The first licensed game based on author Agatha Christie's works is an interactive version of the novel And Then There Were None, originally published as Ten Little Indians. Players are cast in the role of new character Patrick Narracott, a ferryman, who finds himself trapped on an island estate with ten invited guests, all of whom are strangers. Each visitor has been accused of murder by the estate's enigmatic host, and it is up to players to piece together the mystery of what is happening around them. As with most titles in the genre, the game is composed of pre-rendered 3D environments filled with icon-based "hotspots" that allow players to walk into another room, examine items, speak with suspects, and so forth -- all by clicking a mouse button. To keep things fresh, the developers have incorporated new twists to the original plot, offering multiple endings that branch away from the best-selling book's conclusion.
"One choked his little self, and then there were nine." Most of us have read or are familiar with the great Agatha Christie novel, Ten Little Indians, a.k.a. And Then There Were None. Ten individuals are invited to a weekend "party." This event is held in a large mansion on a deserted island, with a storm raging, a scuttled boat, and no communication with the outside world. Further, the host only appears by way of a most unpleasant and accusatory gramophone recording. He is appropriately named U.N. Owen.
"Nine little sailor boys stayed up very late. One overslept himself and then there were eight." As this gruesome "nursery" rhyme, posted over the fireplace mantle, suggests, our guests begin to die, one by one, presumably at the hand of their host, for crimes real or imagined. Since Mr. Owen cannot be located in the house or on the island, suspicion falls on the guests themselves. And then, as Holmes would say, "The game is afoot." (Or, as Gil Grisom would say, when discovering a dismembered corpse in the first CSI - "The game is a foot. Sorry, I just had to slip that in.)
ATTWN, the game, not only builds beautifully upon the Christie premise, but also takes some twists and turns of its own, including presenting a different killer than did the book. Using famed writer and game creator Lee Sheldon, the development team went to considerable trouble to both honor Christie's work and make an interactive game that would bring a fresh approach to this delightful murder mystery. Generally, they have succeeded quite nicely.
In this third-person, point-and-click adventure, you play as Patrick Narracott, the boatman who ferries the guests to Shipwreck Island. But even you are not necessarily who you appear to be. Even you have depths and hidden motives. Of course, you couldn't be the killer, could you? And, of course, you'll be sure to survive at the end, won't you? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Nothing is guaranteed at this Shipwreck Island party!
Adventure game players will feel very comfortable with the "live" cursor. The large arrow not only shows footstep directions Patrick can use, but also clearly depicts a whole range of interactive options - taking an object, speaking to a character, opening a door, and even the unusual peeking through a keyhole and eavesdropping on conversations!
Our Patrick must have some kind of huge and invisible backpack! You are able to accumulate an amazing number of objects in your inventory, accessible with a right mouse click or a tab at the top left corner of the screen. These range from jars, pliers and pouches to the incredible sheets, tripod and boat oars! The inventory allows for detailed examination as well as combination of objects to create a desired outcome - batteries into a flashlight, for example. This act can get a little picky if you're not careful with location of materials in the inventory.
"I don't need it; I'm no packrat," exclaims Patrick if you come across an item that looks interesting but isn't really needed in the game. Further, Patrick will sometimes comment that "There's something here I need," and "I'll need to come back to that later." This all helps your already huge inventory not become an irrelevant garbage bin. Mr. Sheldon, our writer, often injects a bit of humorous relief into an otherwise grim tale. For example, when I tried to have Patrick pick up a whiskey glass from the bar, he comments: "I shouldn't do that, I need to have my wits about me." Indeed. Interestingly, he later needs to come back to that bar and glass.
When Patrick comes across an object in writing (letters, books, etc.), he can place and examine it in his journal, accessible by a tab on the upper right corner of the screen. This also allows for general information about the island and guests to be conveniently stored. Interestingly, I wondered about what a guest is supposed to think if an important letter is found missing from the top of his/her dresser due to Patrick's compulsive snooping about. The guy picks up most everything he lays his eyes on! Apparently, the developers show the object as gone for our benefit - we know we picked that one up - but the guests do not realize anything is missing since Patrick instantaneously is able to "copy" the information into his journal and replace the object. A neat gimmick.
Finally, in terms of technical features, you are able to save anywhere in the game, and there are an unlimited number of save slots. A save depicts your exit scene and time. This is a great feature for experimenting a bit with different responses and approaches.
The opening cinematic, using the graphic engine, demonstrates the kind of visual richness you'll see throughout the game. Indeed, like any great story, the first fifteen minutes will draw you in. Together with a haunting piano theme, the introductory experience is very compelling.
However, one of the annoyances rears its head early on. Whenever Patrick has to maneuver in the dark, without his flashlight available for use, he and critical objects are almost impossible to discern, even with the brightness setting turned full up. I had to adjust my monitor to have any chance at all during these "blackouts." This could be a patch issue, or it could be my system; I'm not sure.
Other than those times, the presented scenes are richly detailed, carefully tailored to the 1930s setting. Character depictions and animations are varied and appropriate, although sometimes a bit wooden. This is particularly true of Patrick, as he walks like a tin soldier from spot to spot. And he can't go anywhere in a room, only to specific and defined "footstep" locations. Sometimes, as well, the pathfinding is awkward. Perhaps, though, the largest disappointment with the game engine is the inability to rotate perspective around the static scenes presented. Every three to five scenes, there is a three-second black screen delay while the engine shifts to another set of fixed scenes. They're lovely, to be sure, and this is a "character-centered" kind of game, but it would be nice to have more mobility of view and movement.
As Hargrave implies, there is a lot of conversation in ATTWN. From early on, it's clear there are layers upon layers with each of the guests, and even yourself! The script is tight and involving, with superb voice acting. You'll learn a lot about each guest, and you will need to make notes even beyond your journal entries. Conversational trees offer choices, often ranging from a kindly to not so kindly question or response on your part, presumably something that might affect how the party you're questioning may feel about you afterwards. It's been implied in some prerelease previews that how you're received by the guests (friendly versus a pain) might affect game direction and outcomes. I couldn't pick that up, even with experimenting. Generally, you move along from ten to nine to eight to seven "little sailor boys" with critical item accumulation, conversational discoveries and related activities being the only obvious triggers for the next chapter.
There are, however, as advertised, four possible endings! These are fun, and they occur at "Chapter Nine - And Then There Was One." Be sure to save at that point so you can work with each outcome.
And any good adventure game needs to include puzzles! Thankfully, the puzzles in ATTWN are as good as any I've experienced in adventure titles. They're in context, make sense and aren't the kind of bizarre sorts of mathematical or musical conundrums found in some titles, which should more appropriately be termed "puzzle," not "adventure," games, in my opinion. Having said that, ATTWN is hard, sometimes very hard. Thankfully, clues are presented. But still, the occasional need to combine several items in your inventory can be elusive, as can be hidden door handles and how to access rooms without clear entrances. Yet the puzzles are ultimately fair, and you feel satisfied when the resolution dawns on your tired brain.
The script and character development are so well-done that I can see why the Christie estate gave its approval to ATTWN: The Game. A good part of your deductive experience is spent interviewing, thinking, sorting though hints and nuances of responses, which may or may not be fully truthful. Each of the ten has a different background and story. Each of the ten has something about which they're guilty or ashamed, or at least ought to be! We have a physician, a retired general, a judge, a grim spinster, a private detective, and others. They're all well-acted and nicely fleshed out, and you can see why someone might have something against every one of them. Plus, to top it all off, the mansion and island have their own mysteries.
Except for the initial piano theme, the rest of the background music is forgettable, particularly since it seems to repeat ad infinitum. The theme is fitting, it's just that hearing it loop over and over again can become tiresome. You can turn it down or off.
Ambient noises are another matter altogether, and most welcome. The cold rain coupled with lapping of the waves on the dock makes you want to run for cover. Thunder and lightening often enliven the windows of the otherwise static room scenes. Footstep sounds vary from the ground to a metal catwalk to the wooden hallway floor. A range of other touches make this factor one of the highlights of the game.
Thankfully, two maps are included in the nicely done manual. These are of the upstairs and downstairs of the mansion, and they become invaluable tools in your initial explorations. You'll spend the first third to half of the game exclusively on these floors. There are other locational hints (a potted plant) to give you clues, but these maps really help.
And Then There Were None is, as the developers hoped, a "loving tribute" to the classic Agatha Christie novel on which it is based. With a sterling script, fascinating characters, superb voice acting, beautifully detailed graphics, and sensibly practical puzzles, it ranks among the best adventure games of the last couple of years.
What leads ATTWN to fall just short of our coveted Gold Star rating relates to the game engine. It's dated and not up to the level of modern 3D and full-movement titles. We've seen this static scene, restricted point-and-click ambulation approach many times before. Some may feel comfortable with this style, but we can do better with today's technology. Further, there seemed to be some glitches related to item location and brightness.
Still, this is a fine game and highly recommended. With an outstanding combination of intriguing story and ingenious puzzles, And Then There Were None is sure to delight Christie fans and adventure game players.
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