"It is peaceful. The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun"
"Evil Under the Sun"
I doubt I'm the only person who takes a look at adaptations of mystery fiction, as there is much good to be found there. For example, both Yougisha X no Kenshin ("The Devotion of Suspect X") and Inugamike no Ichizoku ("The Inugami Clan") are great movies. Some episodes of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo anime are done very well and while I don't always like the Conan anime, there is no denying that the Detective Conan main theme is one of the most awesome instrumental themes ever. Every single time (my favorite is the Countdown version by the way).
Evil Under the Sun. I really like the story. But as of now, I have 1) read the book, 2) seen the Ustinov movie, 3) seen the Agatha Christie's Poirot episode, 4) listened to the BBC4 radio dramatization and 5) played the PC/Wii videogame by The Adventure Company. I have seen the murder on Arlena Marshall a bit too often by now. And yes, I know it's even worse with Murder on the Orient Express. Anyway, I finished the game over the weekend and it was.... interesting. Note that I use interesting as an euphemism for quite bad. Note how I emphasize that negative tone by explicitly mentioning it.
The game starts off suprisingly for the people who know the original story: it actually starts during World War II, with Poirot and Hastings having a talk in Poirot's office, waiting for the air raid sirens to stop. To pass the time, Poirot decides to tell Hastings about the Marshall murder case. In fact, Poirot tells the story in such a fashion, that Hastings feels like he himself is Poirot and is solving the case on his own.The story of the Marshall murder case is still mainly the same as the original novel: a group of tourists gather on a small island off the coast of Devon. Add in a lot of underlying tension and finish it off with the strangulation murder on actress Arlena Marshall. Who was the killer? Her lover? Her lover's wife? Arlena's husband? Her stepdaughter? Or someone else in the hotel? It's a classic, so I doubt I need to tell more about it.
So the player actually controls Hastings, who 'role-plays' as Poirot. It's a pretty neat plot-device actually, as it allows for several things: 1) if 'Poirot' makes a mistake, it's actually Hastings who makes the mistake, thus preserving Poirot's image. 2) It explains why some locations are so empty, or why so few people are on the island (Poirot only tells Hastings the details necessary to solve the case). And 3) it makes for some delightful banter between Hastings and Poirot. Whenever Hastings tries things that make no sense, Poirot makes wonderful comments about Hastings' actions. It's almost like manzai. The voice-acting for these two is pretty decent too.
Too bad most of the game is mediocre to bad though. I'll start with the easy parts: the graphics are horrible, as are the animations (I understand that the models on the Wii are not as detailed as on the PC, but seriously. This is terrible and the clunky animation doesn't help either). The music is OK, but there is actually very little music, and all the pieces are very short, so very often there is no background music, and parts that do have music have pieces that loop too fast. The voice-acting is all over the places: the main parts of Poirot and Hastings are pretty good, but most of the other voices are pretty bad.
And then we get to the important part: how was the novel translated to a game? I have to say that the writing was pretty decent: the story was extended at several points (i.e. the other strangulation cases, the smuggling ring) in a very decent way that worked very well with the original story. I applaud the writer for this. A couple of nods to other Christie games (that have game adaptions) were pretty funny too (I actually laughed when I found Love's Captive by Arabella Richardson in someone's luggage). The story was just told in very boring and at times very troublesome way.
As a gamer, I understand the structuring of the story in chapters and having a set of quests/sidequests to be completed for every chapter. Like [Chapter 1: get clue 1, 2, 3] -> [Chapter 2: get clue 4, 5, talk to A] etc. The problem is, these quests have to feel meaningful. I want to understand why I am getting clue 1, 2 and 3 and why the chapter ends at this point (and not for example, after clue 5).
Early in the game, there is no murder yet, so quests for every chapter mostly amount to getting to know everybody in the island. How is this archieved? Most people you can just talk to, but for some sidequests have to be done. Cleaning birds? Building a bird-blind? Finding wedding gifts for the Gardener couple? These sidequests feel very artificial, as I can hardly see the real Poirot doing this. Nor do I see Poirot snooping around other people's rooms (and stealing items!) without any reason to do so. Practically everything you do in the first few chapters feel arbitrary. It's not meaningful. There is no goal I'm working towards to and makes for very tedious sidequests that just make no sense in the context. At times, you also need to obtain certain items to end the chapter, but it's never explained why you have to get them during that specific chapter and not earlier or later. The murder occurs halfway in the game and then the game becomes a bit more streamlined, but even then the way chapters end is very enigmatic.
To take some good examples: the Gyakuten Saiban games, though those are kinda special, as they consist of specific investigation and court chapters and story-wise, the switch between the two segments is always perfectly logical. A great example would be year two of Grim Fandango (AWESOME GAME): at the beginning you hear what your main objective is (get out of Rubacava) and you hear how to accomplish that (fullfil [condition 1], [condition 2], etc.). Even though there is a lot to do in the chapter, you always know why you are doing everything, so you never wander around aimlessly hoping you haven't missed some kind of object that doesn't feel important. The Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games have very streamlined stories, so it's mostly a one-way road to the chapter-ending, but even then they never feel meaningless, as you know why the chapters end there (cliffhanger that leads into the next chapter's objective)
So... in hindsight, I only liked the textual additions and nothing of the gameplay and audiovisual additions to the story. Heh. That's pretty bad if we're talking about videogames right? Even if it's a game that relies heavily on text.
Oh, and why does the Wii version of the cover feature a hand with a wineglass?! I mean... there is not...uuugh.
And yes, I still need to write something on the narrative structure in detective games and the workings of deductions systems in detective games.