Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
First posted on 16 July 2008. Last updated on 14 August 2009.
Awe Productions' Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None, published in 2005 by The Adventure Company, is an attempt to adapt Dame Christie's most beloved novel of the same name into a point-and-click adventure game. Although this adaptation may not have lived up to its full potential, it is still enjoyable, especially for fans of Christie. Of particular note is the excellent voice acting and dialog, but the game is mired by some counterintuitive puzzles and moments in which it is unclear what the player needs to do to advance the plot.
With the source material being among the most famous stories in the entire mystery novel genre, the developer has wisely kept most of it intact—indeed, it is where the developer departs from Christie's work that the player will find some of the game's worst moments. The story begins with a group of strangers responding to a mysterious invitation to a weekend party on a luxurious but remote island. Each of the letters is supposedly from a distant relation or old friend, with just enough detail to allay the guests' suspicions. Once they arrive, they discover they are trapped on the island—and then, one by one, they are murdered. The only clue as to the identity of the murderer (or murderers) is an old nursery rhyme that gives the game its title.
It is an interesting historical note that Christie's original novel has been "sanitized" a few times for the sake of political sensitivity since its original publication back in 1939; it was originally entitled "Ten Little Niggers", then "Ten Little Indians", and finally the rather innocuous present title. Awe Productions went a step further by actually changing the all-important nursery rhyme to "Ten Little Sailor Boys", although the included novel still uses "Ten Little Indians". It does not seem to make much difference to the story whether Indians or Sailor Boys are used in the rhyme. Awe Productions was probably right to be concerned about inadvertently offending some audiences; yet, why was the included novel (available only in the North American release) not altered as well?
With such a famous story serving as the basis of the game, Awe Productions (working in collaboration with lead designer Lee Sheldon) had to walk a thin line between staying true to the story and introducing enough changes to make the game challenging for fans of the book. After having both played the game and read the novel, I was disappointed in the developer's adaptation. First, a new character named Patrick, the brother of one of the invitees, has been introduced into the story. This is the character controlled by the player, and he is by far the dullest and most predictable of the bunch. He is also integrated rather crudely at times. The game would have been better if the player could have chosen any of the guests to play. This would have greatly enhanced the replay value and made for some very interesting dramatic situations. Second, the ending has been significantly changed. Without revealing too much and giving the ending away, suffice it to say that Christie's original ending is much more consistent with the theme and vision of the story than Awe Production's "twist" which is actually quite arbitrary. Thankfully, the developer has included the original ending in text form (narrated by one of the characters) as a treat for solving a bonus puzzle. This poses an interesting dilemma for the game developer: does it make a better game to stick with the original ending even though it may be known to the gamer, or alter it and risk damaging the integrity of the work? I vote for the first of these options. After all, knowing how a story will end is not always detrimental—the popular movies based on Christie's work seem to attest to this.
The production value of the game is high throughout, with great graphics, nice music, and excellent voice acting. Indeed, anyone who really loves this game will do so because of the superb handling of the script by the voice talent. The characters have convincing dialog, and the 3D animation system handles their facial gestures and lip-syncing fairly well. The only glitch with the graphics is the rather revealing dress worn by Vera Claythorne, which looks odd when viewed from the side. The music is Spartan but appropriate, consisting mostly of a haunting little piano ditty. The characters are a bit stiff when they are not interacting. As a gamer, I prefer that characters remain still rather than randomly move about, which can make finding them rather tedious.
The weakest aspect of this game is most certainly the puzzles, which are mostly of the find-object-use-object variety. Some of these are so obtuse that it is hard not to wonder if the game were properly play-tested. The worst offenders are a couple of puzzles involving goats and a rather poorly designed apiary puzzle. The concepts behind these puzzles are not terrible, but there are not enough hints to guide the player along to the rigidly linear solutions. The bigger problem is the series of "automatic" events that take place whenever the player performs the right sequence of actions. Frequently, the player must wander all over the house to trip whatever trigger that is needed to advance to the next segment. Most of the game consists of interviewing the other guests and searching for clues, and the gameplay is most fun is when it limited to this type of interaction. It is only when Patrick must solve puzzles that the gameplay loses traction.
In short, my complaints about this game are the same as those commonly found in other point-and-click adventures. I do not mind playing a linear adventure game as long as the developer takes pains to ensure that I can figure out what to do next. I spent the better part of this game wandering all over the mansion and surrounding area with no clue about how to proceed.The game misses a great opportunity by not creating more suspense around the player's character; the attempt to murder him is so lame and unimaginative that it most certainly has Christie rolling in her grave. The game boasts of "multiple" endings, but this seems exaggerated. The differences among the endings are hardly worth taking the trouble to view them. In short, Awe Productions has tried to walk a middle road between staying true to the novel and being bold with the storyline, but it is doubtful that this unimaginative adaptation will please most gamers.