And Sailors Makes Three

As Michelle wrote recently, last fall they released a computer game based on the Agatha Christie book “And Then There Were None”. (Originally known as Ten Little Niggers, then Ten Little Indians, and apparently we have now decided Indians are too offensive as well, because in this game everything became Sailors. Let’s just hope the Navy doesn’t pitch a fit.)

Since my Agatha Christie addiction knows few bounds, I naturally had to have it, and after a bit of an adventure wherein we discovered my laptop was too crappy to run the game, we eventually found a compromise position between not playing it and buying a new laptop: we bought a better monitor for upstairs and I played it on the desktop.

So, my opinion:

Graphics
For all they required me to have a better graphics card than I had in my laptop, they weren’t really very good. We’re talking Playstation circa 1996 — pretty much comparable to the cut scenes from FF7, with solid hair and immobile outfits. They also skimped on the creativity: every character wore the exact same clothes the entire game. This didn’t make any sense at all to me and can only be explained as a conscious decision to cut corners on the part of the programmers. 3/10.

Game Play
The first half of the game, which encompassed time-wise the first 4 “chapters”, were quite good. NPCs rarely interact meaningfully without The Hero coming along to talk to them, so that part didn’t really bother me overmuch. My main problem with point and click adventure games is and has always been feeling herded along a linear route and getting ‘stuck’ because of some random thing I haven’t yet done. Anyhow, for the first half of the game, this didn’t happen. Everything continued to progress, but I never consciously needed to do anything to push the plot forward. The puzzles were interesting but not impossible, and the new character was incorporated into the story in a fairly realistic manner. Unfortunately, the second half of the game did not live up to the first. As the number of suspects grew fewer, the number of puzzles decreased. There was an obvious attempt by the writer to shore up the puzzle aspect of the second half by forcing upon us several ridiculous attempts to escape from the island, but all they really did was annoy: it was an insult to our intelligence to think they would work, and it made The Hero out to be a fool.

It was at this point that I began to get ‘stuck’ as well: I would wander around and around until I found the one single person to talk to or one particular door to look at that would get the plot moving again. While there is a need for some linearity in a game, and to require that certain tasks have been completed before things progress, I do find it to be a flaw when they don’t naturally flow from what’s going on. And frankly, they didn’t. They were just random. There weren’t even helpful hint cards as we’d had in the first half of things. So my score for the gameplay is 5/10 (but 8/10 for the first half).

The Plot
One of the big claims of this game was that even if you’d read the book (or seen the play) the ending was not the same. The problem with this was that they did follow the plot of the book otherwise nearly to the letter. (A few minor additions as I mentioned to up the number of puzzles to solve.) A more extensive rewrite would probably have served them better, because it would have given them more scope for the imagination — and prevented me, as someone very familiar with the book’s plot, from predicting nearly everything that was about to happen. I think it would have been hard, but not impossible, to take the same plot framework: 10 people trapped on an island with 1 out to kill the others, and make an entirely different story from it. Just mixing up the order of the deaths would have been a good start. The whole attempting to escape plot should be deep-sixed in favor of more extensive investigation. I don’t know if I’d want to go so far as to have to ask the questions myself, but perhaps having more than one chance per scene to speak to the NPCs would be nice. 5/10.

Overall
Overall it wasn’t a horrible game, but it wasn’t great either. I think, though, that this genre of game is still undergoing some growing pains. Without the endless random battles of an RPG to fill in the spaces between plot points, the adventure writers are stuck trying to make puzzles that are hard but not quite frustrating to solve. It’s quite a difficult task. Hopefully if they try making some more Christie (or other writer based) games, they’ll have improved some of the weak points from this one.

I’d recommend this game if you’re a serious Christie fan, but otherwise, you may be just as happy with one of the Nancy Drew mysteries that cost half as much.

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