There's nothing better than a good murder mystery - unless, perhaps, you're one of the victims. Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders is a video game adaptation of the crime novel, that puts you in the moustachioed shoes of one 'ercule Poirot, an attentive detective, and perhaps Belgium's most famous son (even though he's fictional). Here, you're on the trail of the ABC murderer - a killer who picks his victims alphabetically, choosing a town, and a person who's name begins with the same letter. And it's up to you to stop him.
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With a cartoon style, and cel-shaded pastel visuals, the ABC Murders sets itself out as being less of a heart-wrenching, realistic drama, and more of an intriguing mystery, with oodles of charm. Wandering around the quaint villages and quiet towns where the murders take place, it's up to you to grill suspects, examine evidence, and use the clues you discover to test your 'little grey cells', and piece together the truth about whodunnit, when, and how.
Like a real detective, it's up to you to cast an attentive eye over the crime scene and the suspects, with the intent of picking up on any clues you can. Using the left stick to walk Poirot around, and the right stick to hover a cursor over any objects that may be of use, you can get stuck in, and start looking for clues. If you can interact with an object, an icon will appear, and at the touch of a button, you'll be taken into a 3D view of said object, where you can examine it more closely. This is often essential, as things aren't always as they seem. A paper bag with red liquid at the bottom may look sinister near a murder scene at first glance - but rotating it to have a look inside proves it's just a bunch of squashed strawberries.
Other objects, however, are a lot more complex. Take the till at the first murder scene as an example. What to other people may look like just an ordinary cash register actually contains a valuable clue - if you can figure out how to crack it. Giving it the once over, you notice a lock on the side, which lets you open the drawer - and hidden all over it are what appear to be three numbers, that form part of a code... What else could the till be hiding? That's up to you to find out.
The puzzles come thick and fast in the ABC Murders, and they never fail to give you that slightly smug feeling of a job well done when you get it right, and figure out the path to each object's secrets. Much like Professor Layton, the puzzles actually make up the majority of the gameplay here, and you'll be sliding counters round mazes, hunting for hidden panels, and switching locks around for most of your time with the game.
Of course, you can only get so far in any investigation by looking at inanimate objects - it's the suspects and witnesses that'll hold most of the clues. When talking to a suspect, you can cast your knowing eye over them before you start grilling them, picking up on small hints at their past, to judge their character, and see if they appear to be lying or not. Whether it's torn clothes, dark circles under someone's eyes, or make up that's ran, you'll use the tiny clues you pick up on to create a picture of how trustworthy - or otherwise - a character is.
It's always worth taking a close look at the characters, too, as it'll give you a much better idea of how to go about grilling them when you finally get to speak to them. Sitting down for an interview, you'll have a choice of things you can say to them, and you'll have to judge how best to approach each person. Handily, a single word will appear next to the character as they're talking, to describe how they're feeling, whether it's "annoyed", "defensive", or "honest", and it's up to you to judge which response will get you closest to the truth. In all honesty, it's almost essential that it tells you how the character's feeling, too, as the voice acting for everyone but Poirot is pretty dreadful. Characters will often reply to each other like they simply aren't listening to what the other one's saying, with their intonation totally out of place. Still, it doesn't affect the gameplay - and it certainly doesn't stop you getting into things.
With the pieces in place, it's up to you to start to piece together what happened - and that's where Poirot's famous "Little Grey Cells" come in. Presenting you with a number of slots, which join together to form a similarly blank conclusion, it's up to you to drag the right clues into the right slots, to help you reach a conclusion. While this certainly helps you get your facts together, we are a little bit disappointed that you don't actually seem to be able to get these wrong - there's no chance of pinning the murder on the wrong person, or simply making some sort of mistake. In fact, perhaps the only way you can make things go wrong is by botching up your interviews with the suspects and witnesses, causing them to clam up.
Another unusual part of the ABC Murders is the fact that, even if you haven't read the book, you still kind of know whodunnit. While the local police are convinced that it could be a different killer, you kind of know whoever they've collared won't turn out to be the man you're looking for, as you know you're after a serial killer - one who seems to have an unusual obsession with Poirot. But while that may rob the game of some of its fun - you won't be able to figure out "whodunnit" in each crime, because you technically already know - there's still plenty of logic to be applied, as you try to prove why the chief suspect couldn't have been the one to do it, even though it looks like they might be the one.
Although it is slightly let down by a dodgy frame rate, that sometimes makes the game so juddery even we noticed (particularly when wandering around outside), Agatha Christie's the ABC Murders presents a refreshing change of pace from the majority of games. Focussing on your brain, rather than your trigger finger, there's few better ways to spend a gentle Sunday morning than by puzzling your way through one of the most famous detective stories of all time. The answers, as they say, are in your little grey cells.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4