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Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun


Walk around a lot and solve a crime
What's It All About:
As a kid who grew up playing plenty of computer games, point-and-click puzzles were always a favorite (with an Incredible Hulk game I played on my old Tandy standing out clear as day, mainly because I was stuck at one point I'll never ever get past. (Since both the computer and floppy disc are both long gone.) Surprisingly, I never made the jump to RPGs, which share some similar mechanics, instead opting for the modern day P&Cs, and the console of choice for such adventures, the Nintendo Wii.

The latest to arrive to sate our remote-wielding, pointer-guiding hunger is another PC port, this time translating the well-regarded Agatha Christie mystery adaptation, Evil Under the Sun. In it, famed detective Hercules Poirot is visiting Seadrift Island, a seaside resort, when he becomes wrapped up in an unfolding mystery (which is somewhat different than the book, including the ending (for those familiar with the novel.) The game's plot utilizes an amusing conceit to explain why you're controlling Poirot, positioning his pal Hastings as an observer, which results in in-game back and forth between the two, which, depending on your comedic tastes, can be funny or annoying.

Gameplay:
The structure of the game couldn't be simpler. You wander and explore the resort, following the prompts that appear in the window of your pointer, collecting items, observing things and talking to the people around, who quickly break down into neat groups of victims and suspects. You have the ability to visit Poirot's office at any time, to see if he has any files related to what you've learned and to ask for assistance from the Finger of Suspicion, a bizarre device that will offer guidance on your investigation, in relation to the people you meet. (The finger itself is a "mystery" as well, which will be revealed by Poirot over the course of the game.)

Mostly what you'll do is wander though, moving your pointer all over the screen in the hopes of getting a prompt, displaying the ability to eavesdrop or open a door, as there are plenty of areas that offer little to do than access other areas with little to do. On one screen, trying several doors only to find them all locked was particularly trying. Like most games in this genre, you have to pick up everything you find, as it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll need it later on, even if it makes little sense at the time. The challenges in the game feel pretty much there simply to stretch things out, with the real puzzles that require some thought coming much later in the game, long after most people have given up. After all, if all you need to do is combine the items you're told you need, it's not a puzzle. Perhaps they think it's a real puzzle that you'll collect items in the first moments of the games that you won't use until you're almost done with the game.

The ease and repetition of the puzzles wouldn't be so bad if there were more of them for variety, but you're going to spend most of your time walking and talking with the other characters. Like so many similar games, you're given a selection of dialogue choices to use in your conversations, but the order in which you use them seems to make no difference, so part of the challenge is taken away. You can just simple go down the list until you're done and you'll get the same results as if you think about what you want to find out, so why bother trying? The info you find is tucked away in a readily-accessible notebook for you, so you don't even have to think about that much either. That's probably the worst thing about the game, as sleuthing is not what you'd call what you're doing, yet that's exactly what any Christie or P&C fan would want to do in a game.

In the end, the thing that's most important to a mystery is if the solution is satisfying, and despite the changes made to the story from the original, it still works. The problem is really the way you get there, since you only really spend about half the adventure trying to solve the crime.

Controls
Though using a Wii certainly makes a point-and-click game much easier to play on a console, thanks to the pointing mechanic of the Wii-mote, the game doesn't do anything else with the controller's unique capabilities, asking you to click on anything available, which will automatically activate whatever it is supposed to do (with the exception of walking, which you will want to double-click, for fear of dying of boredom as Poirot shuffles his way across the screen.) It's not that the game is begging for all kinds of motion controls, but a little something would be nice. The only enhancement available is the ability to use the direction pad to cycle through menus, which is just handy.

Graphics
The graphics won't change anyone's mind about the Wii's place among the other visual powerhouse consoles, but with decent textures, they honestly aren't that bad, with the exception of some of the character models, especially that of Hastings'. Seriously, the graphics in the Dire Straits video were better than the Hastings model. It's as if they forgot there was another star in the game, and just before the deadline, they grabbed and old file off a Zip disc that was lying around. (Yeah, I said Zip disc.) The visual options available in the PC version, which controlled the fog and such, are naturally absent here, but there is a brightness control. Unfortunately, it is incremental, not a slider, so you can't make fine adjustments. Thus, you end up with either "OK" or "Wow, that's friggin' bright." You'll need a bump up though, as many of the small details that lead to clues or items are not easy to spot.

Sound
The acting is OK (though there are some noticeable flubs in pronunciation,) and the volume of the dialogue is pretty good, so the voices sound pretty good, and the sound effects, including that frustrating noise of a locked door, do their job, but I'll be damned if there's anything else about the audio that's worth praising. I just turned the game off and I can't remember anything about the music.

And in the End...
I'm the last person to disparage point and click games, but the pace of this game and the breadth of its challenges do not add up to a fun time for someone who cut their teeth on games like Maniac Mansion. You know who might like this? People who bought the Wii simply to use WiiFit. That audience of "non-gamers" might find the leisurely play and low-level challenges just their cup of tea, as they may be looking for more of an interactive story than a game. If you view it that way, it's actually not bad, but it's not likely to be as entertaining as a game like Sam & Max.