If you go into Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders expecting the next LA Noire or Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, you'll be sorely disappointed. But if you pick up this police procedural with the hope of a slightly charming puzzle whodunnit with some good game mechanics, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Like all Agatha Christie games, you'll play as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, an egotistical crime solver with an over-the-top accent. Throughout ABC Murders you'll solve three cases over the course of a few hours to track down a serial killer who sends taunting letters to Poirot before each murder. You'll travel to different locations across early 20th century England to track them down. The specific locales like a tobacco shop, a jazz restaurant, and an ocean side mansion all give a glimpse into a setting not often explored in video games.
Exploring these locations in point-and-click fashion however, help to highlight the poor overall presentation of ABC Murders. Lip synching is terrible – often times characters' mouths don't even move – the voice acting all around is poor and has almost no emotion, and dialogue during investigations is recycled over and over. Having said that there are also some things to like if you give it more than a few minutes of your time.
You go about solving these three separate murders by observing crime scenes, finding clues, solving puzzles, and questioning witnesses and suspects. The proper investigating isn't anything special: observing is much like the mechanic in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments and questioning presents you with a choice in branching dialogue. The problem with the choice is that it's just an illusion, more often than not ending in the same conversation anyway. For example, if you take the wrong route and accuse a fickle witness too quickly, Poirot will often seem to apologise for offending them and correct the conversation's course without your doing. In fact, only once did we offend a suspect badly enough for them to stop talking, but we were able to quickly find evidence that caused them to open up again anyway. That being said, there are a few gameplay choices that can have an impact on the characters in the game.
It's how you piece together these crimes that makes ABC Murders worth playing. You'll use "little grey cells" to take evidence and questions to deduce answers. Did this person have a motive? What time was the woman murdered? Does the suspect match the profile of the killer? You solve these questions by piecing together shards of evidence like a suspect's alibi or an object found at the crime scene. What's more, at the end of each case you'll reconstruct a flashback of the crime in a series of events. How did the killer approach the victim? When did the killer strike? Of course, there's no real way to completely fail as you get as many tries as you want, but getting it correct on the first try is a nice little shot of satisfaction nonetheless.
It's the intermittent puzzles that make deductions and reconstructions less sweet. In fact, most of them seem woefully unnecessary. Why does the family gramophone have a complex, multifaceted code just to play a record? Why is the pin to a secret compartment in a register so obviously written on the register itself? It's understandable that some puzzles feel right, while others feel out of place, but nothing pulls you out of a gumshoe fantasy more than feeling like you're wasting time – especially when a serial killer is on the loose.
So what connects the murders? No, it isn't that all of the victims keep their valuables behind intricate puzzles. But the mysterious connection makes the game worthy of your time. Of course, you'll be better served to have no idea what goes on in the book by the same name. We won't say too much for fear of spoiling anything plot wise, but know that nothing is ever as obvious as it seems. In fact, towards the end it was the plot and deduction that were pushing us to finish the game, not the aforementioned tedious puzzles or finding clues.
If you're like this writer and enjoy even a decent police procedural game – especially in a medium where they're dishearteningly absent – Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders is a deserving title in your mystery fiction library. The video game adaptation may lack presentation value, but a strong plot, fun deductions, and a rewarding conclusion make up for it in the end.