The ABC Murders takes a page out of almost every Agatha Christie book – you play as unique and distinct Belgian detective Hercules Poirot who is dangerously close to a caricature but also egotistical. In his latest case, Poirot has been taunted by a killer who has been sending letters to the detective before committing a murder. The killer is playful, taunting Poirot with the murders that they’re more or less committing right under his nose – almost as if he wants to be caught. It’s an intriguing story and is a faithful adaptation of Agatha Christie’s source material, which is arguably one of the frontrunners of the genre.The killer is systematic, murdering people based on the alphabet – taking into consideration the names and the cities that they live in before choosing their victim. The whole journey to find the killer is an enthralling one, you’ll be on the edge of your seat as Poirot investigates each case and gets closer to unmasking the killer. But those who have read the book will know the outcome – or those who have simply become familiar enough with these kind of police procedural (be it novel or television or film) will also probably have a good idea of how things will end. Still, it’s entertaining, so that’s a start.Unfortunately, presentation is not The ABC Murder’s strong-suit. Taking on a bold, bright and colourful visual style, the game looks like a comic book of sorts that really pops on whatever display you’re playing it on. This highly stylized look is clearly a way to compensate for the game’s lower budget, but the locales and environments that Poirot will visit throughout his investigation are unique and areas not usually visited in games. For that reason, it’s hard not to commend them.
But what definitely took a hit with this more modest budget is how the character move. Animations are stiff and lifeless, sometimes characters don’t even more their heads or lips when speaking dialogue and everything feels oversimplified. This is an unfair comparison, but games like LA Noire were successful in establishing tension because of how witnesses and suspects behaved. In ABC Murders, there’s very little to indicate such things – the more “human” elements of the characters have been simplified to the point where it actually takes you out of the experience.
The voice work is similarly quite inconsistent. Poirot himself is fantastic – you can get into and believe the characters’ dialogue and reactions to the event of the game as it’s twists and turns unfold. Most of the supporting cast is fairly dull, however, and it leads to many lines being delivered in an awkward and jarringly unnatural way. Once again, this can usually be ignored in certain games but unfortunately given how much The ABC Murders relies on its story and underlying drama to be compelling it can take away from the experience significantly.The ABC Murders is largely a straightforward game. It’s nowhere near as obtuse in its logic as the adventure games of old but it’s also not as “guided” an experience as recent games like Firewatch or Gone Home. You’ll enter locations, survey clues, make observations and deduct what may have happened by putting all of these facts together. The systems in place are fairly straightforward – you’ll simply hover your cursor (or mouse, if you’re on PC) and Poirot will make an observation. You’ll sometimes be faced with a choice too – but these are largely superficial and don’t really impact the case in any way beyond a slightly different line of dialogue.
From time to time you’ll come across “thinking” segments where Poirot is essentially given a puzzle to solve. These segments are a lot more hands-on, giving players more control rather than just mindlessly pointing at things that are of interest. Anyone who has played a survival horror game or an adventure game will know what these segments are – you’ll solve a sliding block puzzle, you’ll deduce the combination to a locked suitcase, you’ll open a needlessly complicated lock on a wooden box. There’s nothing exciting or new here and most of the puzzles will be fairly straightforward for the people who will be attracted to The ABC Murders. Thankfully, they’re reasonably balanced too and none of them are too hard to solve.The developers are dedicated to making sure you feel and behave like Poirot and the systems they employ are of a mixed effect. Throughout the game you’ll be rewarded “ego points” for behaving and deducing just as Poirot would – normally by completing deductions without fail – can be used to unlock achievements and trophies. They’re a nice touch but hardly necessary to collect. The other aspect, the “little grey cells” system allows players to deduce based on the facts they’ve collected the answers to pertinent questions throughout a case. They start off simplistic but eventually become more and more complicated and with that, more and more fulfilling as players start to see their cases come together and make sense.
But what really is The ABC Murders biggest failing being how little it actually makes you feel like you’re coming up with all of these fantastic conclusions and inferences yourself. To put it bluntly – The ABC Murders doesn’t pose the player much of a challenge. You’re never stuck, you’re never left without any idea of where to go next. The game is more or less just pushing you along from scene to scene, from investigation to investigation and from interrogation to interrogation. It’s a bit disappointing – we don’t necessarily want to be able to “lose” our way into a corner but it’d be nice to be given the opportunity to go back and explore other areas for clues we might have missed. Instead, The ABC Murders is a largely linear experience.Being the kind of game that it is, The ABC Murders is more or less done and dusted after six hours of play with most achievements or trophies locked. I looked forward to replaying the experience to mop up any other of these awards as they really represented the only replay value of the package. Unfortunately, as the game is so linear, I had already achieved most of them. You can also go back to revisit the timeline of certain crimes and play recreations of them too – but while a nice touch there’s really no point if you watched them unravel during your play through anyway.Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders is exactly what it looks like. What you see is what you get. It’s a fun and involving murder mystery which would be perfect for a novel or a television series – namely because it is. But as a game it’s not entirely convincing. It’s fun to play as Poirot himself, see him interact with other members of the force as well as suspects of the crimes and especially encouraging to see the crimes come together as you “deduce” them using Poirot’s “little grey cells”.
But it’s missing something that makes it truly great. There’s no challenge. There’s not a lot of thinking involved. But that’s not to say it’s an unenjoyable game. The ABC Murders is, quite simply, something that only fans of the genre or even the subject matter could enjoy. A seemingly obvious statement, but one that bears repeating – this is an adventure game that brings with it all the flaws (and strengths) of it’s genre. I’d be keen to see where the developer takes Poirot after this – there’s definitely a strong foundation here for a strong series of games.