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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express
(Game release date: 2006)
An easy but enjoyable point-and-click adventure based on a classic mystery story.

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Highlights: Compelling plot and characters, fun investigations Lowlights: Extremely easy, dialogues are very non-interactive

Murder on the Orient Express is the second installment in AWE Games' series of point-and-click adventure games based on the writings of mystery powerhouse Agatha Christie. Like the first game (And Then There Were None), Murder on the Orient Express is a standard-issue point-and-click adventure populated with a huge number of fascinating characters and a perplexing murder to investigate. The adaptation of the classic mystery is a successful one-- a new twist has been added to the end to keep the interest of gamers who are already familiar with the novel, and it's much in the same vein as the ending tweaks Dame Agatha herself added to her stories for theater and film adaptations. Whether or not you've read the novel before, the plot of Murder on the Orient Express is an engaging one to explore, and the high-quality voice acting enhances the experience (the producers even hired the same actor who plays Hercule Poirot in the British TV series to do the voicework for the game.)

Unfortunately, on its own merits as an adventure game, Murder on the Orient Express stumbles a little. Most of the game revolves around pixel-hunting, listening to long dialogues with suspects, and reporting your findings to Poirot. On only a few occasions do you really have any opportunity to use your "little grey cells" for yourself-- the suspects say the same thing no matter what you ask them, and Poirot will merely tell you to try again if you draw an incorrect conclusion. And though its creative and compelling plot made Murder on the Orient Express one of the best-selling novels of all time, it doesn't necessarily work quite as well in a graphic adventure game-- most of the story is entirely dedicated to talking and thinking about one event that happened near its very beginning, and the lack of continuing developments can wear on people less dogged than Poirot.

Still, this is a better-than-average entry in the graphic adventure genre, with a pleasant interface, interesting plot, and plenty of well-written and well-acted characters to interact with. I spent some enjoyable afternoons with it, and I hope you will too.

Style: Murder on the Orient Express is a puzzle adventure game with a third-person view of the environment and a point-and-click interface. The plot is a murder mystery. There are no timed sequences. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: Murder on the Orient Express is the second Agatha Christie mystery produced by Dreamcatcher Interactive-- the first was And Then There Were None. There is no connection at all between the two plots, so each stands alone perfectly well and there's no reason to play them in any particular order. You can buy both games bundled together if you'd like to play them both.

Finding Murder on the Orient Express: This game is still in print so you should have no problem finding it in your favorite software store. Here it is for sale online. You can also buy Murder on the Orient Express bundled with the previous Agatha Christie game, And Then There Were None, in this Double Murder Mystery Pack, which is a very good value.

Getting Murder on the Orient Express to Work: Murder on the Orient Express is a is a recent game and ought to be plug-and-play. I encountered no gameplay problems while running it. To the best of my knowledge it is even compatible with Vista.

Hints For Murder on the Orient Express: I do not have a walkthrough page for Murder on the Orient Express yet. If you're stuck on a specific puzzle, there is a terrific hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Pitfalls In Murder on the Orient Express: I did not encounter any bugs in this game, but I've been told the screen can sometimes gray out on you if your savegame was made at an awkward time (while an NPC is moving from one location to another, for example.) If that happens to you, just use the automap to teleport to a different car and you'll be good to go again.

Game Length: 25 hours or so, about average for a graphic adventure.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up), due to the presence of a dead body, I suppose, and descriptions of his murder. There is no on-screen violence, sexual content, or even any swearing that I can remember, and it's not even particularly frightening; since it's so easy to solve, I'd think it would be a great find for any kid mature enough to handle a plot about murder and revenge.

Lora's Murder on the Orient Express Review: (Pretty Good)

Plot and Quests: The mystery plot is excellent, with a multitude of small discoveries you can make culminating in a genuinely moving endgame sequence. It's very light on the action (as the book was) but still kept my interest throughout. With the exception of the inane tutorial sequence, there were none of the random "let's make a jar of honey and see if anyone wants it" quests that featured so prominently in And Then There Were None... all the quests Poirot asks you to do are actually germane to the investigation.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: This is a weak spot of Murder on the Orient Express, as it is with the other Agatha Christie games. There are only two actual puzzles in here, and the inventory puzzles are very run-of-the-mill-- if you've ever played adventure games before at all, you'll already have encountered nearly everything in this game before.
Characters: The NPCs are a dynamic, interesting bunch who are easily distinguished from one another soon into the game (no mean feat when you have seventeen characters to contend with!) I definitely became drawn in by their stories.
Gameworld: OK, but nothing special.The locations are not very evocative unless you have a great nostalgia for trains (to modern players, there's not much visible difference between the rooms of the fabled Orient Express and the ones at the local Marriott, except that the train cabins are smaller and don't have electronics in them.)
Gameplay: Murder on the Orient Express is a pretty dull game from a gameplay perspective-- there really isn't anything for the player to do but pixel-hunt and click the next piece of each dialogue over and over until it is finished, making it almost more of an interactive story than an adventure game. Meaningful interrogation choices, or any kind of variety in the gameplay, would have helped a lot.
Interface: The third-person point-and-click interface has been much improved between this game and the last-- the ability to skip lines of dialogue has been added, there are now movement shortcuts from most screens, and best of all, there is an innovative roll-away automap at the top of the screen that enables you to change between train cars at will. Inventory isn't bad, but the mechanisms for combining objects and comparing fingerprints are tedious.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The voice-acting was quite good in this game-- even the characters who were supposed to be annoying were not too over-the-top about it, and the many different accents used by the characters were reasonably well-done (something the Adventure Company has a decidedly spotty history of delivering.) The animation is generally decent quality, though the characters actually look worse in some of the cutscenes than they do in the regular game.

Lora's Recommendations: I would recommend Murder on the Orient Express to anyone who is not going to be bored by the extremely low difficulty level-- novice gamers, kids who are old enough for non-violent murder mysteries, and experienced adventure gamers who appreciate a compelling plot even in the absence of mental challenges.

If You Loved Murder on the Orient Express: You might also like And Then There Were None, another Agatha Christie-based mystery adventure by the same design team. The dark horror mystery The Black Mirror is also similar in style, but more gruesome and much scarier. Conversely, the Nancy Drew series of graphic adventures is somewhat more kid-oriented than the Agatha Christie games, but also features clever mysteries populated by interesting characters. A couple of other mystery-related titles you may enjoy are the surreal psychological thriller Sanitarium and the art-nouveau mystery game Last Express.

For a more detailed critique of the game involving spoilers, plot holes, and impacts Murder on the Orient Express could have on the adventure-game genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Happy gaming!

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