Having conquered both PC and the Nintendo DS, the hidden object game series Mystery Case Files is adding a new cinematic twist with its latest release. If you're not familiar with the hidden object game genre, you're missing out on one of the greatest secrets in so-called "casual" gaming.
These games take a simple game experience -- finding innocuous hidden objects hidden in different onscreen tableaus -- and enhance it with a mystery driven plot worthy of Jessica Fletcher. You play the detective and set out to solve puzzles and find clues that will help you crack the case.
Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove takes this basic premise and adds in a Myst-like point and click adventure and -- new to the series -- full-motion video in the form of mini shaky-cam segments done in a Blair Witch Project style. The acting in the clips verges on cheesy at times, but they also dial up the game's spooky atmosphere.
Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove takes place in the UK, where four graduate students on the hunt for Celtic ruins have mysteriously disappeared, leaving video clues to what happened scattered across the snowy landscape.
The game seamlessly blends point and click adventure with hidden object puzzles, and the formula generally goes like this: Click and look around an environment, learn that you need to find an object to complete a task, then locate said object in the hidden object puzzles scattered around the environments. That's an oversimplification, but you get the picture.
The game's hidden object puzzles, which you'll find highlighted (with sparkles) in different areas of the game, are relatively simple to solve. You're given a list of items to locate in a scene; once you find them, simply click on them and they disappear. Hints can be used freely while solving these puzzles, but you'll have to wait for the hint meter (located on the bottom right hand of the screen) to fill up before using it again.
The game's other puzzles offer more a challenge, whether it's solving word puzzles or figuring out how to get past obstacles standing in your way. If you're completely flummoxed, be sure to refer to your character's journal, which sometimes contains vital clues you might not think about on your own.
The only quibble with the game is that you're required to go back and solve the same hidden object puzzles repeatedly. Once you've already studied a hidden object scene, returning to it again removes most of the challenge, especially since you're often required to find the same objects all over again. There's also no real way of knowing when you're supposed to return to a hidden object scene, so when you're stuck or need a new object, you'll often have to make the rounds to see if a puzzle has been reactivated (again, indicated by sparkles).
In the end, that's a minor gripe, and Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove once again proves that this isn't your grandma's puzzle game (though she'll probably like it just as much as you will). Instead, this downloadable game delivers a rich interactive experience that will often keep you on the edge of your seat. Just make sure you don't play with the lights out.