Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express



Genre:   Mystery adventure

Developer:     Awe Games

Publisher:    The Adventure Company

Released:  November 2006

PC Requirements:   Windows® 2000/XP, 1.4 GHz Pentium® 3 Processor, 256 MB RAM, 1.5 GB Disk Space. 16x CD/DVD-ROM, 64 MB DirectX® 9 Compatible Video Card, 16-bit DirectX® Compatible Sound, Mouse, Keyboard and Speaker


Additional Screenshots





by Becky


The Orient Express -- an opulent train speeding through Eastern Europe, an emblem of glamour and romance.

But for Agatha Christie fans, the Orient Express means murder – a perplexing crime which takes place between the two world wars.  The only detective who can solve the murder?  Hercule Poirot, a last-minute passenger on that fated journey.

The PC version of Murder on the Orient Express takes the characters from the Agatha Christie novel, adds new characters and settings, then reshapes them into a captivating adventure with an alternate explanation of the mystery.

Meet Antoinette

After a cinematic flashback, the game begins outside the Sirkeci Terminal in Istanbul, Turkey – the year is 1934.  It’s clear that care has been taken to keep the environments and characters true to their historical context.  You assume the role of the intelligent and beautiful Antoinette Marceau, an employee of the Orient Express.  Antoinette has been instructed to see that Hercule Poirot’s journey goes smoothly (an impossible task, given what is about to occur). 

Once on the train, the two trade friendly observations about their fellow passengers.  Antoinette has been collecting newspaper clippings from recent celebrity murders.  She hopes to learn much from the famous detective.  Little does she know that an avalanche will soon stop the train and a bizarre murder will take place in the compartment next to Poirot’s.

Antoinette functions as the chief investigator of the crime, since the local police can’t reach the train and Poirot is injured and keeps to his bed.  Having Antoinette perform the investigative “footwork” adds drama to the plot, as she is more vulnerable to danger and more apt to jump to conclusions.  This is not to say that Poirot is missing in action.  Not only is it necessary to converse with him while analyzing the various clues, but you will hear his voice continually through the game. He lets you know when certain things are noteworthy, and provides almost telepathic praise and criticism.

Getting Somewhere    

Orient Express is a mouse-controlled point-and-click adventure, viewed from a third person perspective.  Convenient directional cursors guide your steps.  Left clicking causes Antoinette to walk; double clicking either causes her to walk quickly or results in a screen dissolve that brings you to the next location.  (Antoinette looks distinctly odd when walking quickly, so it’s fortunate that this happens only rarely in the game.)  For most of the game you can skip between sections of the train by moving the cursor to the top of the screen and clicking on each individual car. 

Is this Heaven?  No, it’s a Train Station

The environments in Orient Express are detailed and sumptuous.  The most awe-inspiring is the Sirkeci Station, especially its interior where sunlight streams through the rose window and marks a halo on the floor.  Outside the station, small movements bring the world alive – a spray of leaves moving in the breeze, smoke rising from a chimney.

When the train comes to rest in a frozen landscape, you’ll see some of the interiors through the frosty glass of the windows with snow falling all around.  The Orient Express lives up to its luxurious reputation.  You’ll find decorative flourishes like etched glass, inlaid wood, elaborate carpets and cut flowers in every room.  This portion of the game features an unusual variety of camera angles and different sources of soft light to add visual excitement to the enclosed spaces.  My only quibble with the locations -- there just weren’t enough of them.  I wanted to see more at other train stops along the way.

Not the Usual Suspects

A rich cast of characters clusters around Poirot and Antoinette.  You’ll meet a Russian Princess, a Hungarian diplomat, a German chef who undervalues vegetables and an American tourist who never stops complaining.  A lot of time is spent interacting with the characters.  Some of the dialog is straight from the novel and the rest fits seamlessly with the atmosphere and the characterizations.  You can click through dialogs to speed things up whenever you like.

Voice-overs on the whole are impressive.  David Suchet draws upon his multifaceted talent and insight into the role he developed while portraying Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie’s Poirot television series.  Kudos also for Vanessa Marshall’s performance in the role of Antoinette Marceau.  I could listen to her voice all day.

The game contains some quips that are good for a laugh, as well as some poignant lines that speak to later historical events – the British governess who’s given up a job in Baghdad, for instance, because nothing ever happens there.  Character models are a bit stiff, but they are significantly improved since the previous Agatha Christie game (And Then There Were None).  Lip synch is hit-and-miss.  Character animations vary, with some suspects gesturing as they speak, while others remain more stationary.

The final cutscene wherein Poirot reveals all the layers of the mystery is unusually clever.  Poirot sets the scene with his deductions and then asks you to identify the supporting evidence.   The game’s ending is quite a surprise; it is affecting and effective.

Footprints in the Snow…

The puzzles in Orient Express involve exploration, interrogating (and shadowing) suspects, and working with the inventory.  One area is maze-like, especially when you traverse it in blizzard conditions – an inventive variation on the traditional maze.

A vital part of the game is the Inventory Menu, which contains several features that you must figure out in order to progress (I strongly recommend reading the manual for this).  All inventory items can be viewed closely for additional information.  A few items can be taken apart and others can be combined.  With a couple of exceptions, inventory combinations are realistic and sensible.  There is also a place for comparing fingerprints, for viewing passports, and a scrapbook containing various documents – including an essential list of Poirot’s instructions. 

Methodical exploration of the surroundings (don’t forget to listen at doors and rummage through the suspects’ belongings) and the interrogation of witnesses nudges the game along nicely.  Sometimes there is a gap in time between discovering a clue and being able to grill the appropriate suspect about it – but eventually you’ll trap many of the suspects into admitting their previous lies and misleading statements.

Eat Your Heart Out, James Bond

Music in Orient Express is limited to the cut scenes, though ambient sounds are so good that I didn’t notice this until the second play-through.  The music ranges from the ominous to the exhilarating.  Running strings evoke the motion of the train and the combination of zither and gong hint at a journey into the enigmatic East.  There’s also an amusing “Hercule Poirot” theme.  For the rest, ambient sounds work well to immerse the gamer in the environment.  You’ll hear voices in the market place, the hiss of escaping steam, crunching snow, and the howling wind.

The Downsides

I have a couple of complaints about Orient Express.  Most of the story takes place in the four main cars of the train.  The gameplay involves going over the same locations and interrogating the suspects again and again, so by the end it started to feel repetitive.  I probably searched the suspects’ suitcases six or seven times because items could be hidden in previously searched places.  I also grew tired of the lengthy finger and footprint matching activities, although these did provide a strong dose of realism.

There was a minor inconsistency in the game.  In two places you can’t use the usual inventory combination screen.  This created some gnashing-of-teeth moments as I tried to combine items using the inventory combination screen when I should have (for instance) used the surface of a nightstand.

To Challenge or to Cooperate?

Early in the game, you are given the choice to challenge Hercule Poirot to see if you can solve the crime as efficiently as he would, or to cooperate in solving the crime using him as a partner.  I played the game first in Challenge and then in Cooperative Mode.  I strongly recommend using the Challenge Mode.

I found that cooperating with Poirot gave me information that I could easily figure out on my own, but never gave me information that would have helped when I was stuck.  In Cooperative Mode, Poirot gives hints about where to use an inventory item, or suggestions as to where something might be found, or general exhortations to keep going.

But in a game this complex, for Cooperative Mode to really be helpful the game would need to keep track of whatever you have missed that is keeping you from progressing.  And that it doesn’t do.  Instead, as you desperately try to figure out the one item/clue/inventory combination you haven’t stumbled across, Poirot “cooperates” by giving you a general instruction to keep searching and interrogating suspects – the same things you’ve been doing all along.

In Challenge Mode, you sense more of the detective’s smugness as he informs you that he would have done something differently (and docks you points for your clumsiness).   That’s an improvement on begging for help he won’t give you, however.       

Quick List for Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express

An eye-catching mystery adventure based on the Agatha Christie novel.  Introducing Antoinette Marceau, a likeable new assistant to Hercule Poirot.  An international cast of suspects, excellent voice-overs.  Poirot is voiced by the inestimable David Suchet.  Plenty of character interaction.  You can click through dialogs.

Exquisite, detailed environments, though their number is limited.  More exploring and a bit less talking would have provided better gameplay balance. There’s a clever, satisfying ending that differs from the novel.

Third person perspective, point-and-click interface.  Two modes of play, “Challenge” or “Cooperative” – puzzles stay the same, Cooperative Mode gives more clues.  You cannot die.  One amusing inconsistency – kidnappers don’t need snowshoes.    

Various inventory challenges, interrogation of suspects, exploration and searching.  (Read the manual to understand how to work the inventory.)  A puzzle box, a combination safe and a jigsaw puzzle.  One memorable maze.  No timed puzzles, no sound or music puzzles, no puzzles that require color discrimination.  You’ll pick up lots of items/clues – if you accidentally skip one, it can be difficult to figure out what you’ve missed. The most difficult puzzle: an inventory challenge requiring multiple steps to decombine/combine items, while using unconventional ingredients.    

Occasionally, load times are long.  No problems with installation; no glitches during gameplay.  Unlimited save slots and you can name the saved games. 

Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express is aimed at adventurers who enjoy a good historical mystery with compelling characters, gamers who relish a logical crime investigation, and fans of Agatha Christie.

Final grade: A-

My Computer Specs:

Windows XP Professional

Pentium 2.80 GHz

2046 MB RAM

Direct X 9.0c

512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX

SB X-Fi Audio

November 2006

design copyright © 2006 GameBoomers Group

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