It’s been over five years since the legendary detective Hercule Poirot starred in the video game adaptation of The ABC Murders novel. Unfortunately, the only really positive aspect to come out of that experience was the source material holding up well in the modern era. Monsieur Poirot has now returned in Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, which is hoping to captivate its target audience with a brand new, original tale focusing on his early days. Will developers Blazing Griffin manage to pull off an enthralling and mysterious adventure that’s worthy of the character’s legacy, or will it be revealed that Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases is nothing but a poor impersonation?
Without wanting to spoil my very own big reveal, all signs point towards Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases being somewhere in between. It doesn’t really commit any crimes against gaming, while not particularly excelling in terms of gameplay ideas. There will be lots of mystery however!
The point and click style adventure begins with a young police officer, Hercule Poirot, being accosted on the street to investigate a theft at the Van den Bosch family home. What results is a swift case that guides you through the methods in which you’ll go about finding the culprit, acting as a prologue, and introducing the wealthy family at the centre of the entire experience. You see, Hercule left a lasting impression on a young Angeline Van den Bosch and so when another incident occurs some years later, he gets a call.
Somebody has been blackmailing Angeline, with numerous friends and acquaintances being potential suspects. Upon the announcement of her engagement to businessman Gedeon Demir, she takes the opportunity to invite – the now detective – Hercule Poirot to a celebratory reception at their manor to figure out who’s behind the blackmail letters. Things take a turn for the worse however, with a murder occurring and a killer hidden among the guests.
As a story, it’s a slow-burner as the characters you’ll meet are fleshed out throughout Poirot’s investigation across nine chapters, but eventually you get a grip on who they are and there are a few with interesting back-stories. Having most of the dialogue voiced certainly helps in terms of immersion, although the emotion is occasionally lacking. The handful of twists and turns ensure the narrative is an interesting one that you want to see through to the end. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems, hence you’re going to trust nobody and suspect everyone.
The actual gameplay consists of three main parts: searching for clues, conversing with the people involved, and piecing together what you know. Exploring the luxurious manor house – or at least the areas pertaining to that stage of the investigation – is done via an isometric viewpoint and various items within each area can be interacted with. It’s simple really as a little icon appears once Poriot is in the general vicinity and you won’t ever miss anything of importance. Something I did notice is that a lot of the interactions have no real point and churn out the same repeated dialogue, such as the fireplaces, windows and plants.
The deceivingly intelligent detective has a way with words and can draw out incriminating statements through a bit of light, almost overly-casual, conversation. And while the dialogue can throw out some interesting revelations, it’s just a case of asking the preset questions for the most part, which doesn’t feel rewarding in the slightest. Even the rare and minor interrogation-like segments, in which you have to choose specific responses to break down a character’s defence, are just trial and error with unlimited retries (albeit with one exception). Don’t be mistaken, it’s not terrible, just not very engaging and you feel a bit detached from the goings on.
There is one feature which requires a lot of your input however, and that’s the use of ‘mind maps’. It’s on these mind maps that important details from statements, clues from the crime scene and such will appear. The idea is to link some of them together in order to aid Poirot in making deductions, which could lead to further lines of questioning or to corroborate alibis. On paper, it’s a very appropriate concept and should put the wannabe detectives to the test. In reality, it struggles to find a balance between the glaringly obvious matches and those which simply defy logic. The cursor you use to link the nodes together isn’t well-suited to the controller either, with every venture into the mind maps feeling like a bit of a chore as a result.
At first glance, Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases does a good job at creating a huge manor to explore. The grand hallways, the dining room, the expensive artwork, the pianos, the four-poster beds and the like add to that wealthy aesthetic. Unfortunately, the longer your stay, the more you realise the rooms are all quite similar and you kind of get sick of the sight of the place. While it’s not awful visually, characters lack definition and the finer details aren’t present in the surroundings, so it could be better.
All in all, Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases may actually surprise players because the biggest worry in attempting to deliver an original story, is perhaps its strongest draw. But that’s not saying a lot when the gameplay is mediocre on the whole and makes it seem as though you’re just along for the ride for the entire adventure. You never feel smart for solving anything, with those little grey cells barely getting a workout, and with the game being bereft of mini-games means there’s not much fun to be garnered.
Considering the price of Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases at launch, the rather similar Murder Mystery Machine might offer better value for money and so I would recommend either grabbing that or waiting for a sale.
You can unravel the mystery of Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases by visiting the Xbox Store