Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun
Review by MTLH
"Tedious backtracking kills an otherwise atmospheric game."
Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun is a point and click adventure based on the mystery novel of the same name, starring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Having been originally released for the PC it was later ported to the Nintendo Wii. I can't say I am an expert on the writer, character or even the genre. While I have never read any of Christie's books, I am quite familiar with the various adaptations for film and television. Being of the opinion that detective stories would be an excellent fit for this videogame genre and that the Wii with it's controls is perfectly suited for the genre, I decided to give Evil Under the Sun a go.
The visuals aren't the game's strongest point. It is clear most effort went into Poirot as he is by far the best detailed and animated character in Evil Under the Sun. The others don't look nearly as good, all suffering from stiff and stuttering movements. This becomes more pronounced during the cutscenes where everyone moves in a exaggeratedly slow and considered way.
The environments don't look too bad and some are even quite pretty. Especially the detailing is rather good. There is unfortunately a distinct lack of polish. The colours tend to be washed-out while the visuals in general are a bit blurry. There are also a few discrepancies. For example, there is one act situated at night, complete with the perquisite star filled sky. Strangely enough everything else is just as illuminated as during the day. Stranger still, in some screens the sky hasn't even changed altogether.
Despite these issues, the visuals do have a certain charm though. After a while the faults do get less noticeable and it becomes possible to overlook them. If there is one thing the graphics get right, it's recreating the mood from the various film and television adaptations.
The soundtrack is well done, suiting the game perfectly. A good part of the game is played in relative silence however, only disturbed by the sound of Poirot's footsteps. The sound effects aren't particularly refined but do add a lot to the atmosphere. Voice acting is quite good. Poirot and Hastings aren't voiced by their usual actors from the television series but their replacements perform admirably. The other characters are voiced more than adequately even if there is an occasional odd delivery here and there.
Evil Under the Sun isn't an exact retelling of the original story. The premise is instead that during the Second World War, celebrated Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and his faithful friend, and occasional assistant, Hastings find themselves in the formers office during a German air raid. To stave off boredom, Poirot decides to tell Hastings about a case he solved during a vacation involving a murdered actress, drug smuggling and fifth columnists.
What makes Poirot the brilliant detective that he is, is that he knows exactly what he is doing. Hercule can solve a mystery with observation, deduction and elimination, steadily working towards whoever is responsible for the crime at hand. That is where a game adaptation can potentially stumble. Even though the point and click adventure genre may seem perfect for his kind of stories, Poirot as a character may not fit so well. Such games do involve a lot of second guessing and experimentation while Poirot doesn't normally bumble clueless around in the dark. Having him do so can potentially spoil the whole experience.
Evil Under the Sun circumvents this problem by making someone else the protagonist. While Poirot is telling the story, it's Hastings who must solve the crime based on the information his friend conveys to him. So when you see Poirot wandering around cluelessly, it's actually Hastings. This set-up manages to circumvent some of the disbelief that could have potentially popped up. Because Poirot essentially only tells Hastings the important facts, circumstances and details, this also explains why every collectible object and character is important in some way.
This set-up leads to some enjoyable bantering between the two friends but also causes some problems with the plot. You see, Poirot has already solved the murder and is just providing Hastings with the information he needs to solve it too. However, he also has Poirot doing things that the Belgian detective admits to he both can't and wouldn't do. At one point for example, Hastings has Poirot repairing a car although he knows next to nothing about them so couldn't have done so back then. On the other hand, Hercule regularly comments that certain details have been left out because they are not important. So why mention the car at all? There is a discrepancy there that eventually becomes a little jarring. Another issue that can frustrate the player is that Poirot naturally knows certain things that the player doesn't but at the same time doesn't convey them to him or her. This leads at times to Poirot choosing a course of action that comes seemingly out of the blue. Especially the conversations suffer from this with several dialogue options making little sense due to the lack of context.
As a point and click adventure, Evil Under the Sun is a rather standard one. Poirot must converse with other characters, pick up everything he can and explore his surroundings. With the information collected Poirot can then solve the various conundrums he is confronted with. If there is one thing where the game more or less deviates from the norm, it's that Evil Under the Sun emphasises the actual information gathering above the puzzle solving.
Those puzzles are in general quite simple. In most cases, the problem and the objects needed to solve it are located near each other with the answer being blindingly obvious. Even so, there are a few instances where the solution appears to be too random or where it isn't exactly clear what the game wants you to do. There are a few times where Poirot caries around several items suitable to the task at hand but where only one is apparently the correct one.
The game is divided into eight acts. To progress from one to the other, each act requires Poirot to perform certain tasks. Some of these are explicitly written down in his notebook while others are decidedly less clear. In essence, the game uses a checklist containing tasks, that are either known or unknown to the player, which must be performed before the plot can move on to the next act. Problem is, it is perfectly possible to be deceived into thinking you have done everything the game wants you to do, only to discover that the act doesn't end. It could be that you have missed an item or forgot to eavesdrop at a particular door or that you have overlooked a character suddenly appearing somewhere else completely unrelated. Evil Under the Sun is one of those point and click adventures that has the player scouring the environment after every new discovery on the off chance it has triggered something elsewhere. Not helping matter is that each act only become important further down the line in another act. This just adds more points to the invisible checklist that you couldn't have reasonably known where there. To be fair, towards the end the game tightens up it's structure, thereby eliminating this issue.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Wii's controls are perfect for a point and click adventure. Using a Wiimote isn't terribly dissimilar as using a mouse so there shouldn't be any problems. Indeed, the whole experience feels just like it would have had on a PC. Unfortunately the developers did feel the need to incorporate some motion controls. At certain points the game asks the player to wave the Wiimote around when using an item, for example twisting it around as a screwdriver or making shovelling motions when digging. It works but adds little to the experience. There is one moment where the motion control does interfere and that is when Poirot is asked to plat a game of darts. Again, using the Wiimote as a kind of dart works well enough but the simulation certainly isn't perfect. The corresponding puzzle is actually quite simple but this ordeal makes it tougher than it should be.
Evil Under the Sun isn't a particularly challenging game. As long as you have found the correct items, the puzzles are fairly straightforward and simple to solve. The game does have a tendency to send Poirot from one end of the island to the other, either deliberately or because a clue or item has been overlooked. All this backtracking adds to Evil Under the Sun's longevity but not in a good way. There is a hint system in the guise of the Finger of Suspicion, a contraption that tells which course of action to follow with what suspect. A neat aspect of this device is that it forms a little mystery itself, with Poirot dispensing a clue as to it's nature in each act.
Mood and atmosphere is what Evil Under the Sun does best. Despite the mediocre visuals the game also manages to create a good sense of place. Before long, you will be as familiar with the hotel, the island it is situated on and the neighbouring village as with the back of your own hand. The way the developers avoided making Poirot look incompetent is certainly commendable. The whole mystery vibe has also been realised well, even if it is a bit artificial. Yes, you can examine the evidence and make a few decisions here and there but you are mostly just following the plot. Still, that isn't really a problem. When a game like Evil Under the Sun even ends with the traditional unveiling of the murderer you know something is right.
Unfortunately there are also more than enough things wrong with this game. The puzzles are generally too simple, there is too much backtracking and the whole checklist structure just becomes tedious. These factors make Evil Under the Sun quite annoying to play. There are also a few issues with the plot. The discrepancy between what Hastings has Poirot do and the control the Belgian detective has over the story can become jarring. There are furthermore a few instances where Poirot as a narrator fails to convey what he knows to the player, making some actions and conversations seem out of place.
All this leaves us with a point and click adventure that has a few good ideas and a great atmosphere while failing to avoid some of the genre's traditional shortcomings. The player is too often confronted with the question as to what the developers want him to do. There are enough redeeming qualities here to warrant a playthrough for those inclined but there are certainly more worthier titles to try. At least Evil Under the Sun proves that the genre works great on the Wii. Pity it isn't a better game.
OVERALL: a 5,0.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 12/03/12
Game Release: Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun (EU, 12/05/08)
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