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Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (Wii)

Agatha Christie is one of the most famous writers of mystery books, or books of any kind for that matter, and has countless tales to her credit. A good story can be central to a video game as well, and so stories making their way into video games aren't too surprising. So here we have, decades after her passing, Christie's work being appreciated in yet another medium - that of a video game, as And Then There Were None makes its way to the Wii.

And Then There Were None, a story which has gone under a number of different headings over the years, is the story of a group of ten people who have been invited to a mansion on an island, only to soon find out that all their lives are in danger. Anyone who has read the book, of course, is already well familiar with the basic outline of the story. By means similar to that of the poem referenced in the game's title, each of the characters on the island systematically meets their fate by a means similar to that indicated by the poem, passing away one by one at the hands of an unseen foe. In the book, the climax leads to the elimination of every person on the island. As anyone who is familiar with the movie adaptation knows, however, sometimes different mediums introduce different courses of events, and the video game version makes use of a similar liberty. Still, it has some nice options toward the end which make things more palatable for people who aren't fond of central changes to a story like that. Of course, all of that is just discussing the story and the adaptation - which certainly could make up an entire essay on its own. Considering this adaptation involves direct interaction as video games typically do, there's much more to be discussed about this game.

The story begins with a group of ten people being invited out to an island. In the game, you take on the role of Patrick Narracott, the brother of the boatman from the book, who has been charged with bringing this group of people across to the island. Soon after arriving there and seeing them to their destination, however, you discover that your boat has been wrecked, and so you're stuck on the island until someone realizes that you're missing and comes to get you. It doesn't help any that the weather doesn't appear to be the greatest, with a storm looming. Still, it's a nice, peaceful-looking island, with a nice big house to stay in, so, all doesn't seem quite so bad. Soon after arriving, however, with everyone gathered together, a mysterious voice is heard which accuses all of the invited guests of being responsible for someone's death. Shortly thereafter, a member of the party dies, a victim of an apparent poisoning. From there, one by one the guests on the island meet their demise, and a couple of facts soon become apparent. First, that the deaths are according to the pattern in the "Ten Little Sailor Boys" poem that's featured prominently in the house (and the realizing of this is aided by the fact that there's a tray of sailor boys on the dining room table, and it seems that each time someone dies, one of the figures is broken). Then also, that since they searched the island thoroughly and found no signs of anyone else there, that the person responsible for these murders must be one of them. That's the basic outlay of the story (certainly wouldn't want to give too much of it away for anyone who hasn't read the book already, since it's a spectacular story both in the book and in the game), and leads to doubt and suspicion among the remaining members of the island, not knowing who to trust or what to think.

Of course, you're not one of the ten intended guests, and your remaining on the island is the result of a particular guest who has some ill will toward you (or, rather, your brother), but whom you find out about shortly thereafter, and so it doesn't appear you're at any particular risk of dying, at least not in the same manner as the other ten members. Since you've found yourself on the island along with the other members, however, it falls to you to investigate the happenings, and see if you can discover what is going on, who is responsible, and if possible how to stop it, which leads to the core of the game. And Then There Were None as a video game is presented in the style of an Adventure game, with you exploring the island, finding clues, talking with people, gathering information, and applying the items and information you have found as solutions to later problems. As with all games of this style, there is no "fighting" or "combat," and very little in the way of what one would consider "action." The only weapons which will be getting used are your eyes as you search out clues, and your mind as you work your way through the puzzles and mysteries presented by the game. That doesn't mean, however, that completing the game is a walk in the park, as there are certainly many challenges which will be presented which can be far more trying than the most difficult enemy, and with people's lives hanging in the balance.

The basic flow of gameplay is familiar to anyone who has played any other games of these sorts, and easy enough to pick up even for someone who hasn't. While exploring the island, different items can be found, which can be picked up and added to one's inventory. From there, when presented with problems which require the use of an item, they can be withdrawn and used to solve whatever needs to be accomplished. That's straightforward enough, and is the basic structure of how these sorts of games work. One new way to handle items, however, is with the ability to both combine items and split items apart, sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes in more involved ways. Splitting apart might involve something as straightforward as taking an object out of a container, or it may be disassembling an item to be able to use specific parts. Combining items may be just putting batteries in a flashlight, or making use of an assortment of items to create a tool needed for a certain task. Most applications of items though, both in the combining and splitting and also just in the general use of items, are fairly straightforward, and there really isn't too much in the way of just "trying everything one has to see what works." There are a few instances of puzzles or problems both where the solution isn't apparent or where the solution, even after one knows it, doesn't really make too much sense, but, they're not all that common. In addition, the Wii's particular control setup is made use of a couple of times as a means to solving a problem, but mostly feels tacked on at best and annoying at worst (such as needing to turn the controller every time one wants to open a door). Still, the core idea of the Wii, being able to simply point at the screen and directly manipulate things that way, works wonders for this sort of a game, and serves to complement the entire experience.

The other means necessary to overcome problems, is by talking with all the people on the island and gathering clues and information from them. At the beginning that involves talking with a bunch of people, but, needless to say, as more murders happen, there are fewer people with whom to talk. Every bit of dialog between characters is done through voice acting, which is good for people who like voice acting (and it certainly is very good in this game), but, for people who dislike voice acting in general, it can pose some problems. First, the option to turn off voices is inexplicably under the same slider option as to turn off sound effects, which means that in order to turn off voices one is also going to be missing out on sound effects, which makes no sense. Second, while there is an option to turn on text for any dialog, during certain movies, even with that option on, there is no text displayed, which again makes little sense. Third, is that unfortunately, even with voices on, it's often difficult to keep track of who is speaking, and with who is who. Even with the text boxes on, there is no indication, such as a name on the top of the box, as to who is speaking, so with voices on one has to rely on recognizing the voice (which at times can be difficult since many of the voice actors double up on characters) or by hoping it's clear from the view who is talking, and with the voices off only being able to rely on the view. Moreover, even with voices on and recognizing the voices and the person, one still has to keep track of who is who. Of course, this isn't really any different from conversations in real life, needing to keep track of which name goes with which voice and person, but, it's not a task everyone is the best at even in real life, and, in a game, where there is little time to actually "get to know" a person, and very few specific references as to who is who, one can easily lose track of which name goes with exactly which person, which could have been avoided by simply having their name on the top of the text box when they are talking. All that said, the dialog interaction in general is very good, and makes for some interesting conversations and discoveries. During discussions, there will often be dialog selection choices which can be made to prompt different conversations and hear different information. Quite often all of the choices can, and indeed have to be, made before finishing up with a conversation, but, it's nice to have that interaction with the dialog as opposed to just sitting and listening.

Of course, the game isn't all contained within one room with all the people and items sitting there waiting to be accessed, so as might be expected there is also a good deal of exploration needed in order to do everything that needs to be done. On the other hand, with everyone being stuck on an island, the variety of places to explore is somewhat limited. The mansion on the island where everyone is staying consists of individual rooms for all the guests (aside from you, who is stuck sleeping on a couch), and other necessities such as a kitchen, dining room, and a couple of other rooms and areas of interest. Outside of the mansion, there are many winding paths through the yard, garden, cliffs, and a couple of interesting locations such as an abandoned village or a network of caves and passages. While there is more to explore than just the mansion, and of course the locale is restricted by the setting of the story, the range of areas to explore is rather limited, and much of the time will be spent simply retracing paths which have already been covered a couple of times previously in order to see some new things which have happened. As well, many of the paths outside the house, and in particular the hallway outside of the rooms in the house and the entrances to the rooms, look quite similar, and a map of some sort would have been quite beneficial to not having to wander into every single room in order to find out which belongs to a certain person or people who need attention at a particular time. Still, while there are those areas of similarity and monotony, there are also a number of areas of the house and island which are quite distinct, and as a whole everything looks and feels quite impressive.

The thing in particular that the game does incredibly well is to immerse one in the story and the setting. Within no time, exploring the mansion and talking with the people will be quite natural, and one will quickly be drawn into the story and the events taking place. Mood is set extremely well, with wandering through dark hallways at night or anxious at the next victim to succumb can be quite tense and fearful. It isn't the sort of game where there's going to be a zombie or a knife-wielding maniac waiting around the corner, but in its own subtle way it builds to create a very intense feeling to the events taking place. Much of this is, of course, due to the wonderful original story on which the game is based, but, the game itself works very well to create the feeling desired within this particular medium.

Of course, being a video game, some liberties have been taken with the source material, which have some varied effects. Of course, in the book there wasn't that extra guest who is wandering around exploring and investigating on the island, which was rather needed to give the player an inlet into the game and help the gameplay to flow well. A decision which isn't quite as understandable is that, similar to the movie, the game chooses to create a different climax to the story. Needless to say it isn't possible to discuss that in detail without both spoiling the game and also the book for those who haven't read it yet, but, it's a combination between what the movie chose to do, and also a more dramatic change of having a different murderer entirely. This decision to change the murderer is less understandable, and has a much less positive effect on the game. On one hand, it does serve to give a new experience to those who have read the book, where they don't know at the start who is responsible and where there is new stuff to discover at the end. On the other hand, the original version created by Agatha Christie is clearly the superior one, and having read that, at the end of the game leaves a rather poor taste in how a story which originally lead up to such a perfect culmination instead ends in one which is at the same time contrived and awkward and unfitting. On the bright side, after completing the game, there is the option to hear a narration of the original ending as intended by the book, which is a very good thing for those who aren't already familiar with it, although also serves as a reminder of how much more fitting it is than what the game chose to do.

After having completed the game, there are still a number of reasons to play through again. In particular, there are some side goals which aren't required in order to complete the game, but which can provide an extra challenge and incentive for going through the game again and being more meticulous about exploring and finding everything. There's also the promise of alternate endings to the game, which indeed there are, but are presented in less a way of needing to find or do different things throughout the course of the game, but instead just making a couple of specific actions right before the culmination of the game which leads to a different course of events at that specific moment and some different dialog and events at the end of the game. That is, the different endings are less in the manner of "playing through the game again to do different things," and more of a "hoping you had a save file about 5 minutes before the end of the game so you can load from it and do the one or two things different." It is interesting to see the different events and ending, but doesn't really work as an incentive to play through again. Still, playing through again is very worthwhile, again, just to see what one had missed, or simply to experience the adventure again.

Anyone who is a fan of Christie's books would definitely be well served in checking out this game. While there are the few changes which are likely to perturb someone looking for an accurate recreation of the book, as a whole the game does a very good job of presenting the book in this new medium. For anyone who is a fan of Adventure games in general, while this isn't up at the top with the best of them, it definitely is a very good game, and would be an extremely worthwhile addition to one's collection. In particular, for anyone more fond of games on console systems, this game is a perfect match for the Wii, and shows just how well a mixing of a game like this and a system like that can work. Hopefully this game serves as an introduction to the combination of the genre and the system which will result in more games such as this making their way out for this system. The game itself isn't perfect, it does certainly have its issues, but, as a whole, it's a wonderful adventure and exploration through a marvelous story and which shouldn't be missed by anyone fond of the style of play or of the story itself.