Reviews: Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile
Assume the role of Hercule Poirot as you investigate a thrilling murder mystery aboard a luxurious Nile riverboat
Developer: Flood Light Games
Publisher: Oberon/Big Fish Games Joint Venture
Genre: Casual Mystery Adventure/HOG
Release Date: May 2007
Note: Originally published 23 May 2007
If there is a busier woman in this industry than Jane Jensen – well, fact is there isn’t. Not only is she an accomplished author having penned four novels, and the co-founder of Oberon, one of the internet’s largest casual game sites where she developed Inspector Parker and BeTrapped! – both enormous best-sellers – she is also currently working on Gray Matter, her first new adventure title in almost seven years, and also has some currently unannounced projects on the table. Oh yeah, there was also this little thing she did called Gabriel Knight. I would love to bottle just a smidgen of her energy!
So who better then to take it upon herself to translate the world’s best-selling female novelist to game format than Jane Jensen! As the Creative Director and Game Designer she was, according to Brand Director Tony Leamer, deeply involved in the translation of the novel to the game format, and worked (along with Game Producer Robert Adams) on virtually every aspect of the gameplay to ensure that it remained faithful to the original story and the Agatha Christie brand.
But wait a minute here! Doesn’t Dreamcatcher/The Adventure Company have the license to publish games based on the Agatha Christie oeuvre? I put this question to Oberon Brand Director Tony Leamer who responded, “Whereas Dreamcatcher is creating full blown CD-ROM Adventure titles around the Agatha Christie novels, Oberon has the rights to create Casual Games based on these great stories. Differences include file size (Oberon’s games will be of a file size conducive to downloading, Dreamcatcher’s games are not), gameplay style (Dreamcatcher’s games are traditional adventure titles, where the Oberon games will rely on Seek and Find and other successful 'casual games' mechanics) and distribution channels (retail vs. online, etc…). We are committed to development and are currently in preproduction on at least two new titles, one in the Hercule Poirot series and a Miss Marple title.” So it looks as though adventure gamers are about to blessed with a plethora of Agatha Christie games.
Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile is truly the next generation of casual gaming. It bridges the gap between casual and full-length adventure game by successfully incorporating and uniting traditional casual game elements - such as ‘Find the Hidden Objects in the Picture’ – with adventure game standards - such as suspect interrogation and the collection of clues.
First, some quick background info on the book itself (please get out your pens and notebooks). Death on the Nile, published in late 1936, is the first in a trilogy that featured supersleuth Hercule Poirot travelling abroad. After leaving Egypt, he arrives at a dig in Mespotamia, the setting of Murder in Mesopotamia (early 1936) and from there steams home on the Orient Express, the setting for Murder on the Orient Express (1934). The books were – as is evident from the dates above - published in reverse order. In 1978, a star-studded film version was popular with movie-goers and most recently, in 2004, David Suchet starred in the British television film version.
In Death on the Nile, Poirot meets the rich, beautiful Linnet Doyle and her new husband, Simon. As usual, all is not as it seems between the newlyweds, and when Linnet is found murdered, Poirot must sort through a boatload of suspects to find the killer before he (or she) strikes again.
I’ll not insult your intelligence by claiming that the game even approaches the complexity or emotional fury of the novel – no computer game ever has - but the loyalty shown to the source material is truly commendable. Besides Poirot and the murder victim, there are also 14 suspects from the novel to question. Characters are appropriately attired for the game’s '30s-era setting and the twenty-four rooms aboard the ship are all jam-packed with items proper to the period - no MP3s, cell phones or Nintendo Wiis to be found here!
The appropriate atmosphere is immediately established with a short, flickering black-and-white movie of the supposed murder. This and other in-game cinematics are a wonderful addition as they serve notice that Death on the Nile is to be much more than your ‘normal’ casual game. The music, by Dimitri Kuzmenkov of Strategic Music, evokes memories of numerous Egyptian movies we’ve all enjoyed. Special attention has even been paid to the Game Credits which are not your usual list of names scrolling down the screen.
Once the murder has been formally announced, the casual game proper begins as Poirot undertakes to search rooms for clues and evidence. Unlike other ‘Search & Find’ casual games, some of the objects that you will find are necessary to progress the storyline (and occasionally, you will also find something totally unexpected!). So while there may be approximately twenty items you need to find in a room to continue, one or two of those items might be important.
It is also important to note that the Game Menu, besides allowing you to click on the Options, Help and Return to Main Menu, also has a button for the Ship Map. This comes in very handy when you are in the middle of an investigation/search and have been unable to find all of the objects in the room and your eyes are beginning to blur. By clicking on Ship Map, you can then leave the room you are having problems with and begin to search one of the other rooms. And if you think you are going to cheat by quitting the game before you’ve completed a board – not that I tried this mind you, I’m just saying – well, forget it for even if you quit in the middle of board, when you restart you will be were you left off and not back at the beginning of the level. And if you try to play through the boards and let the timer expire so that you can then complete the boards quicker on your second go-round, well, that won’t work either, as even though you still have to search the same rooms, the objects you have to search for have changed – not that I tried this either mind you, I’m just saying.
Once a search is completed – overall there are twelve levels of progressive difficulty, each with three or four rooms to search – you are then presented with a mini-game directly related to the mystery such as reassembling the torn pieces of a photograph or letter you found, or matching alibis to suspects. Completing these mini-games is not necessary to continue, but it is recommended. You then can either visit the Clue Room or Salon to interrogate suspects.
In the Clue Room you can review all of the items you’ve so far found in the game. Clicking on the items and Poirot will offer a comment pertinent to the case. You can also click on Poirot’s notebook to verify which room an item was found in so that you can then match alibis to suspects, etc.
In the Salon, suspects can be clicked on and then – after you're provided with the character’s background info – interrogated from a list of questions. Questioning the suspects is optional, but again recommended as it adds depth and insight to the game.
Finally - after all our hard work - it is time for the denouement where you must identity the killer by matching suspects or items with quotes about who did what with what to whom. Which is why it was a good idea to question the suspects and play all of those optional mini-games!
I think I’ve presented a case that Death on the Nile is much more than a normal casual game, but still far less than a full-blown adventure game as it utilizes puzzles to further the storyline rather than just advance you to more difficult puzzles. Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile is highly recommended. It's a faithful adaptation of a Christie novel, with top-notch production and replay value.
So this case is solved and I’m ready for more. Bring it on Jane, bring it on!
Final Grade: A