If you know your crime novels, you are probably familiar with super detective Hercule Poirot – one of British crime queen Agatha Christie's main protagonists and best-known private eyes. During her lifetime, Christie published no less than 66 novels starring the dapper Belgian. Despite Christie repeatedly claiming that she despised the character and more than once wished him dead, Poirot remains one of the most famous of fictional detectives.
In it's original novel form, The ABC Murders has one of the Poirot series' more complex plotlines and it all starts with a letter arriving at Poirot's apartment at Whitehaven Mansions. The letter is not necessarily a pleasant one; it announces the time and place of a murder about to be committed and threatens that more is to come unless Poirot manages to figure out who the mysterious "A.B.C." is and how the seeming randomly chosen victims are connected.
The game version's setup is simple: you play as Poirot and guide him in search of inklings as to who the murderer is. By completing a psychological profile you will narrow down your suspects and eventually pinpoint the perpetrator. You do this by examining evidence. You'll find some scattered around the different sights you visit, some are hidden in dialogue, while others are hidden behind mini puzzle games. By deducting and sorting through the evidence and statements you will come to conclusions that will help you finish the profile. Pay attention - the devil is literally in the details.
Overall first impressions of the game are positive – the almost cartoony design is cute and succeeds very well in mainly two aspects: it keeps the atmosphere friendly and inviting, despite dealing with dark and gory murders. But maybe more importantly it also hides relatively clunky animations. Had the developers attempted something more realistic looking, the sometimes awkward animations would probably have felt like a bigger issue than what eventually features in the current package.
Another key feature of the game is the interrogation. Of course, you need to talk to potential witnesses and suspects to learn what they know! While doing so, you need to pay attention to what question you are asking and how the suspect is acting. This is shown both by little floating clouds of text that sums up what your interview subject is feeling towards you, but also to some extent by facial expression and how the person replies. The more upset and angry you make them, the less proper answers you will have. In this aspect, the game encourages you to act and think like Poirot.
However, the mini puzzle games are interesting – they are very uncharacteristic for Hercule, who is known for not getting his hands dirty and observing rather than interacting. Some of the puzzles are easy, while others will make you want to throw the controller out the window. Nothing is ever completely out of reach though, and just as you are prepared to give up, you'll either spot something you didn't see before or you remember that there is an option to skip one step of the puzzle.This is a nice feature that will most likely save many controllers from a gruesome fate.
Because of the plotline's many turns, it's easy to see why The ABC Murders novel makes a good base for a game. The many twists make the game unpredictable...for someone who hasn't read the novel or watched one of the many TV adaptations, that is. The game follows the novel closely in some aspects, including the storyline and the characters, and so if you are already familiar with this particular story, there won't be that many surprises in store for you.
At the same time though, the game will score you on how true to Poirot you act in situations like interrogations or at crime scenes. Your interview results will also depend on this. If you haven't read any Poirot stories and you don't know the main character, it is genuinely hard to score high as the character is blandly portrayed in game. It is not game-breaking in any way (though it could end your interviews sooner than you intend if you're not careful) and you don't really need the score to finish the game, but it might create some head scratching. The rift between existing "canon" and the game creates a surprising increase in difficulty, where a Poirot initiate will struggle trying to push everything in one direction when the game insists on a different route.
Something else that should be mentioned is that the game does a fair share of hand-holding. There is very little room for error, because the game just doesn't allow it. It will get you from A to B in more or less the way it wants. This linearity is probably one of the main weaknesses of the game, since it leaves you wishing for a bit more freedom. More specifically, that tickling sensation of possibly getting things wrong and being misled. For a new player, however, it all works as a good introduction to the genre.
Just like all games based on a book or movie, The ABC Murders struggles with how closely it should follow the original story on behalf of uninitiated players and how far it can stray to create a new layer of the existing story. The current balance does make the game trickier than it maybe has to be. It is arguably done intentionally, but feels more like a consequence of the game not really being sure of who it is trying to cater to.
While there are more complex and intriguing crime games out there and it isn't the longest game, The ABC Murders still offers good entertainment for the interested and serves as a decent port into the murder mystery puzzle genre. Some core mechanics need fine tuning, but the balance between the different game elements is generally good. The interrogation scenes as well as the deduction phases could be a bit more elaborate and slightly longer (because they are - hands down - the best bits of the game) but the overall flow of the game is pleasant.