A confession – I am a casual gamer. We both are. So, with that in mind, imagine how excited we were to see that there was a new Mystery Case Files game. And that it was titled Return to Ravenhearst!
For those of you bemused by the above paragraph, you may as well give up now. Or go to Big Fish’s website and see for yourself.
Anyway, yes. Mystery Case Files games are a class above the games found in the seemingly unending slew of hidden-object games. Their artwork is crisp, distinctive and varied – a noteworthy feature in a genre dominated by repetitive object hunts. Their games have enough of a story to pull you along, but not so much that you’re clicking through pages of irrelevant, annoying exposition before the next cluttered screen (the exception I make here is for Nevosoft games, whose long dialogue scenes are often very funny). The atmosphere they generate is top-class, from the goofy Huntsville and Prime Suspects to the creeping dread of Ravenhearst and the black comedy of Madame Fate. On top of all this, the extra bits are great – the locked doors in the first Ravenhearst are a high-water mark in casual game puzzles and the morphing objects in Madame Fate gave revisiting areas a whole new level of challenge.
Well, good news for those who like the extra bits – this time out the emphasis is firmly on puzzling, with object-finding a close (and still satisfying) second. The game even moves you around in a less conventional hidden-object fashion. Instead of a hub screen with locations to be investigated, instead there is a seamless point-and-click interface to walk you from one location to the next, with objects or areas of interest highlighted with sparkles. All very Nancy Drew (but that’s no bad thing, since Her Interactive’s series is also head and shoulders above the competition). The puzzles are once again designed as maddening locks, some conventional and some entirely novel. Added to these are the occasional take object a to spot b type of conundrum, though these rarely pose much of a challenge – they mainly exist to keep you hunting through the hidden object screens.
Once again, the atmopshere is superbly sustained. Whistling wind and unpredictable creaks mingle with pleading for ghostly release as you creep through the battered Ravenhearst mansion (incidentally, this is set in Blackpool but please try to put that out of your mind or you’ll go crazy at the shaky grasp of all things British), each click drawing you nearer to some half-seen shape or ghostly glow. As well as the odd genuinely creepy moment, there’s a real sense of oppressive fear to the game, and even the questionable live-action inserts do little to dispel it – for the record here, the acting is mostly fine for a videogame but edges into hammy with the late appearance of a new character in the Ravenhearst story. They’ve clearly put a lot of effort in, though, and there’s even a nice gag reel over the credits.
My one criticism would be that it is too short. We blasted through it in about 6 hours, which is an okay duration but not nearly as long as we’ve come to expect from Mystery Case Files. A few more hidden-object screens wouldn’t have gone amiss, I think. After all, how can one begrudge padding of that nature when it’s of such high quality?
But that’s a minor point, and I think almost irrelevant considering that it is a casual game – hardcore gamers won’t be sitting down for day-long sessions on this, it’s a diversion for an hour or so on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. Very gloomy. Almost unnaturally gl… hey, was that someone walking past the window?