Murder mysteries are the done thing right now, with the Kenneth Branagh starring film of the same name, and Death on the Nile, the sequel that came out last year, not to mention Knives Out and its sequel Glass Onion being two of the most popular films in recent years. Of course, it wouldn’t take long for a developer to capitalize on the wave of interest in ‘whodunnits’, and thankfully Microids have chosen the most famous example to adapt, but is it good?
Murder on the Orient Express is not What you Remember
I was lucky enough to go hands-on with Murder on the Orient Express at Gamescom this year, as well as receiving an early copy of the game for review purposes. One thing that was drummed into me during the hands-on was that fans of the original book and films will be able to enjoy this adaptation just like everyone else, as it has taken some creative license, both in the addition of an entirely new character, Joanne, a US-born detective on her own mission, and also the ending, with it being significantly different to that of the original story.
This may offend some purists, but changing the ending especially is a fantastic move, as it meant that instead of playing the game knowing the outcome the entire time, it forced me to pay attention to the answers I was given, the clues I found, or the situations before me. Essentially, it ensured I didn’t phone it in.
If you’re unaware, the premise of Murder on the Orient Express is simple. You play as the famous detective Hercule Poirot, and as you travel from Istanbul to Paris, there is a murder on board. Thanks to some convenient story beats, the train ends up stuck in place and you, the sarcastic and occasionally pompous detective are the only one capable of solving the mystery and ensuring everyone else’s safety.
What follows is an investigation that’ll take you to some surprising places, from bunkers to toilets, and more besides. The majority of the time you’re playing you’ll be stuck on the train, going up and down the carriages to talk to various people or investigate different crime scenes. Pretty quickly you’ll get to know everyone’s name, who they are, and even whether they smoke or not.
However, with the creation of the US Detective Joanna Locke, you’ll spend some time away from the train, investigating a seemingly innocuous and unrelated case, before quickly realizing the case on the train and the one in Middle America are related in some incredibly significant ways.
Unfortunately, this is one part of the game that falls very flat, with the inclusion of Joanna’s tale doing little other than break immersion and slowing the progress and pacing of the tale to a crawl. Her case in question isn’t particularly gripping, and the characters involved are all unlikeable, regardless of the situation they’re in, I found myself hoping every conversation was the last just so I could return to Poirot and the real investigation, the dead body in a room and no idea who it was and how it happened.
Artistic Choices and Time Jumps
As already mentioned the game takes the brave choice of creating a new ending and introducing a new character. Some of this works, some of it doesn’t. However, the choice to bring the tale into the 21st Century, and set it in December 2023 is a unique idea. For the most part, you wouldn’t notice the time jump from the original setting to now, with the way the characters are dressed, and the environments themselves out of place for the modern day.
However, when jumping over to Joanna Locke’s story, you’re then thrust into modern day, with mobile phones, modern cars and more being prevalent throughout, so perhaps it was this need to deviate and differentiate from the other adaptations with the inclusion of Locke that forced the hands of the developers.
The graphical side of things will seem very familiar to anyone who has played the Dishonored games, and as I was told at Gamescom, this is due to the Lead Character Designer on Murder of the Orient Express being Cedric Peyravernay, one of the driving forces in Dishonored’s production. The influence is clear, and just like with Dishonored, it fits the narrative and the world itself for the characters to almost be caricatures. That said, the lip-syncing on the game is some of the worst I’ve seen, which with a game where you do very little other than talk, it can be quite jarring.
Hercule Poirot is the Real Star, Obviously
It’s important for those interested in the game to realize that Murder on the Orient Express is not the sort of game you’ll be getting constant dopamine hits from. It’s not Call of Duty or EA Sports FC 24. It is a slow burn intended for those who like to take the time to break down lies and mysteries until you’re left with nothing else other than the truth.
The majority of the gameplay is interrogating the passengers of the train as to their whereabouts, their alibis, smoker status, and much more. You’ll have to pay attention to even the most innocuous of details as you investigate, and after a few hours, you’ll find yourself realizing someone has lied thanks to a contradicting statement they made to Poirot previously.
Don’t worry though, you won’t be expected to remember all the clues yourself, with both the clues found and the tasks at hand displayed in an easy-to-interpret and navigate ‘mind map’. This will become your best friend during your playthrough, as it can be used to piece together your investigation and uncover the identity of the culprit.
During your time meeting the various passengers on board, you’ll regularly be tasked with undertaking a ‘Character Analysis’, which sounds convoluted, but in fact, is far too simple in practice. You’ll be given three categories and multiple answers to choose from, and getting the right answers for each will supposedly inform Poirot in his investigations.
Ultimately, it does little for the game or his investigation, with each of the Character Analysis sections being poor minigames based on nationality, occupation, and age, all three of which are evident with every single character. On the other hand, the scenarios where you piece together how an event unfolded are genuinely good fun, as you can see the fruits of the investigation unfold before your eyes.
Some of the mini-games are both odd and hilarious in equal measure. During the investigation you’ll end up making a hangover cure for a chef who drank too much the night before, moving four boxes for a dessert chef who for some reason can’t do it herself, and actually relevant to the investigation, figuring out murder weapons and which wounds they were responsible for, as you measure the knife and compare it to the open, gaping wounds on the body.
The investigation has a lot of twists and turns, and thanks to the different ending, and the inclusion of Joanna Locke’s ‘sidequest’, even the most die-hard Murder on the Orient Fans will be hooked throughout. There are some misgivings, the early parts of Locke’s case, the mixed bag of minigames, and the lip-syncing, but the overall package of the game is intriguing, surprising, and fun, with equal measures of relaxing and interesting thrown in.
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express was played on PlayStation 5 on a code supplied by Honest PR.