Agatha Christie was a mystery-writing machine. Over the course of a career that stretched some 50 years, she pretty much created the modern whodunit genre through over 80 detective novels and the creation of two famous sleuths in Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. So you expect good things from Evil Under the Sun, the third in a growing series of adventure-game adaptations of the author's best works. Unfortunately, we're once more left somewhat disappointed by developer AWE Games. The strong story and atmosphere lifted from one of Christie's best books fail to compensate for a ponderous pace and the many clichés aped from adventure gaming's past.
Nevertheless, fans of Christie's works can't help but get a little thrill from simply being able to guide Belgian detective Poirot through one of his most famous capers. Well, sort of. The plot only vaguely follows the events of the 1941 novel about the murder of a skanky actress at an English resort on Seadrift Island. AWE takes the same sort of liberties here as it did with its previous adaptations of Christie's And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express. All of the characters from the book seem to be in their proper places, but a new ending has been tacked on to keep bookworms guessing. Purists will undoubtedly howl at this sacrilege, although it's hard to see how AWE could do anything else but alter the conclusion of a famous 66-year-old book. A straight rehash of the original would have just bored the core audience to tears. At any rate, this revamped take actually doesn't do any serious damage to the tale.
Yet that's not to say that the game makes a lot of sense. On the contrary, it comes complete with the pick-up-everything nonsense that troubles most point-and-click adventures. Given that AWE exercised a bit of imagination when it came to playing with the ending, the company could certainly have used yet more creativity when it came to rigging up adventure-game puzzles around the Evil Under the Sun plot points. Everything here is deeply derivative, which is to say that you collect all sorts of apparently useless junk wherever you go and then later throw it together to solve bizarre, impenetrable mysteries.
Poirot isn't so much a detective quizzing suspects as he is a kleptomaniacal MacGyver with a fruity moustache. He swipes rope and ladder posts from a beach to craft a bird blind needed to win the sympathies of a little girl. He steals a spatula from a chemist for the pure hell of it, somehow knowing that it will come in handy to clean mud off a cave wall at a later date. He robs a fellow hotel guest of his mineral oil for kicks, later realizing that it would be the perfect chemical to use to clean oil off a sea bird. At one point, you can actually stroll down the balconies that run alongside the second floor of your hotel and enter most guests' rooms at will, at which point you can rifle through their possessions to your heart's content. Maybe Miss Marple should hunt down Poirot for petty larceny in the next Christie mystery game.
At least all of the goofiness is logical when viewed from that peculiar adventure-game perspective, where it's assumed that you know to pocket things such as stray sandwiches in case you need to distract a dog later on. Or that you should grab big boulders on the off chance that a kid wants you to make a bird-watching blind for her. Or that you might find it helpful to sneak into hotel rooms to steal typing paper and cut the strap off a suitcase--that sort of thing. If you've played any adventure, you've been down this road before.
There are no set-piece logic puzzles here and only a little bit of detective-style sleuthing. The latter generally amounts to visiting locales again and again to ask nosey questions of everyone that you encounter. You typically revisit every location during each act of the game, and if any characters have moved, you'll recognize this as the universal adventure-game signal that they now have something new to say. Far too much time is spent wandering around the hotel and the beach, and enduring one slow-fade transition screen after another as you patrol the game's environs like a cop on a beat. It doesn't feel much like you're a detective trying to solve a mystery; instead, you come across as the stereotypically single guy on vacation, the loser desperately trying to stave off loneliness by chatting up anyone unfortunate enough to sit down beside him.
At least the atmosphere of the game is just about perfectly realized. All of the memorable characters from the novel are brought to life here with excellent visuals and voice acting, most notably Poirot himself, as well as femme fatale Arlena Marshall. The interactions between Poirot and his assistant Captain Hastings are nothing short of brilliantly written, with lots of little jokes and asides that develop the Belgian detective's fussy personality almost as well as Christie did in her novels. However, humor is played up so much that Poirot veers dangerously close to Inspector Clouseau territory at times. Graphics are nicely handled in that they give a great art deco vibe to the hotel and a rustic charm to the island environs where you do your junk collecting--er, detective work. All of the cutscenes are rather blurry, though, and the character art is all over the place. Some of the cast here have detailed, distinguished features, whereas others have those mushy video game faces that make them appear to have some sort of birth defect.
More of a souvenir of a classic novel than any sort of worthy companion piece, Evil Under the Sun doesn't seem like it'll please anyone but adventure game traditionalists unattached to Christie's original fiction. If you like the idea of an alternate take on the original book, there's some content of interest here...as long as you can stomach the utter lack of innovation and tortuous tempo.