There is something inherently creepy about many children's nursery rhymes. "Oranges and Lemons", for instance, concludes with a rather ominous couplet, while "Three Blind Mice" certainly didn't end well for its eponymous little heroes. Capitalising upon this, Agatha Christie made many allusions to nursery rhymes in her work, perhaps never more successfully than with the "Ten Little Indians" rhyme in her best-selling mystery, And Then There Were None. Since the novel's first publication in 1939, the text has been adapted numerous times for both stage and screen. Now one of the most ambitious adaptations to date has been released, as AWE Productions has recreated And Then There Were None as a fully interactive PC adventure.|
The story opens with a striking cinematic, as ten strangers, invited by the mysterious U. N. Owen to a weekend house party, make their way to a remote island off the coast of Devon. The weekend soon takes an unpleasant turn, however, when a gramophone record systematically accuses each of the guests of being responsible, directly or indirectly, for murders in the past. As the weekend progresses, the punishment for these past crimes is meted out by an unknown killer, according to the gruesome verses of "Ten Little Sailor Boys".
In order to adapt And Then There Were None to the adventure game medium, the developers, along with writer and designer Lee Sheldon, made several alterations. The major difference is the introduction of an eleventh playable character, Patrick Narracott, who is the brother of the novel's ferryman. Adapting the game also required a change of suspect and motive so that even Christie enthusiasts will have some surprises. Although not everyone will be pleased with this plot tinkering, credit is due to the designers for their imaginative writing, which produces an impressive adaptation, likely to satisfy most fans and be accessible enough to function as a standalone game for those unfamiliar with the novel. Some of the dialogue is taken directly from the book, although many of the scenes are original to the game, picking up on hints in the text and expanding aspects such as the island's history to supplement the plot and puzzles. Although the dialogues are excellent, some of the in-game descriptions are (perhaps) unintentionally hilarious, such as Narracott's strange radiator fixation and his delivery of 'profound' artistic insights every time he examines a painting.
A mark of the adaptation's success is that it only occasionally becomes strained, despite having been transferred to a medium with very different demands to that of text or screen. This awkwardness occurs when trying to introduce a playable dimension into some of the novel's most cinematic scenes, such as the early gramophone accusations. In the book, each character relates the details relevant to their accusation organically, as in a real conversation. In the game, however, instead of a simple cutscene, the scene is made 'playable' by casting Narracott as a prompter, approaching each character in turn to ask a series of near identical questions. Instead of Poirot-esque subtlety, Narracott storms in with his clumsy, repetitive questions, resulting in an artificial scene devoid of suspense, which takes ten times longer than the original and is about half as enjoyable.
And Then There Were None features 2.5D graphics, combining pre-rendered backgrounds with 3D modelled characters. The open landscapes are worthy of special commendation, with considerable attention spent on the shifting spectrum of weather effects. Often as you progress through a time block, the sky will start to cloud over as a storm approaches, with rain starting to fall, and fog floating across the screen. The lapping or crashing of waves at the island's coves is again stunningly realistic, enhanced with perfectly placed ambient sound effects. The house interiors prove as good as the exteriors, capturing the clean lines of 1930s art deco style.
Unfortunately, in contrast to these backdrops, the characters themselves are rather less aesthetic. In the non-cutscene close-ups they actually look downright ugly, with blocky features and ridiculous sausage fingers. Disappointingly, they often look no more attractive (or realistic) than the characters from Sierra's Gabriel Knight 3 from almost a decade ago. The lip-synching is poor, and the range of facial expressions unsubtle and severely limited. This is problematic in a game where so much of the story is driven by the need to read characters and their motivations. The in-game animations are even worse, or sometimes non-existent, such as Narracott's laughable shovelling and apple-picking non-actions.
The limited character expression could have been fatal had it not been for the high quality vocal performances, which manage to inject a degree of life and enthusiasm into the rather wooden character models. Philip Clark as Judge Wargrave perfectly conveys the Judge's cold, calculating personality, while Carolyn Seymour as Emily Brent really captures the character's self-righteous bitterness. The other aural elements of the game are also strong, with well-chosen atmospheric sound effects and a musical score which, though subject to frequent repetition, is pleasantly in keeping with the game's mood.
Pros: The writers had excellent material to work with, and deliver a high quality adaptation of the text, albeit with a few alterations. The backgrounds and weather effects are stunning, and there are some interesting non-mandatory puzzles.
Cons: For a character-driven game, the 3D character models used are particularly poor, and there is further corner-cutting in other areas. The game suffers from a general lack of direction, sometimes making it difficult to establish player objectives.
Bottom-line: And Then There Were None is an enjoyable murder mystery with many excellent elements, but it is let down by sloppy implementation and inattention to detail.