your hand.

In comparison, the time spent between puzzles feels slow and tedious. Poirot moves at such a slow speed, and when you’re walking around a room to search for clues it can feel like an eternity. Further, making observations feels like a chore. For example, a character in the game is clearly intoxicated and beaten up, which Poirot mentions, but the players is still required to make observations before talking to them. This requires moving the cursor over certain areas of his body, such as his bruised eye and dirty clothing. At each observation, Poirot makes a quite obvious comment about what you have observed. It feels unnecessary, and slows the pacing down a lot.

Additionally, despite being a murder mystery, dialogue options when interrogating suspects and witnesses were quite linear in the build I played. The player has little control over how they approach interrogations, nor can they back out from conversation once initiated. In what’s supposed to be a murder mystery, the player really doesn’t appear to have much control over the outcome of events.

After an hour of play, I’m not sure if Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders knows what kind of game it wants to be. Immediate comparisons can be made to TellTale’s interactive story games, particularly due to the cel-shaded art style and dialogue choices.  However, it attempts to distinguish itself with unique gameplay elements for crime scene investigation, such as environmental puzzles and using your observations to determine a course of events. Trying to be all of these things could hinder Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders, but it could also be a sign of a varied gameplay experience as you hunt down a serial killer in the famous shoes of Hercule Poirot. Regardless, I’m intrigued by the murder mystery and how Microids and Artefacts are going to translate this famous story into the interactive medium that is video games.

Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders will be available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on February 4th.