Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express is the second installment in the Agatha Christie series by AWE Games. It is based on one of Agatha Christie's most popular novels titled Murder on the Orient Express (aka Murder on the Calais Coach), which actually comes with the game. The game is different from the book, however, with the biggest change being the addition of your character, Antoinette Marceau. She is employed by the train company and is along for the trip. Agatha Christie fans may find it appealing but overall your tasks quickly become quite repetitive and most of the things you will end up doing are basically busy work.
So, what's this story all about? The plot is great: on the way to Paris in the dead of winter, the Orient Express is composed of two cabin cars with people from different countries and all walks of life – something a bit unusual for the time of year. Along the way, the train runs into a problem: an avalanche has blocked the tracks, the heat has gone out, and everyone is upset because they are going to miss their connections, family members, and friends. Of course, it wouldn't be an Agatha Christie story without a crime. On the first night, a passenger, Ratchett, is killed which sends everyone into an even greater state of panic and distress. Only a few footprints are found around the train – none leading away (at least that can be seen) – which leads everyone to believe it is one or more passengers who are involved. The situation looks grim but the world-renowned Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, is on board. Counter to the book, Poirot falls out of his bed during the sudden stop (to avoid a collision with the huge mound of snow) and is shaken up a bit. With Poirot's limitless knowledge and experience in hand, you take the case into your own hands as Antoinette, despite being an amateur detective at best. Poirot stays in his bed, recovering, until the very last scene.
"The plot is great..."
I decided that in order to fairly judge this game I would need to read the book as well. This was an even easier decision to make since, as I already stated, it comes with the game. While most of the game is similar, there are things that I believe shouldn't have been changed. I really don't understand the decision to play as Antoinette instead of Poirot. With the well known actor David Suchet doing Poirot's voice acting in the game, why change the lead character? Additionally, there's a completely new solution at the end which seems to go in more of a Hollywood direction compared to the satisfying ending in the book. Fans of the novel may or may not like this; I personally think the book's ending was better.
Because I didn’t have the chance of playing And Then There Were None, I also read through Mark Hengst’s review prior to writing this. Basically, AWE Games has failed to escape what Mark coins an “adventure game on rails” (please excuse the lame pun). Things need to be done in a fairly straight and rigid order, leaving you with a feeling as if you’re just along for the ride. The graphics are a mixed bag, but what has improved since the first game is the sound.
It's a standard point-and-click adventure game in the third-person perspective, thus the gameplay elements don't need much of an explanation. You have a standard inventory and you can combine items together. For example, in order to collect fingerprints you have to combine the paper napkins with the typewriter ribbon and a blank menu card. In addition, there is also an objectives menu. It’s there, but I really didn’t find myself using it all that much. It was only at the end of the game where I needed to “search the train for any evidence that the suspects may be lying about their pasts” that I really was looking at it. I was stuck, but I knew that I was very close to finishing the game. There are no hints, however, beyond what the objective says, so I just had to start randomly searching through luggage with the hope of finding something I had missed previously. Go back to Poirot, and he’ll just say to keep looking.
Speaking of that, I’ll mention another thing that got annoying very quickly. When you do something that isn’t correct or doesn’t work, there will always be dialog from either Antoinette herself or Poirot – something along the lines of “that doesn’t make sense” or “your logic escapes me, mademoiselle.” This will just about drive you crazy. That’s not to say that the voice acting is bad, just that these inclusions are unneeded.
The majority of the game takes place on the train but there is a point where you get to venture out into the surrounding forest (not part of the real story), which I was excited about as the train was getting boring. In addition, the game begins outside of the train station but this portion is rather short. The very limited environment is one of the fallbacks of the game. I'm more used to adventure games that contain vast and more unique environments, and, despite the fact that some of the graphics look good, the game just feels very constrained. There are a few actual puzzles, but it felt as if most of the time I was just collecting things – whether it was collecting fingerprints, passports, or random items. As you can imagine, this gets boring and really cuts the tension that the atmosphere is supposed to contain. I understand that fingerprints need to be taken because everyone is a suspect and passports can be faked but after finding all the passports, I just felt like a secretary for Poirot.
"...I just felt like a secretary for Poirot."
The game’s graphics are somewhat mixed. After playing the intro portion outside the train station in Istanbul, I can’t say that I was very excited to continue. This did get better once on the train, as you might see in some of the screenshots. The other low point when it comes to the graphics consists of the animations. The characters behaved stiffly, and it just didn’t look very realistic. I thought the characters themselves, though, looked fairly good and were good representations of the characters that are described in the book.
Unlike the first game, the game's sounds are probably a strongpoint. Voice acting seemed to be well done, and David Suchet – who plays Poirot in the TV series Poirot (you may have seen it on PBS in the US or ITV in the UK) – plays Poirot in the game. I’m sure this inclusion would be very exciting to fans, but that leads me back to my complaint about AWE Games deciding to use Antoinette as the lead. It just doesn’t make much sense to me. In addition to Poirot, I’d say that the acting for the rest of the characters is also fairly well done. Mrs. Hubbard is very boisterous and annoying, Princess Dragomiroff is very dry and blunt, and Greta Ohlsson is very shy and humble. I also noticed that there were many noises coming from the train itself, which sounded realistic, and there were also background environment noises such as the howling wind, etc. While background music is present at some points, it does not play constantly. It came on and grew a little more intense at tensioned moments, but I think, overall, it could have gone on during regular gameplay to a better effect.
Overall, I would only recommend this game to adventure fans that are into the Agatha Christie series of novels. However, they should prepare to be faced with repetitive and secretarial tasks. I didn’t find the game nearly as intriguing as the book and found many of the game’s additions to the storyline strange or without merit. I think my main advice to AWE is this: make use of talent like David Suchet when you’ve got it.