Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: AWE Games
Release Date: November 19, 2008
Back for round two on the Nintendo Wii is The Adventure Company's series of Agatha Christie games. After the abysmal outing last year by And Then There Were None, The Adventure Company has decided to create another hasty Wii port of another PC game based on another Agatha Christie novel, "Evil Under the Sun." This time, we're treated to a slightly less dated game that's a little over a year old on the PC. That doesn't change how Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun feels extremely dated in every way, almost as if it should have been released several years ago.
This point-and-click adventure generally follows the Agatha Christie novel, with some changes here and there to make for a better game. With Evil Under the Sun, you're placed in the shoes of Christie's most famous character, Hercule Poirot. You're not technically playing as the "Belgian detective of some note," but you get mighty close. The majority of the game appears to take place on an island getaway, but it actually takes place in Poirot's office in the days leading up to the Battle of Britain in World War II. Huddled in this office on this late evening are Poirot and his good friend, Arthur Hastings, who has often complained that Poirot leaves out details when recounting cases to people, which makes them look bad when they can't figure it out. Poirot offers to spend the night "playing a game" with Hastings, where he will recount a recent case with "such levels of detail that you'll feel as though you were there." As you play the game, you'll switch between chatting with Poirot in his office and being Poirot as he solves the case. This actually manages to work quite well, allowing the developers to get away with missing things, like people populating an area or omitting areas because "they're completely irrelevant to the story," as anything extra would just be a distraction.
In addition, the banter between Hastings and Poirot is easily the best writing the game has to offer. If Hastings tries to make Poirot act in a certain way or do something that he normally wouldn't, the two exchange words and Poirot becomes quite angry with Hastings' actions. It's usually quite amusing.
As stated, your motivation in Evil Under the Sun is to solve the island murder during the course of the game. Unlike last year's Wii port of And Then There Were None, the murder doesn't even take place until about halfway through the game. This is a bit of a dramatic departure from the constant murder formula of And Then There Were None, and as a result, the plot isn't nearly as interesting. There's simply no motivation to keep going or continue wandering around the island doing what you're doing. You'll be constantly reminded by Poirot as you wander around that, "the murder will take place at Cutter's Cove," but by the sixth time you hear it, you start to wonder when he'll shut his trap. Once everything gets going, there's a reasonably interesting mystery to solve, but directions never end up particularly clear, and you'll be spending a lot of time scouring the maps and looking for some little thing you missed or a conversation topic that wasn't made available to you.
Evil Under the Sun even seems to expect you to finish the game's "acts" in certain ways. After each act, you're transported back the Poirot's office, where you and Poirot will discuss the case up to that point and he'll give you some very general guidelines for the next act. There was one instance near the end of Act 2 where I had completed every single thing I could possibly hope to do until I found a random individual who had very little to say and was of no relevance to the plot. Apparently, the game was not meant to back out of a conversation into a load time because every time I finished the chapter this, way the game crashed. I had to go back and complete the chapter a different way to actually move on.
As stated, there's a distinct lack of direction you'll feel when you're playing. While it quickly becomes clear in good ol' Agatha Christie fashion that everyone has a pretty good reason to kill the murder victim, there are almost too many characters in Evil Under the Sun to keep everyone straight. Your lengthy list of suspects is more than a little intimidating, and even when you read it, players will sometimes have issues of figuring out what each character is up to, especially when other characters start referring to each other by name. As I played, I was remembering characters by traits rather than their names simply because there were so many. There were "the ex-military pervert," "the guy with the failed theatre company," "the girl who loves watching birds," etc. Compounding the wandering issue is the fact the Poirot doesn't so much walk as he does waddle, and he moves around the game world at a snail's pace. Thankfully, as long as you've already been to an area, you can double-click the Wiimote on an area and find yourself teleporting there. While it's been established that Poirot is a genius who's completely and utterly unwilling to get his hands dirty, it really doesn't work in the context of a game; it just gets annoying.
Walking around the island, you'll be doing one of two things: solving puzzles and talking with people. The puzzles are fairly easy to figure out, but it's a simple matter of having the correct items to solve it. You'll be spending more time involved in conversation with the various guests on the island. The voice acting is pretty solid. It's nice to not have to read through walls and walls of text and not feel like you're skipping over the voice work.
Unfortunately, Evil Under the Sun's looks and audio other elements can't keep up with the voice acting. While the pre-rendered backgrounds are perfectly passable, they don't even approach some of the higher quality pre-renders that we saw from games like Resident Evil five years ago. The music is limited, uninteresting and possibly even aggravating, depending on how generous you're feeling. Faring the worst are the game's actual 3-D models of the characters. Understandably, they've been toned down from their PC counterparts, but they've been toned down to the point where they look poor by Wii standards. These are models with low levels of details and extremely muddy textures that are unacceptable by today's standards. When they move, the jerky, awkward-looking animations really take a lot out of the immersion that one could achieve with this title.
One thing for which I will gladly give credit to the developers is the controls. They fixed all of the control issues that were present in And Then There Were None, which featured several sections that required the player to use motion controls to solve a puzzle. Those controls offered no instructions and often didn't interpret player movement correctly. I ran into no problems with the motion controls segments in Evil Under the Sun, and the game is nice enough to give you a visual cue about what movement you need to be making to solve the puzzle at hand.
Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun for the Wii feels like it should have been released several years ago. There's a decent story hidden under the mess of missed conversations and seemingly irrelevant puzzles. Many of the characters come off as annoying rather than memorable, and it's difficult to care what happens to them. The final nail in this title's coffin is the complete failure to pull the player into the gameplay. There's a lengthy adventure here, but it takes far too long for anything remotely interesting to happen, and dangling the promise of, "There will be a murder" over your head really doesn't cut it, considering what it offers up until that point. While Agatha Christie fans may be able to find some enjoyment in Evil Under the Sun, they'd be better off picking up the superior, and cheaper, PC version of the title instead. Everyone else who wants to get their point-and-click adventures on should look elsewhere; this is not the great Wii adventure you've been waiting for.
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