Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express

Review by Old Rooster
January 2007

Admit One—Istanbul to Paris

Awe Games and the Adventure Company have released their second game rendition of a famed Agatha Christie mystery—Murder 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 Poirot—brilliantly 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 Intrigue" —Poirot

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" —Poirot

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" —Greta

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 twist—a third possible solution to the crime—which 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 linearity—plays more like interactive fiction than a game;
  • Conversational trees are meaningless, always playing out the same way;
  • Repetitive and tiring running about in the large middle section;
  • Inventory object combining system is frustratingly awkward. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: AWE Games
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: November 14, 2006

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 2000/XP
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

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