Kids aren't the only ones to get treats each October. The month of All Hallows' Eve is always good for witches, ghost stories, and other supernatural gaming thrills. Such was certainly the case this year, as more than a few new casual releases involved deserted ghost towns, eternal curses, twisted carnivals, legendary evils, and tragic tales from the afterlife. From Poe's Premature Burial to a premature death that can only be reversed by fixing the karmic wrongs of past lives, there's plenty of haunted exploring to be done. But all of them share the usual hidden object/lite adventuring formula, and with so many similar themes between them, how do you know where to start? Simple: just keep reading!
Page 1: Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial, Reincarnations: Back to Reality
Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial
by Merlina McGovern
Being buried alive must surely be one of the most terrifying fates one can experience. Fortunately, in ERS Game Studio’s third Dark Tales outing, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial, you won’t personally have to endure the claustrophobia of being locked in a crypt before your time, but instead will enjoy plenty of exploration, puzzling, and a perfectly grim story in this enjoyable, if unremarkable, hidden object adventure.
As with the earlier games, you play as a partner to the intellectual investigator C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin has been called to a mid-19th century French town to investigate the disappearance of a beautiful young woman named Victorine. The mystery deepens right from the start in a gorgeous cinematic with billowing blue smoke rushing across caramel and orange autumn trees. It materializes into a ghostly woman who beckons to you – she seems to want to help you, and she most definitely is not Victorine. After the encounter, you continue on with Dupin to meet a poor writer named Julien, who was Victorine’s lover. Because of Julien’s lowly station, Victorine married a wealthier man, Renelle, who appears to have a variety of dark secrets.
Your travels are set against a lovely, pastoral countryside interspersed with lively animations, like a charming town square with brick-front townhomes topped by red-tiled roofs and slowly rotating weathervanes. Peach sherbet clouds scud across a twilight sky, and a striped awning flutters in the wind. Pigeons coo and waddle around pecking for food near a fountain, and just out of the corner of your eye, a white mist flits from window to window in a building in the background. You’ll explore a ghostly cemetery with crypts overgrown with vines and angel statuary, visit various shops, including a pharmacy and a fish monger’s store, as well as the grounds outside Renelle’s mansion and a variety of rooms within the manor itself. With its multitude of locations, this game would very much have benefitted from a quick travel map to eliminate backtracking.
The character animations and artwork are varied and help evoke a particular feel for each person. Dupin is his typical intellectual self, with his flowing brown locks, full pink lips, and top hat; this isn’t a detective who gets down and dirty. He’s a man who uses “ratiocination” to solve mysteries. Julien, with his long golden hair and worry-etched face, is the very picture of misery. The voice acting can be hit or miss, with the very formal Dupin using proper language to couch his observations to Julien, who sounds more like a laid back surfer than a struggling French artist. As you explore, accordions do a buoyant duet with a piano, while at other times a sad violin simpers in the background.
You won’t find any innovations in this typical hidden object adventure, but the formula is still enjoyable, with a good amount of puzzling fun. The inventory puzzles can often be layered; you’ll need to find several items before you can shoot out a lamp that will illuminate activities you need to conduct in secrecy, for example. For many of these inventory puzzles, you’ll stumble upon workstations that require you to place all of the appropriate materials before assembling them to create a more complicated tool, such as a blow dart or grappling hook. You’ll find some of the items you need during hidden object searches. Some marked items require extra interaction, which can sometimes be difficult to discern in the highly crowded scenes, even with sparkles highlighting one-half of necessary combinations. Unfortunately, even with the wide variety of environments to explore, you’ll still revisit many of these scenes to look for more hidden objects later.
The many logic puzzles you encounter are for the most part your typical tile-rotating, slider, and locking puzzles. Some, however, are interesting variations and deviations from run-of-the-mill types. Finding a combination for a lock may involve some clever fingerprint lifting, and a beautiful constellation puzzle disguises a connect-the-dots exercise. Any puzzles can be skipped, but there’s little help in between, as there are no hints of any kind available beyond hidden object highlights.
The developers have deviated fairly significantly from Poe’s original tale, which is a morbid meditation on the horrors of being buried alive. Poe evokes a sense of claustrophobia and terror as he tells the various stories of people trapped beneath the devouring earth while life passes by above them. This Dark Tales version takes one of the tales from Poe’s story and fleshes it out, so to speak, over the course of four hours, focusing on the love story between Julien and Victorine. Rather than enclosed and hemmed in, the story here is roaming and unobstructed as you explore the countryside and investigate Victorine’s disappearance.
The main game resolves nicely, and the bonus chapter in the Collector’s Edition simply tacks on a tale of another woman who may have been a victim before Victorine. While there are some all-new scenes in an underground crypt, the half-hour bonus chapter also sends you back to Renelle’s house, where you’ll explore scenes that you’ve already visited. Both versions of the game offer a nice mix of traditional casual adventuring in this very loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial that breaks the story wide open, inviting you to delve into the crypts that should only belong to the dead.
Reincarnations: Back to Reality
by Shuva Raha
Driving on a lonely road one night, a young woman is attacked by four vengeful spirits, who use dangerous tricks like blinding and freezing to crash her car, killing her on the spot. Before reaching its final resting place, Jane's soul arrives in an astral library, where she must investigate her past lives to solve grievances and improve her karma enough to earn another chance at her current life. Those familiar with Vogat Interactive's Reincarnations series will recognise the concept as well as the mystically-gifted protagonist, and there's little new in this third installment, Back to Reality. But the good news is that this edition is lengthier, with four cases to solve over five-plus hours this time, and the quests are a tightly-knit collection of moderately challenging inventory, hidden object and standalone puzzles set against attractive, well-designed scenarios.
Jane's first incarnation is a village doctor in the early 1900s, who must solve a heinous murder to save the locals who have been blinded by a ghost. The second case is more contemporary, as a museum guard has to recapture a chaotic ancient spirit unwittingly set free by a student. The third story is set at the North Pole, where a child rescued from a shipwreck must free her adoptive family from the clutches of the accidentally released and terribly annoyed Spirit of the North. The final case is the most elaborate and unique, and has a boy trying to save his sister from scientists researching human life longevity via gruesome experiments on a weirdly-forested island in the Pacific. The first and last cases are morbidly fascinating, though the gameplay and styling of the mysterious island is easily the winner.
Letters, notes and photos reveal more about each case as events progress, and clicking any hotspot provides straightforward instruction about what to do with it. Quests include collecting practical tools as well as pieces of esoteric puzzles, and then using them to resolve the big problems. The 21 hidden object scenes are stocked with somewhat-relevant objects, and often require multiple numbers of items to be collected, which ups the count well beyond the listed dozen. There are some interactive items too, like wheat to be ground into flour, or a wooden idol to be carved on the spot. Each scene yields one useful object and is repeated once, though items found the first time are left out of round two. Many objects are shared between different search screens, and several are hard to find as they are partly hidden under other things. The independent puzzles cover variations of jigsaws, pattern- and image-matching, easy math, light beam redirection, and the often-maddening Lights Out tasks. Some are creative, like fitting animal cutouts on pegs on a wall, and some are fairly challenging, such as a deceptively difficult jigsaw of a seahorse.
There are three modes of difficulty, and without the benefit of sparkles in the tougher two, you have to pixel hunt for hotspots and revisit scenes frequently to check for hidden object areas that may have been reactivated. Playing time is padded with superfluous activities like moving aside leaves one at a time or clicking repeatedly to clear piles of stone or ice, but thankfully multi-purpose tools like hammers and axes stay in the inventory for as long as needed, thus eliminating repetitive quests to gather generic tools. There is a comprehensive task list, though given the linear format of the game, it's more a helpful guide than a crucial reference.
The hundred-odd realistic screens are detailed with shadows, foliage and textures, and distinctly represent each setting, whether the idyllic but creepy village, the museum and its cleverly-engineered tableaux, the Arctic and its Aurora Borealis backdrop, or the outlandish island with its mutant flora and mechanical fauna. A cave-art hidden object screen adds freshness to the typical stashes, and collected items are showcased in appropriate containers like a wicker basket when in the village. The minigames are especially well-designed, with expertly animated doors, rotating parts and special effects. In fact, in-game animation goes beyond the staples of drifting snow and flickering fires to include consistently believable motion, such as a robotic spider standing up or a shark lunging forward. Jane's spirit possessing and leaving her incarnations is also impressive. Unfortunately, some screens suffer from considerable pixellation beyond their native 1024x768 resolution, especially the partially-animated cutscenes, though they do scale to widescreen if you UNcheck the widescreen menu option.
Each scenario has a soundtrack suited to its mood, while sound effects are just right and do not overwhelm the proceedings; together they compensate adequately for the absence of voice acting. Sensible and considerate, Jane is willing and resourceful enough to undo the failings of her past lives. She's blessed with a script that is concise yet precise, albeit sometimes to the point of stating the obvious, and is a companionable partner to play with. Interestingly, though three of her four incarnations are male, her practical personality makes the transitions feel natural and gender-independent.
Back to life after her ordeals in the astral library, the Collector’s Edition bonus chapter sees Jane soon dragged into the depths of a new mystery by yet another disconsolate spirit. Based on the urban legend of the White Lady, this story is about a rich pirate's daughter who was betrayed by her greedy fiancé and has since been exacting her revenge on random young men by drowning them in the aptly-named Disappearance Bay. The hour-long expansion is similar in gameplay to the main segment, with several inventory quests that send Jane back and forth between a series of underwater caves containing dead bodies, treasure, a shark, and four standalone puzzles including a devilish rotator with pearls to be set in three different patterns. The four hidden object screens are repeated once each. A strictly-standalone affair, the extra case is recommended mainly if the original four leave you gasping immediately for more.
Reincarnations: Back To Reality is quite like an episodic television series with a 'case of the week' formula, and loyally follows its two predecessors in concept and gameplay. It's basically a collection of four mini-stories tied together by a flimsy central arc. This is great for variety given the four diverse scenarios, but on the flip side, the stories and characters lack depth as each case is too brief to delve beyond the superficial. But Reincarnations makes up for its simplistic plots with solid execution, and is packed to the brim with engaging casual adventuring. Despite the niggles of the harder modes – tough-to-locate hotspots, hidden object areas reactivated without notice, some clueless wandering – the game provides over five hours of activity-oriented entertainment, and if you're still craving more, serves up a fifth case as the CE extra. And if even that's not enough, rest assured that yet another reincarnation is on the horizon.Continued on the next page...
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC