It's 1940, much of the world is at war, and air raid sirens have just sounded in London. Hercule Poirot (master detective) and his friend Hastings (gentleman sidekick) sit in Poirot's sleek, tidy office, waiting for the bombs to fall. To provide a distraction, Poirot agrees to recount the story of one of his recent solo cases. He will tell the tale in such a way that it will be as though Hastings is right there at the scene, functioning in the person of Poirot himself. At each moment of the investigation, when something needs to be examined, or a witness questioned, or a decision reached, Hastings will try to tease out the mystery just as brilliantly as Poirot did.

You're Pondering What I'm Pondering

Thus begins Agatha Christie -- Evil Under the Sun. It's a clever set-up, allowing the gamer to play as Poirot, yet approach the mystery (mentally) as the far-less-than-omnipotent Hastings. Conversations and commentary between the detective and sidekick go on in Hasting's head as events unfold on-screen.

I've been playing the Beta 2 Build of Evil Under the Sun for a few hours now. The areas of exploration are more varied here than in the previous Agatha Christie games. There's Seadrift Island, with its lush summer landscapes, rock formations, rippling water views and a sky full of wispy clouds. The Smuggler's Rest hotel on the island has an Art Deco-like ambiance with green, tan and cream interiors. A Tudor-style village and a mysterious ruin (with traces of pagan sacrifice) add to the mix.

This Murder, It was Inevitable

You immediately begin to dig into the complex plot, with multiple threads contributing to the story. Most of the plot is taken directly from the Evil Under the Sun novel. But new "side-quest" plot lines have been added to keep the gamer guessing. For instance, the historical context for this particular case is an intriguing component -- already there's a hint that a spy may be in touch with a U-Boat which haunts the waters near the island.

Evil Under the Sun uses a point-and-click interface, and takes place from the third person perspective (you inhabit Poirot's body, but think as Hastings does). So far, the majority of the puzzles are inventory based. The inventory is significantly more efficient than in the previous Agatha Christie games. Other aids for understanding the mystery include documents, maps and a stopwatch that will help analyze the suspects' movements after the crime is committed. One drawback in the Beta II version -- glitches that force a return to the desktop (I'm assuming this problem will be eliminated in the version that is expected to ship to stores within the next couple of weeks.)

What did He Know and When Did he Know It?

The game is dialog-rich -- you will spend the first part of the game talking to everyone to learn who they are and why they are there. Voiceovers are professionally done, and establish each character well. This time David Suchet does not voice Hercule Poirot (Suchet did voice the Belgian detective in the previous Agatha Christie game: Murder on the Orient Express). However, the (as-yet-unnamed) vocal artist who brings Poirot to life in Evil Under the Sun does so with great competence, and in a style that is consistent with Suchet's.

Character models are a trifle stiff. For instance, Poirot frequently holds his left arm in an odd position, and Hastings looks a bit bug-eyed and dazed.

Above the Finger of Suspicion

One entertaining innovation -- a new hint system called "The Finger of Suspicion." To use it, you return to Poirot's office and admit that you are unable to progress. Then you choose a card with the name of a suspect on it, and the Finger of Suspicion will tell you if you need to speak to the suspect, eavesdrop, search the suspect's room, observe him or her, or assist the suspect in some fashion. The concept has a quirky charm, and should steer you in the right direction without giving outright spoilers. It also provides yet another puzzle to solve, as Poirot gives verbal clues about the secret history behind this handy device.

A Genius for Evil

This game hints of dark mysteries within mysteries, and a chance to uncover the most grievous of all evils under the sun. Can you out-think Agatha Christie's master detective? When the final reckoning occurs, where will you point the finger of suspicion?

Would you like to learn more about Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun? Read the full review by inferno.