Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun

Review by Old Rooster
October 2007

"I Will Tell You a Story So Vividly That You Think You Are There Yourself" —Poirot to Hastings

It's the fall of 1940. Agatha Christie's famed detective, Hercule Poirot, decides to regenerate his little grey cells with a holiday on a resort island just off the coast of England. Of course, much like other famed sleuths, you can be sure that crime will follow. Soon after his arrival, Poirot senses "sexual tension" in the air and fears that a "crime of passion" may well be soon in the offing.

However, not only is the story itself full of surprises, but the telling of it takes a most unusual turn. The game begins with Poirot's holiday having been completed! The crime(s) are over and solved. From his London office, Poirot challenges Hastings to reflect back to his days on the island, walk in his footsteps, and see if he can piece together sufficient clues from observation, conversations, and puzzle-solving to arrive at the same correct solution as did the self-described brilliant Belgian detective. But this isn't just an abstract office task. The game takes you back to the beginning of the island visit, literally walking in the shoes of Poirot.

In other words, you play as Hastings playing as Poirot.

This science fiction–like time or mind travel is a gimmick, but one that is fun and works well. I suppose the developers could have had Hastings actually accompany Poirot, but the end result is rather the same. In effect you play in real time, and the island characters see and hear you as Poirot. Of course, sometimes you slip and say quite un-Poirot–like things, such as, "Where is the nearest golf course," or "Why not wade out to the raft." Your inner dialogue with Poirot is much like it would be if he were actually there, with the detective giving you immediate responses. "Hastings, you know I do not play the golf." It seems strange to write about, but it works.

"Hands off Me Tools" —Mechanic to Poirot

Evil Under the Sun is the third in the Adventure Company's current Christie series and the best by far. From graphics to gameplay, improvements are evident, particularly as compared with Murder on the Orient Express.

Playing in third-person, point-and-click, adventure format, Poirot has considerable freedom of movement around the island, hotel, and nearby town. Indeed, the game is not at all "on rails" and offers flexible paths and sequences to move the story along. There are eight acts, and certain tasks (conversations, inventory accumulation, errands) do need to be accomplished before one can move from one act to another. However, within each act, there is a good deal of fluidity.

Technically, EUTS is outstanding. It installs from three CDs and will run without a CD in the drive. On my new Vista PC with a 24-inch monitor, it looked stunning on the full screen and ran flawlessly without a crash, glitch, or bug the entire game.

A top-of-screen dropdown task bar couldn't be easier to use. With five sections, we find access to the main menu (save, load, options), a picture trigger to play as Poirot on the island or Hastings getting hints in Poirot's office, classic inventory, notebook that automatically records instructions (to-do list), stopwatch timings, suspects, and documents, and, finally, a stopwatch section to use for actual timings (could the suspect have gotten to the murder site in that amount of time?).

Of course, as with most adventure titles, Poirot picks up enough stuff to make one think he has a U-Haul with him. Rocks, fenceposts, oars, bottles, and pills—all at once!—pose no impediment for him. This is a suspension of disbelief common with most games, even shooters—how can the protagonist carry all of those weapons at one time? The other rather comical aspect here is that this light-fingered approach, bordering on thievery and certainly rudeness, is never criticized by anyone except the mechanic who caught Poirot messing with his tools, at least the first time. But that's okay—you never know when you might need a bottle of detergent!

Other technical features are solid. You can save anywhere, skip through conversations quickly (but don't!), double-click on Poirot to move him rapidly. Load times are fast, allowing ease of movement around the island and back to Poirot's office for hints. The large mouse cursor, with clear depictions of its various uses (open, converse, listen secretly, act with inventory, etc.) couldn't be easier to use. A rather overdone and often unnecessary hint system is in place, allowing you to get hints back at Poirot's office and even use a peculiar "Finger of Suspicion" to help narrow down suspects. But with the ongoing prodding from Poirot in Hastings's mind, I didn't need this much.

"Sometimes, the Small Crimes Are but Appetizers to the Main Course" —Poirot

Atmosphere and mood are among the high points in Evil Under the Sun. War has broken out, the island and town are emptying of citizens, and there is a palpable sense of anxiety, depression, even disquiet in the air. The entire work of the game contributes to a sense of foreboding. From the extraordinary writing to the fine graphics to the haunting background themes, one gets caught up in this period setting.

By standards of such games as Bioshock, EUTS's graphics are certainly dated. Yet, as mentioned, I found the artwork, attention to period detail, and small touches most appealing. When visiting one of the coves, you see and hear the waves gently lapping the shoreline, see grey clouds moving across the sky, and detect a gentle breeze and the occasional seagull. The only criticism I might have here is that you can't pan within a scene but must move Poirot to open another section.

Particular attention has been paid to facial animations, expressions, lip-synching. The roll of eyes, frowns, sideways glances in conversations all contribute to the believability of the characters and are revealing above and beyond what is literally said.

Relatedly, voice acting is a paramount feature of EUTS. A stand-in for David Suchet (TV's Poirot) was found who sounds 95% like him. The entire cast is clearly professional and does outstanding work. Perhaps it helps when they have such an exemplary script.

"I'm Not One to Gossip, But ..." Bartender

Evil Under the Sun is about a crime and the solving of it to be sure. But you'll meet a memorable mix of 20 characters, almost all of whom have secrets, dark places, current tensions. There's Gladys, the tearful maid (perhaps because Poirot lifted several things from her cart?); Rosamund, a preoccupied dressmaker; Arlena, an arrogant and threatened actress; Stephan, a former vicar with a tortured soul; and others with gambling problems, divided loyalties, marital tensions.

I advise again not to blithely skip through conversations. You need to get to know these folks and their peculiarities. What I remember at the end of the game is not simply the crime and solving of it, but more so the people I met along the way. Indeed, this is more the case with EUTS than with any game I can recall.

Of course, among the cast are Poirot and Hastings. The schizophrenic-type conversations Poirot/Hastings has with himself often provide comic relief as well as hints. Hastings as Poirot is often reminded by his mental Poirot of not doing things in this body such as wading and playing golf. At one point, after expressing some unsureness about a particular matter, Poirot gently reprimands Hastings/Poirot: "You may have reason to be modest, Hastings; I do not."

Characters can disappear, at least for a while. One of the techniques the developers use within an act is to have a character stick around an overlook, for example, if you will soon need to revisit him/her. If the person is gone, that suggests you're done with him/her, at least for the time being. At first, this puzzled me a bit, but I later found it to be a useful way to progress in the story, particularly with the relative open-endedness provided.

Finally, I won't say anything about the crime, except to say it's different enough from the book/film that you won't feel you know the outcome. I can say you'll appreciate and enjoy the mystery!

"The Sun Shines, the Sea Is Blue, but There Is Evil Everywhere Under the Sun" —Poirot

In his recent review of Gone Baby Gone, Roger Ebert comments that, "One reason crime movies tend to be intrinsically interesting is that the supporting characters have to be riveting."

Evil Under the Sun succeeds in no small measure because most of the 20 characters are many-layered, burdened, secretive, tortured, perhaps even evil. More than either of the two fine previous Christie games, or almost any game I can think of (with the possible exception of Gilbert's extraordinary Blackwell series), EUTS reveals the depths and darkness of its cast. Some may think of the game as slow and plodding. But there is a deliberate, gradualized design that increases the suspense in a gripping way. In best Christie fashion, the game is like a good book you can't put down.

With a compelling narrative, intriguing setting, stellar acting, and gorgeous graphics and character animations, Evil Under the Sun is one of the two finest detective/adventure games I've ever played—the other being Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. It is extremely well-constructed in terms of playability. There are gimmicks to be sure—playing as Hastings playing as Poirot and the silly Finger of Suspicion—but these are minor. Puzzles are largely inventory-based and nicely enmeshed within the context of the narrative. But what makes Evil Under the Sun remarkable is not only the fine story, but, primarily, the exploration of the foibles, twists, and surprises from these colorful characters. Evil Under the Sun is more about people than puzzles. This isn't a game to be "beaten;" rather, it's a journey to be savored, reflected upon, remembered. Simply put, when all is said and done, the one feature that makes Evil Under the Sun really stand out is the writing, and that is primarily why it comes most highly recommended.

What I Liked Most About Evil Under the Sun

  • A suspenseful, involving plot, sufficiently different from the book;
  • Engrossing atmosphere—the island and WWII;
  • Marvelously developed characters;
  • Fine hint system, with shadowing (eavesdropping) very neat;
  • Entertaining banter between Poirot and Hastings;
  • Lovely graphics, particularly facial animations;
  • Great voice acting from Suchet's stand-in, Hastings, and the rest;
  • Relative freedom of progression, though not completely open-ended;
  • Sensible, inventory-based puzzles.

What Bothered Me Just a Bit

  • Though fine, the musical themes become redundant;
  • Starts seemingly slow, requires patience;
  • Can't pan within a specific scene. The End
 

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: AWE Productions
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: October 2007

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 2000/XP
1.4 GHz Pentium 3 processor
256 MB RAM
1.5 GB free disk space
16× CD/DVD-ROM drive
64 MB DirectX 9 compatible video card

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