My rating: ★★★ stars
Christie’s mystery elevates point-and-click adventure game.
I’m a sucker for anything Agatha Christie. She is the mystery queen, and all others must bow down before her in obeisance. Thus, I am enamored of the eight video games based on her novels, particularly the three of them that are point-and-click adventure games. For those not familiar with video game terminology, point-and-click adventures are a genre of video games popular in the 1990s-early 2000s. They don’t involve combat and hand-eye coordination. Instead, they are an interactive way of telling a story. Characters are animated, and the player must make the characters perform certain actions like talking to other characters and searching the environment for objects to be used to solve puzzles that are integrated into the narrative itself.
And Then There Were None was the first of the three point-and-click adventure games to be adapted from Christie novels. It is arguably her most famous book and is the most widely adapted. Christie expert Barbara Sloan-Hendershott says it is the first Christie novel that most fans read. That was true in my case. It was the natural choice to be the first game adapted from her books.
And Then There Were None, for those unfamiliar with Christie or the novel, tells the story of a house party on an island off the Devon coast where the stranded houseguests start to be murdered one by one in the manner of a nursery rhyme. (Nursery rhymes play a role in a number of Christie books including A Pocket Full of Rye and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.) In the book, the island is called Indian Island, and the rhyme is titled “Ten Little Indians,” which is the title of some of the American editions of the book. The original American title was And Then There Were None; the original British title is incredibly offensive. (I own a British edition with this title as part of my Christie collection. After a house fire, I was mortified to imagine what the smoke decontamination people would think of me when they saw it.) By 2005, when the video game was released, even the less problematic “Ten Little Indians” had rightly come to be considered offensive, so the name of the island was changed to Shipwreck Island, and the rhyme altered to “Ten Little Sailor Boys.” The game is divided into ten chapters, each corresponding to a sailor boy in the rhyme.
In the novel, ten people arrived on the island to attend a house party, eight as guests and two as staff. The video game adds an eleventh character, Patrick Narracott, the boatman. In the game, he becomes stranded along with the guests and servants when his boat is scuttled. As an unexpected guest, he is elected to investigate as the others are killed. It is Narracott whom the player controls in the game. He searches the house and the island, questions the other guests, tries to find a way off the island, and moves the story along. Because the original novel features mostly scenes of the characters talking and questioning each other, much of the video game is dedicated to questioning the other characters. Those who come to the game for the challenge of gameplay will likely be frustrated by amount of talk, particularly because the game doesn’t have a feature that allows the player to move the dialogue along faster, as many games do.
On the whole, there is much to criticize about the gameplay. Some of the more elaborate puzzles are unnecessary to move the game along. For example, one puzzle involves gathering honey from the island’s apiary, but it’s not needed to finish the game. The result of the completion of the puzzle is merely an extra line of dialogue. Narracott discovers little hint cards when searching the island, but they are merely abstruse distractions. One necessary object, a bottle of poison antidote, is so difficult to find that even the most seasoned gamers will probably need to use an online guide to find it. It’s not anywhere where it might be expected to be. It has a reason for being where it is, but that isn’t revealed until much later.
For all the problems with gameplay, And Then There Were None is still one of my favorite games to revisit. I know the solutions to all the puzzles, but figuring out those puzzles is not the most important part of the game. That part would be experiencing the story in a different way from the typical adaptation. Christie’s plotting and characters, her strengths as a writer, are preserved in the game, and playing the game is more immersive than watching an adaptation. Purists may complain about a large alteration at the end, but this change allows players who have already read the book or seen an adaptation to be surprised. The game also includes changes that were made for Rene Clair’s 1945 film adaptation, changes that alleviate some of the nihilism of the book. There are four possible endings to the game based on how the player makes two actions. The player can experience all four endings without having to play through the whole game four times by saving the game near the end and going back to the save point to alter how they complete those actions.
The game is 14 years old now, so the graphics and technical elements are far outdated–although they’re still pretty impressive to someone who grew up with 8-bit Nintendo. The aesthetic elements of the game, however, are outstanding. The scenery is richly detailed and fun to explore. The design of the house facilitates gameplay while recreating the modern architecture as described in the book. The graphics and lighting work to create an ominous mood.
Only three Christie point-and-click adventures were produced; And Then There Were None was followed by Murder on the Orient Express (2006) and Evil Under the Sun (2007). Four other novels were adapted into hidden object video games, a cheaper, more casual genre of game. Finally, 2016 brought the release of The A.B.C. Murders, which is still classified as a point-and-click adventure game, but it involves a radically different style of gameplay that traditional point-and-click fans (like me) may find foreign and, simply, less fun. There are few inventory-based puzzles, the hallmark of point-and-click adventures; the puzzles that are included are not narrative based. Thus, I have a hard time classifying it with the other three point-and-click games.
Despite the problems of the gameplay in And Then There Were None, it remains one of my favorite games. I replay it every couple of years like rereading a favorite book. I’m still hoping for more Christie-based games even if they’re not part of my favorite game genre simply because revisiting Christie in any format is a delight, and games provide a way for the player to participate in the story.