AGATHA CHRISTIE: Murder On The Orient Express

Reviewed by  Mark Hasley

Several months ago I purchased an intriguing new game called And Then There Were None.  I was impressed with the idea that the game had been designed from a famous writer’s book.  I was even more impressed with the game itself.  It was fine to look at and thoroughly entertaining to play.  When I learned that there would soon appear in the marketplace another game based on a famous Agatha Christie book, I was rather excited.  I put it on my Christmas list and waited for Murder on the Orient Express with some anticipation.  Well the newer game is here, I have played it, and most of that anticipation has changed to disappointment.

Since the game is based on a rather famous novel, it is reasonable and correct to assume that the plotlines are rather clear and clever.  This is a third person game and in it the player takes the role of Miss Antoinette Marceau.  While this character doesn’t exist in the novel, she provides a simple method for the designers of the game to handle the tale.  Miss Marceau is an official for the railroad company, and she has been given the task of easing the process of getting the famed detective, Hercule Poirot, onto the equally famed Orient Express and making sure that he comfortably reaches his destination.  All goes well and all of the characters on the train are introduced with ease, but then the train is forced to stop because an avalanche has blocked the tracks.  During this stop a violent and very strange murder occurs, but Poirot has been injured due to the abrupt emergency stop.  He enlists Miss Marceau to collect evidence and help solve the mystery of who, of all the characters on the train, is the murderer.  At the end of the game, after all the evidence has been collected and evaluated, all is made clear by Poirot and Miss Marceau.  All in all, the plot is typical Agatha Christie with myriad characters and a highly complicated summation.  There’s nothing bad here, but there’s nothing new or unique either.

The interface is one of the old reliable point-and-click types.  Since most of the game’s regular puzzles are inventory based, it is noteworthy that virtually all of the inventory functions are dealt with by application of the mouse.  There is a large collection of items to discover, combine and utilize, and virtually everything can be handled with one hand.  The inventory, which is easily accessed by moving the cursor to the top of the screen, contains not only ‘picked up’ items, but another page for combining items, a separate page for analyzing fingerprints, another page for "carefully examining" a particular item, and a notebook which eventually holds all of the papers and notes that Miss Marceau acquires.  There is also a method for moving from one train car to another by simply clicking on a car at the top of the screen.  Again there is little that is unique, but all of it is useful and functional.

The game loads easily and once it is loaded, the disk must be in to play the game.  However there is none of the irritating changing of disks that used to plague gamers.  The player places the disk in the CD/DVD ROM drive, starts the game and plays.  The startup menu has the usual Load, Play, and Exit icons.  There is also an Options selection that allows the player to adjust the various volumes, the brightness of the screen, subtitles, and several different visual effects (shadows, fog, etc).  These constitute a typical, not unique, but highly functional pair of menus.

The visual and vocal aspects of the game were rather good.  The train itself is exquisitely detailed.  As something of a train buff, I was very impressed with the details seen in the various coach interiors and the several exterior scenes.  The many characters were also well displayed and easily differentiated.  Each had the idiosyncrasies and detailed characteristics that are needed in a multi-character game.  In addition, the graphics also added to the tone of wealth and style that the story seemed to mandate.  The clothing, the foods, the tones of voice, and the general details made it clear that this train was, indeed, the Orient Express.

There was very little background music here, but the background sounds added much to the tone of the story.  Most importantly, the voices of all the characters were very well done.  All the different accents from all the different nationalities were excellently presented and never overdone.  The voice acting was universally effective and made all of the characters completely believable.

So, if this is a game that looks great, sounds wonderful, and has a solid plot, what’s the problem?  Actually, there are two kinds of problems.  The first are operating problems.  The fact is that, on my computer, the game didn’t always run that well.  Quite often, for no apparent reason and in no apparent pattern, the game ran awkwardly and with an irritating ‘jerky’ motion.  I did not have this problem with either And Then There Were None or with the last ‘newer’ game that I played (AGON: The Mysterious Codex), so I assume, perhaps unfairly, that the problem exists within the game.  There were also several times when the loading process seemed to take forever.  Granted that a very pleasant picture of a railroad car appears during the loading process, but sometimes this process took far longer than it should have.  A player will grow extremely weary of staring at the rail car and watching the two little wheels spin while waiting for the next scene to load.  Perhaps we gamers have been spoiled by the newer, more smoothly operating games, but in a normal-looking game that doesn’t seem to have a great many special computer requirements, these glitches were particularly irritating.

Of course, this is an adventure game.  Any problems can be acceptable if the puzzles and the problems are really wonderful or exciting.  The puzzles in this game are neither.  They are average.  And the problems that must be dealt with when solving the murder mystery add a new and quite undesirable element to the game.  Sadly, that element is tedium.  I rather enjoyed the first part of the game.  There’s a brief section where the player, as Miss Marceau, is attempting to contact Hercule Poirot by following him all over the general area and into the train station.  This introduction requires the player to run into a few odd people and help them with a few odd requests.  These requests are, of course, puzzles.  They are all easily solved, and help the individual learn how to use the interface as well as observe the various conversation techniques that the game offers.  I rather liked the whole process.  It was short, enjoyable, logically placed, fairly simple, and fit the game well.  Sadly, after that brief and pleasant start, Miss Marceau and Hercule Poirot have to get on the train.  Here is where the tedium begins.

The problem is, I suppose, mostly a fault inherent in the story.  Virtually everything takes place on a train.  Trains are small, long, and not very wide.  There really is nowhere for anyone to go.  As a result, whenever Miss Marceau needs to find a clue or solve a puzzle, she has to go up and down the train.  Since there are only four train cars, this rapidly becomes monotonous.  I will grant that the player gets off the train a few times and goes into the woods.  However these situations seemed so contrived that it was obvious that the game designers were simply thinking "We have to invent something to get her off the train".  The tale also poses another problem as it introduces what must be a basic element of real police work, which seldom appears in an adventure game.  Gamers seldom need to deal with drudgery, but there is plenty of that commodity here.  There are well over a dozen suspects to be analyzed and questioned.  It is one thing for a novelist to be able to write something like "...after Poirot obtained the fingerprints".  But it’s quite another for a gamer to have to wander up and down the various train cars finding the various characters and saying and doing the same things over a dozen times.  It simply gets dull.  The same is true of matching a casting to a shoe.  Solving the 'how–to' part of a puzzle may be fun, but checking every shoe in every room is tedious and rather boring.

There are several inventory-type puzzles and most of these are well integrated into the plot.  They are generally not too difficult, and the functional interface helps a lot.  The only real problem with these is that there aren’t very many of them, and some of them are so simple that they’re almost silly.  The largest and most important puzzle is, of course, learning the identity of the murderer.  After spending hours and hours wallowing in the tedium of clue collection, Poirot himself, with Miss Marceau’s assistance, sits down and lists all the possibilities in a rather long cut scene.  I must confess that I had no real idea as to the identity of the murderer, and I must further confess that Poirot’s reasoning did little to help in clarifying the situation.  He showed so many possibilities that I was at least as confused after his explanation as I was before he started.  In fairness, it should be noted that the final, long, cut scene is beautifully done and makes quite a visual impact as the story ends.

Perhaps the greatest problem with this is that I expected too much.  I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals, and the mood and tone seemed perfect for an Agatha Christie mystery.  Other than that, however, most of my reactions were negative.  I really disliked getting bogged down in the tedium of collecting the same clue, by the same process, over and over again.  I disliked the long conversations required to obtain clues.  I may even have resented the fact that, until Poirot explained things, I could never put the clues together in such a way that I had any idea about who the murderer was.  I was disappointed.  I’ll buy at least the next game based on a Christie novel, but I sincerely hope that I get a bit more for my money than I did this time.

©  January 2007  Mark Hasley

Full View Screenshot of a Cut Scene

Developed (2006) by AWE Games and published by The Adventure Company  (now part of  Nordic Games).

Rated:   T   for Teen 13+  (alcohol and tobacco reference, mild blood, mild violence)

Minimum System Requirements:  Windows

Where To Buy This Game:

Walkthroughs or Hints:

"MaGtRo's Walkthrough" available here!

Mr. Bill's   Adventureland
Copyright © January 2007
All Rights Reserved