They’re as good as dead.
Point-and-click adventure games haven’t had an easy decade. As time went by, gamers traded in their cursors for crosshairs and looked back at their beloved genre as just another dated relic. The spotlight went out and the curtains have closed, but that hasn’t stopped one company from putting it back on center stage.
[image1]As publishers of the new Sam & Max and Broken Sword, The Adventure Company has faithfully served the PC crowd for years. Now they’re setting their sights on the console scene with Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (hereby known as And/None). It has the intriguing plot and brain-straining puzzles we all expect from the genre, but can it match the expectations of an old-school adventurer raised on the likes of Myst and Monkey Island?
The print version of And/None is the best-selling mystery novel of all time. That should make it the hottest property for an adventure game, if not for one glaring problem – the story has already been told, retold, and turned into a classic comedy with a board game tie-in. Any way you tell it, the characters are going to die. Don’t worry. Twenty minutes in, that revelation is as surprising as finding out the Titanic is sinking. Developer AWE Games tried circumventing the problem by injecting a new character, Patrick Narracott, but he’s a man trapped in a world where he doesn’t belong.
If you haven’t read the novel, And/None is the classic tale of ten (sorry… eleven) strangers trapped on the secluded estate of Shipwreck Island. The host, U.N. Owen, is absent, but he left a record to be played for his company. One by one, the record indicts the uneasy guests for past murders. I, of course, as the-only-one-not-mentioned Narracott, was feeling pretty relaxed. Then again, perhaps Narracott had a different purpose in mind. He mumbles to himself, “Now it begins. Don’t worry, Fred. I won’t let you down.” Fred is his brother. What does that have to do with the events to unfold? Don't worry, absolutely nothing.
[image2]And/None is two stories poorly mashed into a lumpy meal without the gravy for flavor. On one side is Agatha Christie’s suspenseful masterpiece, stripped to the base ingredients of setting, murders, and hollowed-out characters. On the other side is Narracott, desperately clinging to the plot any way he can. He will wander the island, solve puzzles along the way, and talk with the guests, but he can’t make any real impact on the events until the very last scene. In fact, removing Narracott from the equation would change (don't worry) almost nothing.
The first murder comes by way of a poisoned drink, as foretold by the morbid poem 10 Little Sailor Boys. It’s a prominent poem in And/None, and if read carefully, reveals how and when each person will be murdered, not that you can prevent them in any way. Without a doubt, the resulting cut-scenes of characters bantering, blaming, and positing their theories are the highlights of And/None, even though the people look like rubber-coated sausage links. The game only scrapes the issues of class and justice presented by Agatha Christie, but the overall points manage to seep through.
Following every murder, our Sam Spade-wannabe steps in for a mandatory interrogation. There aren’t any tension meters, conversation trees, or even a dingy light bulb hung from a wire. Narracott asks each person the same “whodunit” questions to get the same hopeless responses. They could have very well been merged with the cut-scenes, but that would deprive players the wondrous joys of pressing the A-button every ten seconds. Then, it’s off to search every room in the house because, you see… you just have to. They’ll be exactly as you left them the last time, but it has to be done.
[image3]With that out of the way, Narracott scours the island for items to satisfy his MacGyver fixation. After two hours of tinkering, I found a way to collect fingerprints to reveal that (massively disappointing spoiler ahead) the first victim did indeed touch the glass that poisoned him. Astounding! I can also chalk three hours up to jury-rigging a bee smoker and processing honey so that one of the guests could have a tasty snack. He didn’t give me so much as a “Thank You” for the effort. The puzzles are actually quite clever, but they serve no purpose other than killing time between the deaths.
Even the layouts of the static, pre-rendered backgrounds seem built to pad the clock. The den consists of two couches, two chairs, and a table huddled together, and yet it somehow warrants four separate camera angles. When searching for a particular character, you have to enter all of them. If you have to run to the other end of the island (which you will, a lot... and by that I mean, constantly), five stretches of empty fields await. It’s all needlessly complex and quite disorienting. One moment you’ll be running left, and the next, to the right. That's just sloppy level design.
I’m not sure if AWE Games understands the point of adventure games. Players want to go somewhere, live through danger, and feel a sense of accomplishment for overcoming the obstacles. Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None has none of that. Most of the time, you’re just waiting for someone else to die.