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Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: AWE Productions

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As WP's managing editor, I edit review and preview articles, attempt to keep up with the frantic pace of Rainier's news posts, and keep our reviewers on deadline, which is akin to herding cats. When I have a moment to myself and don't have my nose in a book, I like to play action/RPG, adventure and platforming games.


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PC Preview - 'Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun'

by Judy on Oct. 10, 2007 @ 7:36 a.m. PDT

In Evil Under the Sun famous detective Hercule Poirot is back in typical style, turning up at just the right time to begin an investigation into the murder of a famous actress during what should have been the start of a relaxing holiday.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: AWE Games
Release Date: October 22, 2007

The previous Agatha Christie adventure title, Murder on the Orient Express, featured Hercule Poirot as a non-playable character, but gamers will now be able to step into the Belgian detective's fictional shoes in the Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun. The title starts off with Poirot boasting to Captain Arthur Hastings, his partner and best friend, about how he managed to solve the Seadrift Island murder mystery in one day. Hastings, with an air of British bravado, insists that he could solve the case too, if he were given half a chance, and Poirot obliges. The player controls Hastings, who is in turn playing as Poirot, as he traverses the island to search for clues, interview more than 20 witnesses and discover who murdered the famous actress Arlena Stuart during what should have been a relaxing holiday.

As with the preceding Agatha Christie titles, Evil Under the Sun is a mouse-driven, point-and-click adventure, so you mouse over pre-rendered backgrounds until the cursor changes over hotspots and shows you the options available to you — two feet to indicate that you can travel in that direction (double-click to run), a hand to signify that you can pick up an item, an eye to show that you can zoom in for a closer look, a door icon to illustrate that you can try to … open the door, a mouth to indicate that you can initiate a conversation with a particular character, a shadow to signify that you can follow a person from a safe distance, a cog to denote that an item can be used, or an ear, which means you can eavesdrop on conversations without making your presence known.

Rather than create games in a vacuum, the developer has listened to fan feedback and incorporated improvements along the way. The flagship Agatha Christie adventure title, And Then There Were None, suffered most grievously from having to interview all of the remaining characters after a death had occurred; this problem was heavily compounded by the user's inability to skip any dialogue with a mouse click, tap of the space bar or stroke of the Esc key. This issue was addressed in Murder on the Orient Express, so players were able to skip dialogue by clicking the left mouse button, but the title was maligned for its clunky inventory interface and repetitive gameplay. Once again, AWE Games has listened to player feedback and, in addition to revamping the inventory system, has also added in a number of improvements to the latest offering, Evil Under the Sun, such as important dialogue choices, a stopwatch feature and less backtracking through the game world.

The game interface also sports the de rigueur minimalist look, and the icons only appear when you mouse over the top of the screen. From here, you can go to the options menu (also accessible via the Esc key), change between the Poirot and Hastings characters, view your inventory (also accessible via the mouse right-click), consult your journal and activate the stopwatch feature. As a way of verifying the statements given by the guests of the Smuggler's Rest Hotel, Poirot uses the stopwatch to record the time it takes him to travel from one point to the next.

Evil Under the Sun introduces an interesting in-game hint system, the Finger of Suspicion. Essentially, each non-playable character's name has been printed onto a card, and a severed finger —which, oddly enough, is resting on a cigarette groove in an ashtray — will spin around like a wayward compass arrow and clue you in on how to proceed with him/her: assist, eavesdrop, observe, search room or talk.

Graphically, the series has made great strides since the evident difficulties with portraying long hair in And Then There Were None. The visuals in Murder on the Orient Express vacillated in quality between gorgeous and sub-par for character animations, pre-rendered backgrounds and cut scenes. Textures are more detailed and appear more realistic in Evil Under the Sun, and character facial animations, in addition to looking smoother and more natural, are much more expressive, conveying ample meaning with an averted glance or a raised eyebrow.

Due to scheduling conflicts, British actor David Suchet was unable to reprise his role in voicing Poirot, but Kevin Delaney is an admirable replacement, and the rest of the voice actors do a pleasant job. It's a good thing, too, because you'll be talking to the NPCs quite a bit. Initially, you go around the island introducing your famous self to guests, but as the game progresses, you'll find yourself carrying out various fetch quests (i.e., helping a guest find an anniversary present for his spouse) while trying to figure out the identity of the perpetrator. These journeys are excellent opportunities to utilize the stopwatch feature without making special trips. Subtitles are also available, should one prefer or need to read the dialogue instead of listening to it.

Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun introduces improved graphics, a more streamlined inventory system and some interesting new gameplay mechanics while maintaining the series' established quality of the voice acting. The developer's eagerness in gathering and incorporating player feedback has yielded substantial improvements thus far. Based on what we've seen in the preview build, adventure gamers and Agatha Christie fans — and yes, the morbid folks who want to see the Finger of Suspicion in action — should take note when the title ships later this month.

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