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Review #171

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None
Publisher: Dreamcatcher
Developer: Awe Games
Genre: Adventure
System Released On: Nintendo Wii
Release Date 2/28/2008

It took a while for the review copy to arrive, but here it is. And Then There Were None is a port/slight update to the PC version of this game that came out in October of 2005. For those of you unaware, “And Then There Were None” is the best selling mystery novel of all time. It’s also the only book I can think of that has had the main centerpiece of the book edited with each generation. The original name of the novel was “Ten Little Niggers” based on a nursery rhyme. You can probably guess why the name of this was changed. The second name of the book was “Ten Little Indians,” and it was under this guise that I first read the novel as a single digit aged child. I remember being utterly flummoxed by the plot (I was 9), but the eventual resolution blew my mind. Eventually the title was changed to “And Then There Were None” and any reference to “Indian” was changed to “Soldiers” and in this video game, changed again to “Sailors.” It’s nigh impossible to find an unedited copy of the book these days, as the outright references to racism against both the Jewish and Black (I’d say African American, but this is a British novel, and black is still the preferred connotation in the isle I once called home ) communities. I do have a copy of the book in its original title with the “N-Word” for collector’s value, but it’s a dog-eared Australian copy.

Okay, I’m already rambling and it is only the first paragraph. I love Agatha Christie. I love murder mystery games, and I love the adventure genre. It was a no-brainer that we sequestered a review copy of this game. At the same time, you may remember I reviewed Murder on The Orient Express in December of 2006. This was another adventure game developed from an Agatha Christie novel . The game received a 5.0 from me, or what we now call “Mediocre.” I loved that they got David Suchet to reprise his role as Hercule Poirot, but that was the one saving grace for that game. And Then There Were None lacked that particular interconnection between Dame Christie’s writing/acting/gaming trinity, so I was pretty much of the mindset that this would be the same formula and thus merely an average gaming experience.

So was it?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Welcome to Shipwreck Island. Here you’ll find ten guests, each with their own dubious past. They have come to this island all on one boat, but through different contacts and requests, all of which are revealed to be lies. Your host is one Mr. U. N. Owen (Unknown), and he has found all ten guests guilty of murderous crimes that until now, they believed they had gotten away with. Mr. Owen promises to pick off each guests one by one until they are all dead. Which is exactly what happens in the novel. In the video game, things take quite a different turn.

With this electronic version of the tale, you play as Patrick Narracott , who joins at the 11th guest. Narracott is the man who took all ten guests to the island, only to find his boat is destroyed by one of them, thus trapping him here. As Narracott you’ll explore the island, question the guests and attempt to stop the murdering spree of Mr. Owen before the title of the game comes true.

The game wildly deviates from the novel, both in how some characters die and even who the killer is. Of course, there’s also the fact they added in Patrick Narracott to the game and changed the character who was believed by Mr. Owen to be the most evil of them all, into a love interest for Narracott. There are four different endings to the game: One where only your character lives, one where you and XXX live, one where you and YYY live, and one where all three of you live. None of the endings are very satisfying to me, and the revelation of who the killer is makes little to no sense in the context of the rest of the game. None of the endings made me particularly happy, but considering the rewrite that needed to be done to make this novel work as a game, all are acceptable.

Awe sates my annoyance for the games not sticking true to the actual novel plot by including a bonus fifth quasi-ending. Once you have beaten the game, you can start up your old save and do one last puzzle. Solve it correctly and you will be treated to a narration of the actual end of the book. This of course is the preferred ending as it is what has made And Then there Were None the most successful mystery novel of all time.

In All, Awe did a decent job here. This was the first of the three Agatha Christie video games they have made, and story wise it is indeed the worst. The changes to the plot are dreadful at times, but it still captures the feel and mood of a Christie novel. Murder on the Orient Express was far closer to the original plot, but with a horrible happy ending tacked on. Evil Under the Sun was a few steps in the right direction, but it was still an odd way of framing the tale.

What Awe should have done is made this game in a Maniac Mansion style where you would at different times, play as multiple characters and where they could still get picked off properly. This would have allowed for the multiple endings, as well as the one true ending of the book. I wasn’t a fan of how the story changes, but I’m a big fan of the book. Those who aren’t as big of sticklers or who have never read the novel, will do doubt enjoy the unfolding of the tale better than I did. Even with the adaptations made, the story is far more intricate and intelligent than most video games. Christie fans though, will no doubt be put out.

Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

This is not a pretty game. Granted, this is a port of a three year old game, but even with that under consideration, the game looks like it came out in the middle of the last decade, not this one.

Backgrounds are decent, especially outside. The night sky, craggy cliffs, and even the occasional billy goat look realistic. The problem are the character designs themselves. They are simply awful. Characters are jerky with their movement, pure polygon “goodness” and look pretty awful. Even the CGI cut scenes or “wiimote control” screens just did not hold up to the visuals one would expect in a 2008 game.

I was really disappointed here, as Dreamcatcher usually only publishes very pretty adventure games. I guess this was more about the appeal of doing an Agatha Christie based game than anything else for them.

If you can get passed the awful character designs and appearances, you’ll probably be satisfied with the look of the meandering mansion and Shipwreck Island itself. This is not a game for the graphics obsessed mind you, and if you’re looking for something to really test the Wii’s visuals, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Graphics Rating: 4/10

3. Sound

This is by far the high point of the game. The voice acting is quite enjoyable. You get a real sense for the characters and their personalities through the dialogue. There isn’t a lot of depth to the characters, but the actors certainly do their best here.

There’s not a lot of music to the game, but what’s here is well done. The opening screen theme is haunting and does a great job of setting the mood.

Finally there’s the sound effects. Everything from a goat’s baa to a crack of thunder sound realistic and help to set the mood where the graphics sometime falter.

Although the overall aural package was by no means amazing compared to what else we’ve seen on the Wii (Raving Rabbids, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, etc) Awe has put together a nice collection of actors and music to give us an old fashioned murder mystery feel.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

This was one of the most frustrating adventure games I have ever had to deal with. Not only was this the first ever game to crash my Wii (Which is insane considering how low the stats on this game are), but the newly added “Wiimote functions” were awful in every way possible.

In theory, using the wiimote to do various functions is a great idea and a nice change of pace from the point and click stereotype of the genre. In practice, these functions are rare, and when you do encounter them, so badly done that they make you want to put the game down entirely.

Here’s a great example. At one point you have to deal with a safe. You can decode the combination to the safe and then you’ll use the wiimote to turn the dial. The more you turn the wiimote to the left, the faster it will spin the dial in that direction and the same holds true for the right. Again in theory, this is an awesome way to do things. As I learned however, the actual controls just don’t hold up. Getting the dial to stop where you actually want it to a lesson in frustration and profanity. The game registers your controls poorly, and sometimes in the opposite direction of the way you are actually tilting the wiimote. At other times it just goes spastic. At one point I put the wiimote down and the dial kept spinning like a poltergeist at gotten a hold of it. Insane. Totally insane.

Other issues revolve around the fact that the game doesn’t tell you when a Wiimote function is upon you. You’re just given the same screen you would when you have a close up and you have to figure out what to do by trial and error. I tried five or six different motions to get a propeller off a broken submarine for example before I finally figured out the right one. With the apple press I thought it was fairly obvious that I would slowly lover the wiimote down a vertical line. Unfortunately this was not the case. I tried this, but it would only recognize the movement one out of every four times. To get it to work properly, I had to hold the wiimote as you would for the virtual console and then push it down that way. Again, very poorly done and without any indication of what one needs to do in the situations, it’s sure to piss off a large portion of adventure game fans.

The rest of the controls are solid…for the most part. The game is mostly point and click, but 90% of the game is just you slowly moving across the screen. Double clicking on the footsteps mark is your friend as your character will run, but you still can’t automatically move to the next screen as you would otherwise. Other than that the game is just using the wiimote as you would a mouse and solving puzzles in point and click fashion.

The wiimote function puzzles are dreadful and really bring down the quality of the game as a whole. Because of this alone, I’d suggest the PC version of the game which can be found quite easily and would have a higher overall score due to it not crashing an entire console.

Be wary with this game, as it has some big gameplay issues. Hopefully Awe will have learned from this and make the much needed improvements to the next game they port to the Wii.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 4/10

5. Replayability

Here’s another where the game excels. Most Adventure games suffer from a huge problem. They are exceptionally linear and have a single ending, meaning the games are good for a once through and that’s it. And Then There Were None completely ignores this stereotype by giving you multiple endings all based on a few select choices you make at the end of the game. I know I said I wasn’t a fan of the endings, save for the “real” one, but it is nice to have them all and each is worth collecting just to see how different they can be from each other.

Even the actual playthrough of the game is far less linear than most games in this genre. There are several optional puzzles that you can do in the game, each of which unlocks more story and character background. You don’t NEED to do these to win the game, but it is nice to see some fleshing out. As well, a lot of the games puzzles can be solved at any time, instead of a specific order. This is a refreshing change from the pack and I quite enjoyed it for what it was.

If you can deal with the abundant flaws in the game, there really is a good amount of replay to this disc.

Replayablity Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Let’s ignore control issues here, as I’ve already lambasted the game for them. The puzzles in And Then There Were None provide a nice mix of collecting items, merging items, taking items apart, and using items with other items to allow you to pass certain points. Before you roll your eyes and yawn, understand that this is standard adventure game fare. The puzzles are by no means boring, nor are they hard. They are generally pretty simple, but not always obvious. One example is where you have to pour apple cider on a thorny path to get goats to eat the thorns so you can pass. Bizarre isn’t it? Another puzzle might involve rearranging a set of drawers to make them spell out a phrase. Although most of these puzzles really don’t have anything to do with the actual plot of the game, they’re still why most adventure game fans play the genre.

If you’re good at deduction, you should have an easy time with the challenges put before. Professor Layton fans will no doubt revel in this game, while Metroid Prime 3 diehards will think it’s confusing and hard.

I don’t think I ever found the game to be too difficult. Rather the hardest part was micromanaging all the items you get in the game, and not overlooking a small out of the way thing you’ll need much later in the game in order to proceed. It’s always a bitch to backtrack when a game has you holding thirty items at once, and this is one of them. Still, there’s a good amount of challenge to the game, but not enough that it will turn newcomers to the genre off.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

Well, they did take liberties with the plot. I GUESS that can be considered a point for originality, especially as even hardcore fans of the novel are treated to a different take of the stories. It’s also the first adventure game to real apply Wiimote controls to some of their puzzles. Sadly, they just don’t work very well.

Other than that though, we have a port that performed better when it was a PC game. It also follows the usual trappings of the point n’ click formula. It’s nice to see Awe trying a few new things with the genre, and providing us with a slightly less linear adventure game and multiple endings, but in the end, there is little to nothing to truly separate this game from the pack.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Addictiveness

I enjoyed playing this game more than I did Murder On the Orient Express. The voice acting wasn’t as good, but the puzzles were more original and it offered more with the multiple endings. However, due to all the issues ranging from the wiimote function to a HORRIBLE save feature that forces you to delete your old save before saving a new one in that spot, I just quickly became bored with the game. All the walking, all the gameplay issues, the fact it froze my Wii up, and the lackluster graphics just made playing this a chore for me. It’s stupid I know, because I actively campaigned to review this game, even after playing through Murder On the Orient Express. Stupid me I guess. Still, I had more fun with it then the last Awe developed game I played. That’s something I guess.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor
There’s a distinct lack of adventure games on the Wii. There’s Zack and Wiki, Harvey Birdman, and well, that’s it. Both games are far superior to this one, but also cost more as well. If you have played both and you need a new point and click game, this would be your only other option.

The problem is Adventure gamers tend to be pretty hardcore about the genre and most that would normally have played this game have probably already been through the PC version. That leaves only the most casual gamer to possibly pick this up, and I strongly doubt they will for a system with a lineup feature Pokemon, Mario, Link, and other more vibrant characters.

Unless you’re a pretty big Agatha Christie fan, a non-PC adventure buff, or are just looking for a more mature title for the Wii, you’re probably going to pass this by.

Appeal Factor Rating: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

Much like the previous AWE/Agatha Christie title I reviewed 15 months ago, I was disappointed by what was here. It’s not that the game is bad, it’s just mediocre due to some gameplay issues. If it wasn’t for that the game would be getting a higher overall score than MotOE, but instead, poor controls and ugly graphics knock this down to being the second straight “thumbs in the middle” title from this collaboration.

On the positive side, if you preordered the game, you got a copy of the book as a bonus. This was a nice touch, although I’m pretty sure if you preordered the game, you’ve probably read the book more than once, you know? Still, I would love it if more games based on books did this, so kudos to Dreamcatcher for this.

I just can’t in good faith recommend this title for $29.99 when a better version is available for $9.99 on the PC. Average title, but your money is better spent elsewhere.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

THE SCORES
STORY: 6
GRAPHICS: 4
SOUND: 7
CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY: 4
REPLAYABILITY: 7
BALANCE: 6
ORIGINALITY: 4
ADDICTIVENESS: 4
APPEAL FACTOR: 3
MISCELLANEOUS: 5
TOTAL SCORE 50
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (MEDIOCRE)

SHORT ATTENTION SPAN SUMMARY
An okay little adventure game that suffers from wacky controls at times. If you can live with that and look past the ugly character models, you may just find an intricate little murder yarn to play with for a dozen hours or so. Still, I’d recommend the book which is only about five dollars these days over a $29.99 game that fails to do it justice. Fans of the book may have fun trying to get the multiple endings, but other than that this has a pretty niche audience.

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