Just like busses, you wait a long time for a detective’s origin story and then two turn up at the same time! Next month sees the release of Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, which I previewed HERE, and earlier this week I played through Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, using my ‘little grey cells’ in order to grab the platinum trophy. This new and original story sees the famous Belgium detective solve a theft, blackmail, and murder mystery in a very immersive and interactive manner.
Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases was developed by Blazing Griffin, the team behind the initiative Murder Mystery Machine which I reviewed last month. As such, there are a few similarities between the two games, combining a story that feels like it’s been written by the late Agatha Christie with the same logical and creative crime boards we saw in their previous game. The publisher, once again, is Microïds – a studio that needs no introduction to fans of point-and-click, adventure, mystery, and immersive games.
I was a little sceptical of The First Cases (how I’ll refer to it from now on) at first, I’m a massive fan of the ITV series and in my eyes, nobody can replace the look and sound of David Suchet. However, unlike the dreadful ferret-faced movie and terrible John Malkovich mini-series, I warmed to the younger Poirot within the game as he shares the same personality as the cult classic TV enactment.
The First Cases introduces us to Poirot as a young officer, pulled over on the street and requested to look into the theft of a precious bracelet from a nearby house. This first chapter serves as an introduction to the game’s mechanics, teaching you how to think like the famous detective and piece together all of the evidence within your head so you can reach the ultimate conclusion to the mystery at hand. You’ll go back and forth between reality and your ‘Mindmap’ as you uncover new conversation options, think of something else to investigate, and also uncover secrets and lies among everyone you speak to.
Once you’ve successfully solved this first case, the game shifts forward a few years to when Officer Poirot has become a detective – yet still very youthful and slim, compared to the ‘well-fed’ TV adaptation. You find yourself returning to help out the family you dealt with in the first chapter, only this time it’s regarding threats and blackmail towards the family and individuals. You agree to stay and casually investigate everyone present at the manor, as the victim believed that one of their guests is the suspect, yet things take a turn for the worst when one of the guests turns up dead…
That’s right, not only are you now trying to investigate the blackmail and deceit within this small group of friends and family, but you’re also on the lookout for a murderer and their motive for carrying out such a dreadful act. You have to multitask on the fly, piecing together clues and evidence between multiple mysteries and cases within your head – it gets so crowded in there, it’s like 50 shades of grey cells! Each chapter introduces a new set of goals and conclusions you’re trying to uncover, gradually leading towards the answer behind everything – which is presented in a Poirot-style informal chat to all the guests where you declare all the evidence and theories you’ve uncovered.
Although this game is very different to the previous ABC Murders (also from Microids), the gameplay and mechanics work great and makes the engaging narrative even more immersive and entertaining.
If you played Murder Mystery Machine, or read my review on it, then you’ll notice that The First Cases looks very similar – I believe they may both have been created in the same engine. The game is presented as an isometric diorama-style landscape, allowing you to freely roam the small enclosed areas as you talk to people, investigate your surroundings, and discover clues. However, unlike MMM, you can’t rotate the camera, you can only zoom in or out whilst looking down from a pre-determined angle – this is good as it means it’s much harder to miss anything, but it does make it feel smaller and more constricted than it would have been if we could explore all angles.
There are two gameplay aspects to the game, the first is walking around and looking for clues, as mentioned above, and the second is retreating to your inner Mindmap and piecing together everything you’ve found so far. First, let’s look at the exploration side…
Each area you enter usually operates the same way – if there’s someone there then you talk to that person first, find out as much as you can, then proceed to explore the room as you find points of interest, items, and general information about the person or environment. Then, armed with this new knowledge, you piece it together in your mind to unlock new conversations points that you can present to the person within the room or that you’ve talked to previously. Rinse and repeat until you’ve uncovered the conclusion to the case at hand and the chapter ends, taking you to the next stage in the narrative.
Although you don’t have to look at everything within each area (which only highlights as you get close, rather than hand-holding where everything is as we saw in MMM), if you’re looking at obtaining the platinum trophy then you have to ensure you are very thorough (I had to do two playthroughs as I missed a window!).
Little grey cells
Just like Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes games, Poirot has an interactive thought process within his head. The First Cases presents this as a crime board known as your Mindmap, a place where you link various clues and events together in order to come to a number of conclusions and outcomes. This may look a lot like the boards we saw in Murder Mystery Machine, but it’s much easier and straightforward this time, although it does still provide frustration and annoyance when you can’t see what you have to do.
As you gather clues and talk to people, you’ll see a symbol on the screen which indicates you’ve unlocked a new element within your Mindmap – this could be just general information you can’t do anything with or something which requires linking to another, thus unlocking new conversation points or theories. I strongly advise you to check your Mindmap after talking to a person or exploring a room, if you leave it until after you’ve talked to everyone – as I did – you’ll find you have lots of things to link yet no idea where to start due to the number of new points you’ve unlocked.
Unlike MMM, the various elements unlock in a set place within your mind, so you don’t have to move them about. This makes it a little easier as most links are for other points that are in one of the eight cardinal directions, only intersecting one another on a handful of occasions. You also need to find all of the connections in order to progress, so there’s no ranking or possibility of missing something in relation to this aspect. However, due to this, there is no help or hint button – I became quite frustrated a few times on my first playthrough and ultimately resorted to trial and error to find the answer (as it tells you if you’re wrong instantly, with no punishment), although I worked out the vast majority of connections due to thinking logically and carefully reading the note which accompanied each element.
Aside from the very few occasions where I became frustrated and felt stupid for not knowing which two things to link together, I thoroughly enjoyed having to concentrate to work out the solutions in The First Cases. The story is very engaging, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you uncover theories, red herrings, twists, and surprises, yet you have to focus on everything which is said and found in order to correctly understand why certain things are related.
For those who love detail, not only do you uncover points within your Mindmap, but you also start to build suspect profiles on each person you speak to, offering a detailed description of who they are, their motives, why they’re a suspect, and who or what their alibis are. This information gradually grows as you get further into the game when you uncover more information about the person. I don’t think I’ve seen a game present you with this much information on your suspects and witnesses before, you usually get a few paragraphs yet The First Cases literally builds its own crime board for each individual whether they’re guilty or not.
Additionally, The First Cases does something I wish more games would – it rewards you for unlocking trophies. Every time you unlock one of the PSN trophies (Also other platforms, I presume), you unlock concept art or movies relating to that particular requirement. For example, if you get a trophy related to a certain character, you’ll gain access to their concept art. It’s a nice bonus that pushes you to achieve the platinum trophy, gradually unlocking a built-in art book and allowing you to re-watch the various cinematics within the game.
I personally like the way The First Cases looks, it’s not too realistic yet not cartoony at the same time. The same lighting issue I had with MMM (some light sources not bleeding smoothly onto surfaces) also appears within this game in a handful of scenes – which is why I think it’s the same engine – but it’s hardly noticeable unless you zoom in this time. The character model all ooze personality and look great, whether zoomed out or in, yet things like expressions are delivered via the 2D visual novel-like drawings that appear when you’re talking to each other.
One thing I wished was included is support for the PS5 console. The game works fine, with no crashes, as a PS4 BC title, but it’s only 30fps and a low resolution (possibly 1080p). Due to this, you have to zoom in frequently on the Mindmap screen as the writing isn’t clear when zoomed out, and walking around you can really see the 30fps cap in the animations. Taking advantage of the new consoles would have meant the text could have been crisper and the motion much smoother, it would also have reduced the loading times to be instantaneous when moving between areas. It’s not a deal-breaker, I just wish more devs would take advantage of the PS5 flag if their engine supports it.
In regards to the audio – The First Cases has voice acting throughout in both English or French, with the English voices performed with an accent. I really enjoyed the acting, each one perfectly played the part and added to my enjoyment of the experience – especially Will De Renzy-Martin as Poirot, he did a great job as the one character I was scared would get portrayed incorrectly. However, it’s not all good news – the actual sound balancing and quality weren’t consistent, sometimes the vocals would be loud, then quiet, and some sounded like they were lower quality. I presume this may be due to the pandemic and people remote working, maybe this can be addressed and updated in a patch?
Finally, trophies. I obtained the platinum after two playthroughs but it’ll be easy enough to grab them all in one if you take note of what the criteria are before you start playing (I don’t look at the trophies beforehand anymore). Using the new PS5 firmware, you can even pin up to five trophies to the side of the screen so you don’t forget – which is what I did on my second go. Most trophies will come naturally, but things such as examining all the windows in the game, looking at all items in staff areas, and finding all the objects under the snow are easily missed – there’s no chapter select so if you accidentally progress, you have to start from the beginning.
Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases is a great game for those who wish to keep their brain and ‘little grey cells’ active. Although the exploration and investigation portion of the game is linear and guided, logically working out what key information links together is very satisfying and rewarding, especially when you get it right the first time. The story is very loyal to the source material, offering a new Poirot adventure that feels like Agatha Christie wrote it herself, complete with brilliant voice acting which is slightly let down by the inconsistent volume levels and quality.
If you’re a fan of the famous detective and logical thinking, you’ll really enjoy stepping into his shoes and mind as you solve the mysterious cases within Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases.
We were kindly given the American PS4 version of the game to review, this version has voice acting in English and French, with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese (Brazil).
However, it appears the EU version contains voice acting in English, French and German, with English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese subtitles.
I’m not quite sure why there are so many subtitle languages, and the German voice track, missing from the American version but I’ll question my PR contact and see if there are any plans to implement these missing options via a patch (as the American version of the game isn’t out until the 5th of October).
Agatha Christie - Hercule Poirot: The First Cases£34.99
- - The narrative and dialogue was well writen, mimicing the style of the source material
- - The voice actors did a great job, especially the portrayal of Poirot
- - The Mindmap helps immerse you within the game, forcing you to concentrate and step into the mind of the famous detective
- - Each chapter contains a new aspect of the case to investigate, combinating in working out the people behind each crime
- - Earning trophies also unlocks the in-game art book and movie player
- - Although I loved the voice acting, it has some inconsistencies with the sound levels and quality
- - With the lack of a hint option (I understand why), some solutions can be frustrating if you can't figure out which items are connected
- - Due to the game havin no PS5 (and possibly PS4 Pro) support, the game looks a little blurry and text is hard to read when zoomed out on a 4K TV
- - There's no chapter select, so if you accidentally progress without unlocking a trophy, you'll have to start all over again