Christie: Murder on the Orient Express
Review by Old Rooster
Admit OneIstanbul to Paris
Awe Games and the Adventure Company have released their second
game rendition of a famed Agatha Christie mysteryMurder
on the Orient Express. Although there are some observable improvements
over the first effort, And
Then There Were None, in some critical areas I found
the game disappointing and less than I had hoped for.
We join the game in Istanbul, where Antoinette Marceau, a train
company employee, is literally trying to catch up with Hercule Poirotbrilliantly
voiced by David Suchet of TV fame. She finds people and obstacles
in her path, which serve to present a mini-tutorial as well as the
beginnings of knowledge about the personalities of her fellow passengers.
Finally, once aboard, she is able to join Poirot for dinner. This
gives them an opportunity to discuss their mutual interests in people
observations and crime-solving. Little does Antoinette realize at
that point that she is shortly about to become the legs, eyes and
ears of Poirot in the solving of a hideous murder. A bit later,
a passenger recognizes Poirot, expresses his concern about being
protected, and is turned down rather rudely by our detective. During
the night, the train is stalled by an avalanche and, lo and behold,
our worried passenger is found quite permanently dead in the morning.
Unfortunately, since the train had to stop suddenly to avoid the
avalanche, Poirot has been thrown from his bed, suffering a broken
ankle and in considerable pain. Since police are not nearby, and
it is generally agreed it would be good to solve this murder before
arriving at Madrid, Poirot is asked for his detecting help. It's
at this point Antoinette becomes significant as she takes on the
role of Poirot's assistant.
"The Trains, They Lend Themselves to the Romance and the
With marked graphical improvements over ATTWN, Orient Express
initially impresses very much. Colors are rich and detailed,
from the initial Istanbul setting to the train itself. Clearly,
a good deal of care went into the decoration of the various cars
and compartments of the Orient Express. Character models are clothed
in varied 1930s styles, and the whole atmosphere is enveloping.
Movements of the cast are a bit awkward, but facial animations and
expressions, particularly while speaking, are dead on. One touch
I particularly enjoyed was seeing Poirot with his peculiar little
walk made famous by the Suchet portrayal.
Voice acting is superb, especially David Suchet's Poirot. Of course,
the script, much of it drawn from the original novel, contributes
to the obvious professionalism and interest of the actors, who clearly
took the assignment seriously. Fortunately, Antoinette, who is second
to Poirot with the most lines, is also very believable.
Music is limited, but fitting, particularly as you start and load
the game. Sound effects consist largely of the train in motion and
idling after the avalanche. Yet that background hissing would be
missed if not there.
"Imagine That I Am There Beside You Offering Help"
It is up to you, playing as Antoinette, to take the lead in this
investigation. I chose the option to not go it alone but rather
to have Poirot act as a kind of sounding board or hint system. He
will make such comments in the back of your mind as, "There
are still clues to be found; search carefully." He also is
in his room for occasional touching base.
With one major exception, the interface of MOTOE is set
up smoothly and efficiently. A top-of-the-screen bar drops down
to show the menu (save, load, quit), train cars you can instantly
access (five possibilities), and inventory. This, in turn, consists
of buttons for a scrapbook (documents, passports), fingerprints,
a magnifying glass for detail analysis and a most awkward tab for
combining up to four inventory objects. This latter action is quite
problematic and sometimes frustrating.
Camera angles are well-done, with quick transitions between scenes
and locations. The cursor is clear, with "hot spots" sometimes
not so clear or precise. The cursor depicts a number of different
possible actions, depending on location and circumstance, including
movement, speech, keyhole peek, use, eavesdrop, open door, and others.
The manual is satisfactory, including helpful maps of the two primary
coaches containing passengers you will have to visit and interview.
"Please Show Me the Way, or I am Becoming Lost Forever"
And it is here, the passenger interviewing and data collection,
where the game becomes a drag. After being so impressed by the first
25% of MOTOE, I became really bogged down with the next 50%.
There are some interesting puzzles, only a couple of which seem
a bit bizarre, although some of them do require that dreaded "inventory
combining" activity via the extra tab.
But it isn't the puzzles that frustrate. It's the ongoing and seemingly
endless interviewing, passport and baggage checking, looking for
dropped items over and over again. You trudge back and forth, back
and forth over the same ground with the same people. You only know
if you've done enough if a new cutscene opens up. Conversation trees
appear to offer choices, but all options play out before the interviews
are allowed to end. There is no apparent difference in outcome or
game direction based on what response you choose or question you
ask. In this respect, the game is very linear, pulling you along
to the final conclusion. Frankly, it all becomes a bit boring as
well as repetitive.
In that regard, the last 25% picks up a bit, although I had to
force myself to get there. The fun factor had really ended. Part
of the problem is that most of us know the ingenious outcome of
MOTOE in the Christie novel. So you know where you're headed,
and there seems little in the way of surprise. However, the game
creators have added their own twista third possible solution
to the crimewhich is worth getting to. If only you could somehow
skip the middle 50%!
"The Time for Talk Has Passed" Poirot
Finally, after 20+ hours, the seemingly endless streams of conversations
and inquiries do culminate. Looking back at MOTOE, I had
mixed reactions. On the one hand, the game is unusual in its setting,
very well-produced, full of rich and enticing atmosphere. Yet, on
the other hand, it's very linear, full of repetitive busy work,
and really seems more like an interactive novel than a game where
your actions can impact the game world and possible outcome.
I'm awarding a Thumb Up, mostly because of the production values
(graphics, setting, script, voice acting), but advise that you may
wish to consider Murder on the Orient Express largely for
those factors rather than as a title that offers the traditional
challenges we hope for in adventure games. Since Mr. Suchet is apparently
contracted for two more Poirot games, I would urge the developers
to try to eliminate slavish linearity in favor of a more open-ended
game world with different paths, true outcome affecting conversational
choices and even the possibility of multiple endings.
What I Liked Most About MOTOE
- Lovely, detailed and colorful graphics;
- A fine script (credit Christie in large measure);
- Wonderful voice acting, especially from David Suchet;
- Good character facial depictions;
- A good value for $30 retail, especially since it includes the
original Christie novel.
What I Liked Least
- Intense linearityplays more like interactive fiction than
- Conversational trees are meaningless, always playing out the
- Repetitive and tiring running about in the large middle section;
- Inventory object combining system is frustratingly awkward.
Release Date: November 14, 2006
Four Fat Chicks Links
1.4 GHz PIII (2 GHz P4 recommended)
1.5 GB available hard disk space
64 MB DirectX 9.0c compatible video card (128 MB recommended)
16x CD-ROM drive
Where to Find It
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