Microid’s take on Agatha Christie’s oft-celebrated Murder on the Orient Express puts players in the well-shined shoes of Belgium’s most iconic detective, Hercule Poirot, as he deduces his way through a series of tediously low-stakes mysteries, until finally, a body is discovered aboard the Orient Express, and he finds himself with some real work to do.
Along the way, you’ll find yourself initiating pre-rendered dialogue with other passengers, examining clues, reviewing evidence via the Workshop mechanic (more on this later), and solving puzzles in an effort to uncover the culprit (or culprits) of this dastardly crime.
One of the early mysteries presented in this game is why the development team made the creative decision to set it in the modern day. Honestly, it’s baffling. Given that the majority of Christie’s Poirot novels are set between the two World Wars, it’s more than a little jarring to see the mustachioed sleuth occupying the current timeline in 2023.
Your first assignment in the game, a riveting search for a missing train ticket, sees Poirot diligently searching the hotel room of a bristly and British ex-serviceman, to piece together the mystery of this misplaced artifact. One of the first things that stood out to me, as I shuffled through his various belongings, was the gigantic flat-screen TV on the wall of the hotel room.
It looked as wrong as it felt, and it was a feeling that persisted throughout my time with this game. The sense of Poirot being done a disservice, by removing him from his usual context, and removing him of his quirks and charms.
That’s not to say that placing a character out of time and context is always a disaster. Sometimes, if done right, it can be an absolute triumph. Drop Marty McFly into America’s Wild West, or send Napoleon to 1980s San Dimas, and you have an unbridled recipe for success on your hands.
But, not with Poirot. Please. This is a character who was uniquely fashioned for his own time and place. Seeing Poirot operating in the modern world does nothing to endear him to new audiences. Here, he’s as stiff and awkward as the in-game animations, and he just comes across as a bit of a weirdo, rather than the world’s greatest detective (who also happens to be a bit of a weirdo, too).
You’re a Detective; Detect
Following the game’s labored prologue, you’ll find yourself invited aboard the Orient Express by your long-time friend, Bouc, as it embarks on a trip to Paris. And this is where the “fun” begins.
Using your keen detective skills, you’ll discover where your own passenger compartment is situated, identify the presence of raspberries in Bouc’s dessert, and notice things about the other passengers, by listening to things that they say.
All of which is a pre-cursor to the bones of the game itself, when you’ll find your finely-tuned skills being put to the test for real when one of your fellow travelers is discovered expired on board.
In terms of gameplay, the general routine of the game follows this approximate pattern:
Interview the surrounding characters and take note of what’s said, walk clunkily around the area to inspect the flashing markers, which usually highlight a clue or piece of evidence, that will either corroborate or oppose what you have been told already.
Then, organize your thoughts via the Workshop feature, to reach your conclusion, which (if correct) will lead you on to the next situation. And if you reach the wrong conclusion, you will have infinite chances to try again until you have correctly evaluated your environment.
Every now and then, there will be an environmental puzzle element thrown into the mix for good measure, just to mix things up a bit.
Successfully clearing each room and making the right deduction will result in a “good job” message on-screen, with Poirot congratulating himself on his own excellence.
No Luck Catching Them Killers, Then
Gathering up the evidence will enable you to level accusations at the relevant guest or guests, assuming you have correctly assembled it together first. But the world’s greatest detective would be remiss to fling about such accusations without first having done his homework.
To help you work through the information is the Workshop mechanic, a sort of flow chart for every in-game conundrum, where you can organize a series of events into chronological order to establish a timeline, or assess the evidence you have collected, to bring you towards a conclusion.
It’s a fairly basic mechanic, in all honestly, and smacks a bit of a mobile game in terms of its execution. You’ll only ever be presented with a limited list of options or possible scenarios to run through, and shouldn’t ever find yourself overly taxed in solving each situation.
Wrong guesses are never punitive, and you can re-guess as many times as needed until you get it right. There’s only ever one right answer too, so the waters of possibility here are only ever deep enough for paddling in.
It all feels a little dumbed-down, and you never feel the gratification you would expect, from inhabiting such a famous super sleuth. There are no branching paths to choose between, and the single-lane investigations are difficult to enthuse about.
Just One More Thing…
Graphically, this is not a pretty game. Far from looking current-gen, it wouldn’t look out of place on the PS3, or the Xbox 360. And while some of the backgrounds and settings are fine in themselves, they lose their impact once any sort of movement is introduced into them.
Character models are unattractive, even with the stylized cell-shaded design of the game. Hand movements are comical, and the animation looks jerky and awkward. All of which makes for a largely non-immersive experience, and is a real shame.
But of course, good graphics are a luxury, and aren’t necessary, as long as the gameplay is up to scratch. Sadly, Murder on the Orient Express falls short in this regard, too. Everything here feels dated, which is ironic, given the modern-day setting.
No spoilers here for the plot, however, as there is a decent mystery to uncover here, if you can stick it out. It’s just that you’re likely to tire of the antiquated feel of the gameplay long before you reach the end of the story. And that’s the problem. Mysteries are meant to captivate. Not leave you as cold as the crimes they contain.
For completionists, there are several hidden golden mustaches to uncover throughout the game.
It’s not exactly achievement / trophy city, but it’s a reason to revisit certain chapters if you have the patience to work towards 100% completion, or are bloody-minded enough to wring every ounce of value for your money out of it.
Murdering the Orient Express
Having examined this game and assessed all the evidence, I must conclude that it is riddled with uninspiring gameplay.
Clunky graphics and animations are paired with clunky gameplay. It feels dull and dated, and chances are, you’ll find yourself long past caring, long before the denouement.
It’s basic and linear when it should have been rich and layered. Instead of an extravagant banquet of possibilities, it’s a rather basic ham sandwich of disappointment.
But the real victim here is Poirot himself. Never executed successfully enough here to be worthy of the mantle of the world’s greatest detective, he comes across as an irritating nuisance instead, and never more so than with his incessant remarks during Workshop interactions.
Sadly, Murder on the Orient Express feels like a waste of a good IP. Baffling and perplexing in a way that the central mystery never really is itself. Mon Dior.