Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun review - page 2

The Good:
  • Wonderful environments and solid character animation and voice work make for a great looking and great sounding game
  • Adding to the natural appeal of an Agatha Christie story
The Bad:
  • An odd story framing device
  • Coupled with easy puzzles and a furious amount of backtracking
  • Keep the game from ever really taking off
Our Verdict: Proof that a pretty game doesn’t necessarily make for an enjoyable adventure, this one is going to be for Agatha Christie fans only -- and even then only with reservations.

The only real issue that I had visually is that the world seems very deserted. Granted, Poirot is staying at a resort in wartime and many of the guests have supposedly checked out, but Poirot's discretionary "removal" of non-essential characters from his story so that Hasting can concentrate on real suspects makes for a game that comes across as very empty. In total you’ll interact with as many as twenty characters, but from day to day you won't see many of them, even though the locations are limited. This in turn oversimplifies the game because the only people you need to interact with at any given time are the people you'll encounter as you’re moving through the screens. There’s no idle conversation or red herrings here -- find the person, talk to them, move the game forward.

Character voices are good across the board, without the random bad accents one usually finds in a game of this nature. In the last game the character of Poirot was voiced by actor David Suchet, well known for playing the detective in movies and television adapatations. In Evil Under the Sun, Suchet is replaced by actor Kevin Delaney, and while he is no Suchet, he does a great job portraying Poirot. There's not much to say about the music, unfortunately. While it is a good soundtrack, much of the game is played without any music at all, with the score being used mainly when your attention is needed for something. Most of the time I went long stretches without even thinking about it.

Navigation in Evil Under the Sun could not be simpler. Click on a location and Poirot will walk there. Double click on the edge of the screen and Poirot will immediately go to the next screen, which is a real timesaver when backtracking for important clues, which you will find yourself spending endless amounts of time doing over the course of the game.

One of the most aggravating issues with the previous game was the menu interface, which was used for everything from reading notes to combining objects to taking fingerprints, none of it user-friendly. Evil Under the Sun has simplified things greatly, streamlining the interface to only its essentials. Item combination is a simple drag and drop affair now, and notes and clues are much easier to navigate and read.

Also changed this time around is the hint system. In Murder on the Orient Express, if you became stuck you could go and ask Poirot for help and he would supposedly point you in the right direction -- although in my experience he never really did more than toss a general observation my way. For Evil Under the Sun, Poirot shows Hastings a handy gadget that he calls the Finger of Suspicion, which is exactly what it sounds like. When Hastings gets stuck he can click a button that will return him straight to Poirot's office. Once there he can place a suspect's name on a tray, and the finger will point him (literally) in the right direction. And aside from merely giving you hints, Poirot also throws in a little side mystery wherein you try to determine how the finger works. This is a fun way to integrate the hint system without dragging you out of the story to use it, and it's a nice touch.

Since Poirot's last adventure, the gameplay has been changed quite a bit, with less of the random combining of odd objects to move the story forward, and a removal of the fingerprint mechanism that frustrated a lot of players. Unfortunately, this has been replaced with eavesdropping and more fetch quests, along with a significant drop in difficulty.

The game is split into eight acts, taking place over a series of days. Each act will require you to solve specific quests and gain certain clues before moving on. The problem is that the tasks you are given are hardly difficult, but require huge amounts of backtracking to accomplish, and the clues that you must acquire are sometimes incredibly vague. Because of this the game is essentially played as follows: at the beginning of each act you will go to each and every game screen to see if a character has moved. If so, they most likely have a task for you or a new clue. Once this is done you go back to the hotel, try every door on the inside and outside to see if a locked door is now unlocked, and then eavesdrop on each and every door from the inside and outside to make sure that you don't miss a conversation. Honestly, the most difficulty I had playing the game was when I ran around for an hour because I was missing a clue, only to find out that I had eavesdropped on every room but one, which immediately moved me to the next act.

Even a lowered difficulty wouldn't be that big of a deal -- sometimes I want a game so hard that my head hurts, and sometimes it's nice to relax with something simpler. But when challenge is replaced by backtracking busywork, it becomes very tedious very quickly, especially considering the game's 8 to 10 hour length.

I haven't read the original novel the game was based on, but once you strip out the Hastings narrative device, the actual storyline is a good one, and I will definitely be tracking down a copy of the book. But as for the game, it's a hard recommendation to make. It's too easy and too tedious for seasoned adventure gamers, but I'm afraid that the large amount of backtracking will put off novice gamers as well. Which is a shame, given the game's graphics and voice work, and the obvious appeal of one of Christie's great mysteries. As with the previous games in the series, however, Evil Under the Sun once again proves to be a case of a good story put off by poor game design, and what should be a thrilling story turned into too much tedium.

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