All Features


  PlayStation 3
  PlayStation 4
  Wii U
  Xbox 360
  Xbox One


Murder on the Orient Express

Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: AWE Games
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Murder on the Orient Express is AWE Games’ second foray into the deep, dark realm of Agatha Christie mysteries — and licensing nightmares. As Scott Nixon of AWE Games puts it, developers who tackle franchise titles with complex licenses “are doomed before you even begin.” I begin by mentioning intellectual property (IP) here because the shortcomings I see in Murder on the Orient Express are no doubt symptomatic of the immense difficulty developers face when they produce titles from licensed material. AWE games deserves much credit for negotiating the steep challenges of transforming a deeply loved, 70-plus year old story — with a 70-plus year old IP history — into a fun, beautiful game.

The graphics in Murder on the Orient Express are quite handsome. Given that the entire story takes place on a train, AWE Games has made a stellar choice in game design by including the woods immediately outside the train as part of the game world; in addition to the elegant and ornate train, the player may investigate the strikingly white, desolate, and numbingly cold forest. The reflective surfaces on the train are exquisite and denote the patrician status of the Orient Express most sublimely. The characters are well wrought; they match almost precisely what I imagined as I read Christie’s novel (a copy of which is included with the game). Their movements and lip synchronization are tight.

Murder on the Orient Express is a remarkably cinematic game. The full motion video, by Streko Graphics, is really rich, both in color and in camera angles. Camera angles even change during gameplay, mainly on Mademoiselle Marceau. Without giving it away, the ending is especially cinematic in its lingering close-ups on each of the train’s occupants as Poirot gives his three versions of the events on the train.

The strength of Murder on the Orient Express lies principally in AWE Games’ achievement in sound. David Suchet, star of the television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot, provides the voice for Poirot in the game, and he offers, of course, a splendid performance. The score is majestic and entirely appropriate for the circumstances aboard the Orient Express. Most especially, the localization efforts are excellent: the English version includes accents that are wholly fitting for each character. Foscarelli has a heavy Italian accent; Mary Debenham and Masterman have haughty British accents; Hildegarde Schmidt sounds like a German rugby instructor (as she should, with a name like Hildegarde).

I should like to note that some sound was recorded at Kinetic Grooves in New Orleans, Louisiana. Having lived through the evacuation of south Louisiana in August of 2005 and having seen New Orleans quite recently (it’s still unbelievably devastated), I am delighted that the entertainment technologies are still kicking in NOLA — and not just PR-seeking superstars doing face time (like Brad Pitt copying his current lover), but regular people doing their thing. High five to you guys.


Murder on the Orient Express is a point and click third person adventure game. Because this game is based closely on the book of the same name, its gameplay must by necessity be extremely linear — you can only point and click in very limited directions in order that the story will move along. The game as such is driven entirely by story and not at all by exploration. Discovery is limited to what you find as you progress through the mystery. On its own, this design could be disappointing, but because the game progresses through Christie’s great novel, the discovery is realized through, literally, the imagizing of Christie’s words.

Murder on the Orient Express in addition to IP horrors is also subject to what I call the Apollo 13 dilemma: how do you tell a story when viewers/players already know the ending? AWE Games has dealt with this problem in three significant ways: First, as I’ve already mentioned, the graphical and aural realization of the novel make the gameplay worth it for Christie fans. Second, AWE Games chose to sideline Poirot and turn him into a kind of hint system. Mademoiselle Antoinette Marceau, the homely director of the Orient Express, is the avatar and conducts the entire investigation for Poirot, who is a benchwarmer in his compartment for the majority of the game. Third, AWE Games has added an ending to Christie’s two endings. While the former two solutions to the Apollo 13 dilemma are, I feel, effective, I feel less certain about the latter. However, I will leave such debates to the forums and say only that the ending is graphically and aurally beautifully achieved. As I said before, I am reluctant to fault AWE Games for this potential shortcoming because they have dealt with both IP hell and Apollo 13 hell, and have done so very successfully.

Much of the dialogue comes straight from the novel, although there are a few exceptions. The gameplay is a bit uneven, because so much time has to be spent setting up the storyline and so much conversation must occur in order for the story to progress. Actual gameplay doesn’t begin for quite some time in the early part of the game. Later, the player spends as much time selecting dialogue responses (all of which must be selected and none of which result in substantial change to gameplay) as she does solving puzzles and searching for clues. I found there was just a little too much talking and not enough playing — but again, this is the curse of the heavily licensed property. As well, I would like to believe that a certain faithfulness to the novel was intrinsically valuable (aside from licensing demands), and as such the excessive dialogue seems necessary.


As if to make up for the excessive dialogue and gameplay unevenness, some of the puzzles are truly esoteric. If I must spend an hour getting through an exchange between Poirot and Marceau, then I ought to spend at least 6 hours trying to figure out how to make a ham radio functional, no? Use your little gray cells! The difficulty of the game seems to represent some sort of compromise between excessive dialogue and effective challenge, but it doesn’t quite work. I am a genuine gamer, so taking an air conditioner filter, a sweater, a band saw blade, and a can of tomatoes and using all these things to get an airplane running is something I do on a routine basis. But I could not figure the ham radio out to save my life (there is a ham radio for outside contact, a diversion from the novel). Most of this difficulty has as much to do with interface as with rote puzzle solving. The inventory is pretty massive, and it is possible to combine up to four objects — the possibilities are, if not infinite, quite extensive. So, much like life, long periods of tedium walking around talking to people, or going through long conversations with Poirot, are interrupted by occasionally intriguing, occasionally extremely difficult problems. Murder on the Orient Express is only extremely difficult in a couple of places and otherwise challenging, if unevenly, everywhere else.

Game Mechanics:

Technically speaking, the mechanics in Murder on the Orient Express are excellent. The inventory system is large, with about 50 slots for objects and a combination/breakdown feature. It is fairly easy to navigate and relatively intuitive. The game sports a fingerprint matching feature — although you don’t match prints like you do in CSI, where you must actually identify a matching print sworl for sworl. Here, you simply go through the list of reference prints and click “match” and the game matches it for you. The game keeps a list in the journal of hints you’ve received from Poirot, and also keeps track of interviews and fingerprints — you can see at a glance whom you’ve got left to talk to or print. The game menu is simple and easy to access — pass the mouse at the top of the screen and an icon appears on the right. As well, the game has a “jump” feature — pass the mouse at the top of the screen and you can jump directly to any one of the four train cars (after you’ve visited them once). There is also a quick access icon to the inventory at the top of the screen. You can double-click when moving around in order to skip tedious animations. All of these features work flawlessly so that you can zip around in the game and the inventory without any glitches.

The fault of the mechanics lies in the puzzles. The mechanics work, but the logic is at several moments impenetrable. It is difficult to understand just what exactly the game wants the player to do with all the objects once they’ve been obtained. For instance, the player must obtain two wire hat frames, a small burner, and some tongs in order to conduct an investigation on a burnt piece of paper. The solution to the puzzle is painfully and frustratingly obvious (because, well, you've read the book and you know what to do), but progress is halting because you can’t determine how to proceed mechanically. Do you put the burner on the table? No. Do you put the hat frames on the table? No. Do you put the paper in the tongs? Yes, but then you can’t do anything else. Are you at the wrong table? Possibly. How many tables are there in the train? You don’t really want to know. Do you give the burnt paper, the tongs, the burner, and the hat frames to Poirot? No. Do you talk to Poirot to tell him you’re ready to solve the burnt piece of paper problem? Yes. That’s it — that’s all you have to do to proceed. Then the camera cuts to the table that is otherwise totally unresponsive. I found this picky, somewhat petty interface frustrating. I cannot chalk this interface up to adaptation problems, even if AWE Games wanted in good faith to complicate it so it wouldn't be a dead giveaway.

Murder on the Orient Express is a good game, and a remarkable achievement in adaptation by AWE Games. As Scott Nixon puts it, "I think most people would rather play a [licensed] game that fails miserably at trying to be original, or at least well-crafted, than one that succeeds brilliantly at being pedestrian or ill-contrived." Certainly, Murder on the Orient Express neither fails miserably at originality nor succeeds at being pedestrian. It has some flaws, but most of these ought to be forgiven because the game offers so much in the area of story, character, graphics, and sound. It seems, after all, that one of the fundamental challenges of game design is the balance between story and gameplay — a challenge that developers meet with greater or lesser degrees of success. Here, though, AWE Games has had the added challenge of rendering one of the most popular mystery stories of all time into an interactive event. If it falls a little short in gameplay, Murder on the Orient Express still tells a great story beautifully and elegantly.

-Doc Holliday, GameVortex Communications
AKA Valerie Holliday

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows 2000/XP; 1.4 GHz Pentium 3 processor; 256 MB RAM; 16-bit DirectX compatible sound card; 16X CD-ROM; 1.5 GB available hard disk space; 64 MB DirectX 9.0c compatible video card; mouse

Test System:

Microsoft Windows XP Professional; 1.8 GHz AMD processor; 1 GB RAM; NVidia GeForce 7800 video card with 256 MB DirectX 9.0c Compatible; Creative Audigy 2 sound card DirectX compatible; 52X CD/DVD-ROM; mouse

Sony PlayStation 2 Superman Returns Sony PlayStation Portable Xiaolin Showdown

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated