Reviews: Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
Prepare yourself for an extraordinary investigative thriller in this superb adaptation of the world's best-selling mystery novel
Developer: AWE Games Productions
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Genre: Mystery Adventure
Release Date: November 2005
Note: Originally publisher 15 November 2005
Agatha Christie needs no introduction. As the best-selling detective/mystery writer in history, she has been outsold only by Shakespeare and the bible – and they both had a head start of a few centuries! And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians) is her most well-known and popular thriller and has been enjoyed by millions (coincidentally, it’s also my personal favorite!). The Christie oeuvre has always been fertile ground for an adventure game, but for unknown reasons – with the exception of Sierra’s exceptional Colonel’s Bequest – for over two decades the adventure genre seems to have been bereft of Christie-style detective mysteries. But finally, The Adventure Company and AWE Games have shouldered the monumental responsibility of creating an adventure game that must not only do honor to Lady Agatha’s name, but also introduce both a new generation of readers and a large contingent of her life-long fans to a new and different way of visualizing her classic works.
I suspect that most who are reading this review have already read the book and are familiar with its plot. But for those who have not yet read it or who need their memories refreshed, the story goes as follows: ten people receive invitations to spend a weekend in a mansion on a secluded island. Their host – a Mr. U.N. Owen – has guaranteed attendance by personalizing each invitees invitation with an offer that cannot be refused, be it a job offer or a promise of an idyllic weekend. So on the afternoon of Friday, August 8th, this diverse group find themselves huddled together on the boat to Shipwreck Island. But right after an elegant dinner on their first night on the island, they soon realize that their visit is meant to see them to their deaths! For every single one of them had committed some crime in the past for which they were never punished, and Mr. Owen has decided to correct this oversight! He doesn’t plan simply to kill them in brute fashion though, but will carry out their deaths in a poetic manner, following the lyrics of a rhyme called Ten Little Sailor Boys – a title that is being changed for the second time since Lady Agatha wrote the book. [I would like to comment here that I believe this political correctness thing has gone too far, to not be able to even use the alternative rhyme Ten Little Indians. So what’s next? Ten Little Unidentified Humans?]
AWE Games has made a small alteration to the story. Since the book was written in third person, there needed to be somebody outside the group of ten, someone who can be the main character and from whose eyes the story will be witnessed. For that, they recruited the boatman who ferries the group to the island, Patrick Narracott. After dropping everyone off, Patrick will return to his boat, only to find it scuttled. Now he is also stranded on the island, and the upcoming storm gives no hope for any other boats to arrive before the end of the weekend. Patrick soon finds himself smack in the middle of Mr. Owen’s killing spree, and you will have to help him untangle the mystery behind the murders. Who is Mr. Owen? Is he hiding somewhere on the island? Or could he be one of the guests?
Opening the box presented a pleasant surprise. The book And Then There Were None was included! Although the whole box does not come close to the beautiful boxes of the past, it certainly is an oasis in the desert of empty cartons with a couple of CDs thrown in along with a 4 page leaflet that some call a manual. The small booklet that accompanies the game also proves very useful in the beginning, since it includes a map of the mansion and aids in getting accustomed to all the rooms and who sleeps where. The game itself installs fully on the hard drive and then requires no CDs to be present in the drive while playing. Lots of brownie points for that! All this applies to the Adventure Company’s North American version of the game. If the game follows the ridiculous DVD-case system popular in Europe, I doubt that the book will be included, unless its shrink-wrapped on the outside, or, as a JA Forum member suggested, the “masterminds” of marketing decide it’s a good idea to put the book on the CDs in .pdf format. (What is this world coming to?)
And Then There Were None (ATTWN) is a third person point ‘n’ click adventure. Patrick can walk around by clicking on the screen and can run by double-clicking - more brownie points for that! The cursor will change on certain hotspots to a “look”, “take”, “enter”, “eavesdrop”, “peek through keyhole” or “talk” cursor, according to what can be done. And here comes the second major pleasant surprise that this game offered me! There is no apparent “use” cursor! Yes ladies and gentlemen! In the era of total simplicity, where adventures seem to be heading to hotspots with big neon signs glowing “Click Here,” ATTWN will have you thinking on what object can be used where. When the correct object is held over the correct area, which can be either an initially different hotspot or no hotspot at all, then the cursor will turn into the “use” cursor. This eliminates entirely the I-will-click-everything-on-every-hotspot-and-I-will-”solve”-the-game method that is so popular among the most recent adventures. Along the same lines, combining objects in the inventory has to be done in a separate area of the inventory window, so you need to have an idea of what you’re trying to do. Clicking every object on each other in case something pops up doesn’t work in this game! Hey, more brownie points here!
Immediately after starting the game, it was inevitable that I suspect the character that I already knew as the killer from the book. This is something that really bugged me throughout the game and at some points made me wish I hadn’t read the book! For that reason I don’t know if it’s best to have read the book before playing the game, or waiting to do so afterwards. Of course this doesn’t mean that the killer is the same in the game as in the book. It could be, or it couldn’t be. That is for you to find out in one of the four different endings that ATTWN has to offer. But, although it would have added immensely to replay value to have different killers, the killer does remain the same in all four endings. “So what are the differences between those four endings?,” I hear you ask. Well, that is also for you to find out! Oh, and there’s a special surprise waiting for you when you finish the game!
The puzzles are almost entirely inventory-based, based on using the correct item/combination of items on the right place. And if you like inventory, you will find bliss in ATTWN. Patrick seems to be carrying Sport Billy’s magic bag, since he can pick up and stash dozens of items, regardless of their size. At one point I was carrying a full blown raft, with the oars, among several other things! The vast inventory days are back, and that is more than fine by me. Patrick needs to comb every corner of the mansion and the island in order to find items as well as documents, some of which are essential to solve the mystery, others just plain useless. Be aware though, that searching an area once may not be enough, as characters move from place to place and sometimes they may drop or misplace objects – Mr. Owen may have some surprises up his sleeve too. My only gripe with this is that the inventory window is too small for the amount of items that can be carried, so it is necessary to constantly scroll back and forth. A big window, as in Discworld, would have been very welcome.
ATTWN is divided in 10 chapters, one for each verse of Ten Little Sailor Boys. The game is slightly non-linear. Several puzzles can be solved at any time, while there are also puzzles that don’t need to be solved at all, and unfortunately, some of the best puzzles of the game fall into this category. Actually, if you try playing the game doing only what is absolutely necessary, you will probably have done only half of what is actually available! Doing the non-mandatory puzzles helps provide more insight into the story, as well as some side-stories, as more is revealed about each person’s secrets and dark pasts. Talking to everyone about everything is also essential for the story to progress, as well as for Patrick to acquire information that will help him solve the mystery. The dialog trees are simple, without branching and without needing to reenter a dialog. It would have been a welcome feature to skip dialogs and descriptions – just as cut-scenes can be skipped with esc – as there are things that you will listen to again and again without being able to do anything (I'll be haunted by radiators for the rest of my life!). This doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment, but it does eventually become annoying.
The difficulty level of the puzzles is not set very high, although it does not reach the childishly easy levels of - for example - Syberia or Nibiru. The way implemented to combine items along with the fact that there are no obvious hotspots for using items raises the difficulty bar higher, and newer adventurers that have started with games that offer everything on a silver platter may feel uncomfortable in the beginning. More experienced adventurers will not encounter any serious problems. Of course, as mentioned above, not everything needs to be done in order to finish the game, so those who just want to finish it will have an easier job than those who want to suck its juice dry and experience every single aspect – i.e. those who are like me!
The length of the game is within current expectations, i.e. much shorter than past adventure games. Although it starts off as if it would be a slightly long game, the pace quickens about halfway through, with the last 5 chapters flying by. Coincidentally, as the story begins to build to a climax, gameplay suffers from a huge anti-climax. While you will be doing a lot of amateur sleuth work early on - eavesdropping, fingerprinting and reading documents in an attempt to identify the culprit - after a certain point you just seem to be running around discovering bodies. That was a huge let-down and it seemed as if all the sleuthing in the beginning was there just to artificially lengthen the game.
Unfortunately, ATTWN does not come without its share of problems. The major problem encountered was during Chapter 5, when at some point I could see a certain character in perfect health, but could also see their dead body on their bed! This was confusing and made me almost restart the game, but it turned out to not negatively affect anything. So if you run across this paradox, try to ignore it and continue playing. Apart from that, there are several minor negligences and mistakes - especially towards the end of the game - that do not affect gameplay, but could have been corrected with better beta testing. For example, at some point you cannot get into a character’s room from the front bedroom door. The character tells you to go away. But if you go around and enter from the balcony, you’ll find no one there! Then you can exit the room through the front door and turn around and try and re-enter, and the character will tell you again to go away! Poor or insufficient beta testing seems to be becoming a trend lately and the most feasible explanation seems to be publishers rushing to get their product to market. It’s become obvious that beta testing is done sloppily and aided with walkthroughs, as even very apparent things are missed. (We have since been informed that these issues have been corrected in version 2.0 of the game which is now shipping.)
The game is presented in 2.5D, which means that 3D characters are presented on 2D backgrounds. The settings are just beautiful, punctuated by nicely colored exteriors, an amazing sea with some impressive water effects and splendid interiors that perfectly recreate the era. The characters are nicely designed, with detailed facial expressions during close-ups, but could have been even better by today’s standards. They could also have used some more work in the way they talk – their lips flap like characters in a dubbed Asian martial arts movie! The voices though are close to perfection, portraying the personality of the characters exactly as they would have been during the era the story takes place – from the strictness of the judge to the “rebellious” character of young Anthony Marston. Nice, soft background music and the storm’s sound effects tie-in to create a package that will have you immediately immersed.
Overall, And Then There Were None is an enjoyable, albeit easy adventure. It does earn points by never insulting the players’ intelligence by allowing them to randomly click through the game. The atmosphere and surroundings surround the story perfectly, which unfolds in a way that would surely have earned Lady Agatha’s seal of approval. One feels that there could have been more, gameplay-wise, though - as well as several bugs and imperfections avoided – which makes me suspect that the game was rushed somewhat for the holiday season. I cannot comment on how I would have liked the game if I hadn’t read the book, but I am positive that mystery fans who haven’t read the book are in for a treat – and, as a nice marketing move, the book is included to curl up with later! For those who have read the book, ATTWN is a great adaptation that lacks nothing story-wise and is guaranteed to satisfy. After And Then There Were None, The Adventure Company has the license to develop four more games based on Agatha Christie's novels - the titles of which have yet to be announced. As an Agatha Christie fan, I am convinced that they are in good hands with AWE Games. But as an adventure gamer, I see room for improvement.
Final Grade: B+
System Requirements (Minimum):
- Windows® 98/ME/2000/XP
- Pentium® 3 800 MHz
- 256 MB RAM
- 32 MB Video RAM
- 16X CD-ROM (or PC DVD-ROM drive)
- 16-bit Sound Blaster® Compatible
- 800 MB HD Space
- Mouse and Speakers