Reviewed by Mark Hasley
"It was a dark and stormy night." I know. I know. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge is aware that there is virtually no time when a piece of writing should begin with the above sentence. But however banal those words are, Iíve never written about a subject where that introduction is more fitting. I recently finished And Then There Were None, and in this game every night is a dark and stormy night. And every night, every character, every setting, and every bit of music fits the game to gloomy perfection. As a result, Iím fairly sure that Dame Agatha, who wrote the famous novel on which the game is based, would be rather pleased with the people who turned her book into this mystery adventure.
The game is not just based on the well-known novel; the plot follows the bookís storyline almost exactly. Ten highly varied characters are lured to a huge mansion that is located on an ominously secluded island (forebodingly named 'Shipwreck Island') somewhere off the coast of England. Along with these ten people, there arrives the unknown and unplanned for heroic individual, named Patrick Narracott. Of course, once they are all on the island, their boat is destroyed and all are trapped. The player is introduced to all of these people, and then to a childish rhyme entitled 'Ten Little Sailor Boys'. As the game proceeds, the ten characters are killed off one by one following the processes described in the poem, while the hero attempts to discover why they are dying and who is doing the killing. To add to the stress of the situation, every time one of the characters dies, one of the little ceramic sailor boy figurines located prominently in the dining room is also discovered to be smashed. The beauty of the whole thing is not in the basic plot, but in the individuality of the characters and in the mysterious plot lines that make it impossible for the player to figure things out. Those who developed the game follow the story rather carefully... but they alter the ending, so that even if the player has read the novel, he will not be able to quickly discover the identity of the murderer.
The game, at first, appears to be rather linear. Itís broken up into ten chapters that fit the various rhymes of the ĎSailor Boy' poem, and at first I had the impression that each chapter was an individual unit. However after I played it on my own, I replayed it for this review following a walkthrough. The walkthrough was significantly different from what I did the first time through. So obviously, this is not a linear game. Itís also notable that there seem to be an unlimited number of saves available. I used well over a dozen.
The game comes with 2 CDs and loads with no difficulty. Once loaded, there is no further need for the CDs, as the game runs without further use of the discs. Since Iíve had a lot of problems lately with newer games, itís worth noting that And Then There Were None ran as smooth as warm syrup on my four-year-old Windows XP. I needed to make nary a tweak, and that has been rather a problem lately when installing newer games. When the game is first started, the player has the usual set of options to adjust background sounds and music volume, but thereís also a rarely seen control to adjust the brightness of the picture. This is a welcome feature to those of us who donít want an overly dark screen. The developers have also included a collection of on-off controls for things such as fog, rain, lightning, shadows, and animated water. I ran the game with all of these details 'On', but I assume that if the game were played on a computer with limited resources, leaving these items 'Off í would allow the game to run more smoothly. There is also a setting that activates captions. I (and all other aging gamers who have slowly failing ears) thank whoever is responsible for this feature. Please always include these in games.
The interface is one of the old reliable point & click slideshow types. Because I have long loved this simple device, I was thoroughly pleased. Itís a 3rd Person game in which the gamer controls Patrick Narracott as he finds dead bodies, converses with the ten guests, and seeks the truth. The fact that there are two separate inventories is significant because there are a good many inventory puzzles in the game. They are seen as small icons on the upper corners of the playing screen, so both are easily accessible. In one, the player collects, combines, and utilizes the many items he finds as he wanders the mansion and the island. The other inventory is called Patrickís notebook. In it go all the documents and details which Patrick collects as he wanders. Here too are recorded several details about the other characters which he uncovers as he proceeds. I found this notebook to be especially helpful as the number of victims grew and the number of suspects became smaller. As is often the case in entertaining adventure games, Patrick finds lots of Ďstuff í as he wanders, and there is plenty of room in the inventory. Patrick also finds lots of notes, books, and documents to read, but here too the notebook seems to hold everything with no difficulty. As the papers accumulate, the fact that the notebook is cleverly divided into separate sections (characters, letters, etc.) is much appreciated.
The cursor is the usual little feet that tells the player which direction that Patrick can go, and the cursor changes to indicate when something can be picked up, someone can be spoken to, and for other functions. The only difficulty here is that the cursor to 'Use an item from the Inventory ' doesnít work until you pick up the item. So it forces the person playing the game to figure out (or guess) what items should be used, with little help from the game. I liked that feature, but my wife thought it irritating. All in all, I found the simple right click and left click, with a fairly typical inventory system, to be easily usable and quite comfortable.
Of course, all of the well functioning technical characteristics donít really make a game what it is. At some point, all a gamer really cares about is what he sees, hears, and senses on the screen. And it is these considerations that make And Then There Were None such a pleasant experience. Everything that contributes to the mood of the game is effective and consistent. The graphics are rather good, but since they consist of a large old house and its grounds and gardens, they arenít particularly unique or special. Theyíre well done, but little more. However, when these well done but uninspired scenes are combined with gloomily creepy fog that rolls in and out, flashing and crashing thunderstorms, and realistically moving water scenes, the game becomes a joy to look at and great fun to wander through.
The audio elements of the game are also well done. The voice acting seemed fine to me. Each character is physically and orally delineated quite well. The characters are all rather stereotyped British characters (the arrogant genius doctor, the retired colonel, the young woman with a mysterious past, etc.) but the voices all match those characters to perfection. The music seemed quite limited, and yet it always fit the moment. Throughout the game the main music is a piano solo. I donít know enough about classical music to identify it, but it was gloomy, wistful, sad, or foreboding, depending on what was needed and fitting at that particular moment. Not only that, but there were plenty of what games now call 'Ambient Sounds' that added to the game. The old house creaked, there were effective footsteps as the character walked, the wind was audible, and lots of different birds (and bees!) made lots of different noises. All in all, the sound of the game added a great deal to the atmosphere and to the enjoyment.
The gameplay is simple to describe but led to some difficult moments. Virtually all of the puzzles were inventory based and often involved combining or using inventory items after reading a document or two. However, it wasnít always clear what should be done where. The answers were never unreasonable or foolish, but those who are used to a blinking cursor as a cue for an action will have problems here. Itís never clear what item can be used at a spot until itís been removed from inventory. The gamer will often find himself trying several items before he discovers what is needed. However once the answer is discovered, there was always a reasonable explanation for why things were done as they were.
There were no timed puzzles in the game, and I never found a spot where Patrick could die. The only negative thing about the puzzles was that I didnít feel that there were very many of them. There were also a couple of times when I was very impressed with myself after solving a puzzle, only to learn that while I had solved it correctly, there was really no need to. The puzzle wasnít necessary to finish the game. Iím not even sure that it bothered me, but it was a bit surprising. As I proceeded, I learned that there are several cute little puzzles which are not required, but I found them all to be clever and quite a bit of fun. Of course, most of the story and all of the puzzles are driven by Patrickís conversations with the characters. There are conversation trees with every character after every important incident. These conversations are never very long-winded, but they consume a bit of time at first. In fairness however, they do take less time as the characters are killed off.
One element of the game that must be noted is this. The game is, even more than most adventure games, a kleptomaniacís delight. While controlling Patrick Narracott, whoever plays this game gets to steal everything from everywhere. In the mansion there are eleven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, as well as the usual dining room, game room, etc. The player goes in and out of every one of them and steals everything. Narracott barges into these places almost at will, even if the occupants are in the rooms. He rifles dressers and attacks closets. He opens desk drawers and bathroom cupboards. In true adventurer fashion, he picks up large items like ladders, shovels and boat oars and puts them all in his pocket. He also does all of this while people are in their rooms, and no one seems to object. Iíve always been thoroughly entertained by this element of a game, and And Then There Were None excels at it.
A couple of final comments need to be made. This game is rated 'T' for teen, but even that seems a bit high. There is no harsh language and there really is no violence. I know that sounds odd in a game based on a bunch of well-planned murders, but it is simply true. Most of the deaths occur off screen. Patrick does discover a couple of the bodies, but everyone in the game seems to die quite neatly. There is no gore or grotesqueness here.
There is also a very clever and unique finale. If the player has read the book, he can be assured that the developers have changed the ending. However, they have also added a clever bit at the end of the game that simply recognizes the famed authorís actual ending. Once the game is over, the murderer has been discovered, and the final scenes of the several endings have been played, the player and Patrick are arbitrarily and automatically sent back to the mansion. There the game introduces and plays a medium length cut scene that presents the proper ending exactly as Agatha Christie wrote it. Itís a fine touch, and a nice recognition that both the novel and the novelist are classics and deserving of respect. I found it a rather grownup idea.
By now, someone reading this may be thinking, "this is a fairly average-sounding game". But that person would be wrong. This game may not have many points of real excellence. It doesnít have the scope and grandeur of URU. It doesnít have the emotional plot of Syberia. It doesnít break any new technological ground, as did the MYST games. What it does do is combine a solid plot, some interesting characters, some effectively moody scenery and music, and a pleasant collection of puzzles. And it fits all of these items into what becomes a thoroughly entertaining and completely enthralling mystery adventure game. I liked it. Indeed I liked it so much that I have already pre-ordered Murder on the Orient Express, which is the next game in the series. Anyone who is seeking a game that will provide a few dozen hours of pleasant, engrossing, and stress-free fun will be quite happy after playing And Then There Were None.
© October 2006 Mark Hasley
Developed (2005) by AWE Games and published by The Adventure Company (now part of Nordic Games).
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (mild violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 850 MHz Processor; Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP (XP Recommended); 256 MB RAM (512 MB Recommended); 16X CD-ROM Drive or PC DVD-ROM Drive; 32 MB Video Card (64 MB Recommended); 16 Bit SoundBlaster Compatible Sound Card; 1.5 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers
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