Attraction, Greed, Jealousy, and Murder
Crime doesn’t get a vacation and apparently neither does Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a famed fictional figure featured heavily in the works of best-selling murder mystery author Agatha Christie. Over the past few years, the Adventure Company has released several PC game adaptations of Christie’s classics, and another mystery is now upon us. In Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun, the third and latest title in the PC series, players will finally get to control Poirot directly as they leave no stone unturned in their search for clues to pinpoint the culprit for yet another murder most foul. On an island getaway you’re usually always in for a good time, at least until someone dies. In this particular case, tragedy makes the adventure even greater.
One of the unusual aspects of Evil Under the Sun is the entire story has already occurred from the moment players start out. The game begins in September 1940 at Poirot’s office just as the Nazis are about to begin a bombing campaign against London in what would become known as The Blitz. Poirot sits with his British friend and occasional sidekick Arthur Hastings as the situation seems most dire. Intent on finding a more cheerful way to pass the time before the bombs begin to fall, Poirot gloats about a recent case he solved in short order and offers to recount the tale in such a way as to give Hastings a crack at solving the mystery himself. He gladly accepts and soon after the actual murder mystery gets underway in the form of an interactive story told by Poirot.
Technically, you’ll essentially be playing as Hastings who is controlling Poirot, but it’s really far less complicated than it sounds in execution. In the game you move Poirot around to investigate locations, gather clues, solve puzzles, and question other characters. In true narrative fashion, Hastings and Poirot will frequently provide sub-plot, clues, and explanations of occurrences which might not be otherwise obvious. Their humorous back-and-forth jibes also provide comic relief at times.
The mystery itself unfolds on and around Seadrift Island where Poirot attempts to take a momentary respite from his detective duties. Though the island is mostly deserted due to evacuations from the war, a handful of couples, eccentrics, and assorted vacationers still remain on the English coast. After checking-in at the Smuggler’s Rest Hotel, there’s little time to relax as Poirot gets the feeling his holiday is going to be cut short. His assertions are not far off as the body of Arlena Stuart, an attractive young actress whose magnetism draws frequent attention from other women’s husbands, soon turns up on the shore. Evil Under the Sun indeed. You’ll arrive on the island just before the murder takes place, and Poirot provides narrative insight into the events as they unfold.
Gameplay starts off slowly as you direct Poirot to explore the hotel grounds and meet many of the game’s 20 characters. In later chapters, the action picks up as clues and puzzles become more frequent when you venture beyond the hotel grounds to other locations on the island and across the causeway to the adjoining town in search of a way to out the murderer. Poirot keeps detailed notes of characters in his notebook that can be accessed at any time. The controls are standard point-and-click fare: you’ll move around in third-person view through numerous pre-rendered backgrounds. In each screen you can move the mouse over different objects, and the cursor will change to indicate if they can be interacted with. Many items can be either picked up and placed in your inventory, or copied down into your notebook if they’re documents.
The puzzles themselves are not overly difficult in most cases, and can be solved with a bit of thought and common sense. Many of them simply involve using an item on something or combining items in your inventory. The numerous fetch-quests you’ll be sent on can become tedious after awhile, yet the story is strong enough – as can be expected from an Agatha Christie tale – to keep players wanting to move along and see what happens next. If you get miserably stuck, you can always access the “Finger of Suspicion” hint-system to give you clues on who to approach next and what to do. By returning to real-time, Hastings can place a name card in the circular tray and the finger will spin around to point at one of several possible actions to take regarding that particular character.
Evil Under the Sun shows some significant graphical improvements over the two earlier PC titles. The pre-rendered 3D environments are highly detailed and very realistic. Character models are occasionally odd looking, but are generally impressive in comparison to previous entries. Frequent cut-scenes also provide a nice change of pace. The high-quality voice acting is also a real treat. Developers Awe Games made other improvements this time around in response to feedback from players. The inventory system was overhauled, players can easily skip through dialogue if they choose, and you won’t have to run around quite as much – a gift for sure since Poirot is an older gentleman and moves at a sluggish pace.
With its slow and steady pace, Evil Under the Sun will put your detective skills to work throughout a lengthy and engaging story that keeps you guessing at every turn. Though the gameplay will be nothing new to anyone who’s enjoyed a good point-and-click adventure before, the quality storytelling alone is worth the time. All in all it’s an excellent murder mystery with a surprising new ending.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
Highly detailed pre-rendered environments and solid character models make for a great visual experience. 3.0 Control
You point…you click…enough said. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is superb while the thematic orchestral backgrounds are merely suitable. 3.4 Play Value
Progressing can be tricky at times, but if you manage find the right clues it’s quite rewarding. The story is incredibly engaging. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.