Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: AWE Games
Release Date: October 16, 2007
Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be a private detective when I grew up. I read Dashiell Hammet novels and watched "Magnum P.I." so many times that I got the fantasy version of a private investigator sadly confused with the real deal. Real PIs spend almost all of their time following scorned lovers or investigating insurance fraud. There are really no instances of slick deductions or seeing through a too-perfect alibi to find the real killer. Fortunately, fans of mystery stories have games like Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun to fulfill that childhood fantasy. We can actually become detectives without ever leaving the house.
Evil Under the Sun puts you in the shoes of the famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. While vacationing on Seadrift Island, Poirot begins to notice that some of his fellow guests are acting a bit hostile toward one another, and quite a few of them are even connected in more ways than one. All of the stories appear to revolve around the actress, Arlena Stuart, a woman of immeasurable beauty, who gains the eye of any passing man, much to the dismay of wives around the world.
When the lovely Ms. Stuart winds up dead, it's up to Poirot to solve the mystery and bring the killer to justice. Along the way, he's presented with a number of other mysteries, all of which seem to be connected to the murder and all of which must be cleared up if he is to solve the case.
Evil Under the Sun is a third-person, point-and-click adventure game, and it does its job well. As you navigate through the story, you are required to find items, search hotel rooms and interview all of the residents, in hopes of discovering the truth. The game is split into eight acts, which are, in themselves, pretty non-linear. Each act has a set of requirements to complete, but you can do those requirements in any order. For example, one of the first puzzles has you building a blind so that one of the residents can study birds up close. You can choose to go through all of the areas and find the items needed for the blind and build it at the beginning, or you can go through the entire act, possibly ending up with all of the necessary items after everything else has been completed.
It's a great way to handle an adventure game, but it can also be a bit of a curse. Since there's no specific order to do anything, you can find yourself lost at the beginning of an act, wandering around the island looking for anything that can trigger the next part of the mystery. It can also lead to a bit of out-of-the-blue item gathering, as you often collect items with no knowledge of how they're going to be used.
Since this is a detective game based on the Agatha Christie license, you'd expect the mystery to be top-notch, and you won't be disappointed. All of the suspects have strong motives, but they also have alibis. In your investigation, you must rely on your powers of observation and deduction in order to come to the correct conclusions.
However, if observation and deduction are not your strong suit, fear not. Evil Under the Sun provides an interesting but helpful hint system called the "Finger of Suspicion." You place the name of a suspect in the middle, and the contraption will tell you the course of action you should take regarding that suspect. The hint system does a great job of steering you in the right direction without giving away too much of the mystery. The Finger of Suspicion also provides a little mini-mystery throughout the whole game, as Poirot will give clues about the device's secret to Arthur Hastings, his partner and best friend, at the end of each act. At the end of the game, you use the clues to deduce how the machine actually works.
Little mysteries like this are really the strength of the game. Any mystery writer will tell you that the sign of a good story is not in the main mystery, but in all of the little mysteries that surround it. Almost every person on Seadrift Island has a secret that you need to figure out, and doing so enhances the main mystery, as new motives may be discovered or red herrings may be eliminated.
The presentation of Evil Under the Sun is gorgeous. The interior graphics have a lovely 1930s art-deco feel to them, and the exterior environments are lush and colorful. There are certainly some rough patches, primarily with some of the characters who are not really detailed, but overall, it's a beautiful-looking game.
The sound is even better. All of the dialogue is delivered professionally by all of the actors involved, and the voice-acting is certainly the best that I've heard in an adventure game in a long time. The background noise is also excellent, as it really draws you in and makes you feel like you're actually visiting a coastal island. Not all of the sound is good, however, as there are only a few songs in the game, and they will get old pretty fast. Poirot's footsteps are also an odd grating sound, which gets really annoying, since you spend a lot of the game walking around.
At about 10-15 hours, the gameplay length is solid, but as with most adventure games, once you complete it, you won't find much else to do. If you know the solutions to all of the puzzles, you can probably work through the game in about four or five hours, but it's not that much fun because you know who did it and how.
Now, despite some of the praise I've heaped on Evil Under the Sun, it does fall into some pretty nasty adventure game traps. Walking around the island is extremely tedious, as Poirot is a pretty slow mover. Unfortunately, you'll be required to visit each area in the game at least once per act, sometimes twice, making for some very long waiting. Double-clicking will skip Poirot's walking animation, but he still has to travel across the island by shuffling through a series of pre-rendered backdrops in order to reach his destination.
The non-linear aspect of the game is also affected by this, as you may spend a good portion of the game looking for the one final thing you need to do to complete the act. This can knock the pacing down quite a bit, as you may think you know where you need to go, spend five minutes getting there, only to figure out that the place you actually needed to go is on the other side of the island.
The game is also bogged down by endless conversations that appear pointless. Each character has a lot to say, and you can expect to listen to every word of it, no matter how useless it is. It's a shame that such wonderful voice-acting could not have been put to better use to make the dialogue less meaningless and more important to the gameplay. As it is, you can expect to spend a lot of your time listening to a suspect go on and on about some unimportant thing, only to drown him or her out (or bypass the lines with several mouse button clicks) and miss the one clue contained in the entire exchange.
Of course, any of these things mentioned are to be expected to fans of the adventure genre. We're used to exploring and listening to meaningless things, and we see it as a part of the game. Anyone new to adventure titles, however, will probably find themselves turned off by how tedious the game can sometimes be.
Despite these problems, Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun is still a solid title that adventure fans will love. It has an excellent story with some solid mysteries and a terrific presentation to top it all off. People who have never played adventure games might want to steer clear of this one. There are other, better ways to introduce yourself to the genre, and you probably won't like the slow pacing and long, tedious dialogue that plague this title until the very end.
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