By now, we should all be fairly used to the way hidden object games have been translated to a free-to-play, social space like Facebook. Games contain a limited number of scenes that must be replayed time and time again to earn points and eventually unlock new scenes, and an overall storyline typically surrounding mystery or romance guides us along the way. That's also the general setup of PopCap's Facebook hidden object game Hidden Agenda, but thankfully, PopCap adds in some fresh touches and originality on the side.
Hidden Agenda places players in the role of detective, as they enter a world filled with talking animals in the hopes of solving a murder case. There are plenty of characters to meet along the way, ranging from the clueless town sheriff to restaurant owners that know more than they might be putting on. Early on, you'll also meet two wealthy rival families who want nothing more than to be left to enjoy their riches while also trying to soil the names of their enemies.
The storyline in Hidden Agenda is an interesting one, as the characters have been given real depth that makes you question whether or not they're telling you the truth through the game's text-based conversations. As is the case with other Facebook hidden object games, you'll be given quests by these characters that tend to revolve around completing certain scenes, earning puzzle pieces (mastery stars) or doing jobs for folks out in the overall town.
This job mechanic is where a feeling of freshness comes into play, as characters will ask you to find five hidden objects that have been placed on town buildings, sidewalks, bushes, and so on. These interactions will reward you with collectible items that may be needed to complete quests or unlock new scenes, but they aren't free to complete. You'll need to spend energy on these jobs, just as you spend energy to play the game's traditional hidden object scenes, so you'll need to balance the use of your energy between the two modes of play to make the most progress.
The traditional hidden object scenes themselves are fairly basic, but they can be played in one of three formats. The standard "Seek & Find" mode gives you a limited number of items and no time limit to find them, while the "Timed" mode asks you to find as many items in the scene as you can within a specific time limit. As you find items on these Timed lists, more will simply appear until you've found them all or time runs out. Finally, Spot the Difference scenes give you two seemingly identical pictures, and ask you to find a series of differences between them.
This isn't the first time that we've seen this variety added to a hidden object game, as EA's JetSet Secrets also offered varied play modes. However, where JetSet Secrets comes with bright, vibrant graphics, Hidden Agenda is more muted, and not in a good way. Many of the scenes are dark and lack sharp details. Either that, or too many items are presented in a single color, so they're too hard to spot.
Thankfully, each scene doesn't require as many energy to complete as is the standard across the genre, so you can complete scenes more often to make up for the points that you miss because the game has combos that are more difficult to earn. As it stands, it's almost impossible to play Hidden Agenda without being in fullscreen mode, and we wish there was more to do outside of hidden object scenes and the jobs out in the overall map.
On top of this, there are some technical issues that need to be addressed to make the experience great. For one, it usually takes multiple clicks for the game to open up quest windows or scene windows. In addition, many of the town's characters have exclamation marks on top of their head to alert you when a new job is available. This is fine, except that these characters and their symbols often cover up the hidden objects you're meant to find, adding unnecessary challenge to a genre that's already challenging by default.
Hidden Agenda's storyline is interesting and funny, and the job mechanic is a nice change of pace outside of the standard hidden object scenes. However, at this early stage of the game, that's all the title has going for it, as its hidden object scenes lack real detail and leave much to be desired. Still, if you'd like to get in on the ground floor of PopCap's newest offering, you can play the game for free right now on Facebook.
Play Hidden Agenda on Facebook >
Have you tried Hidden Agenda or other Facebook hidden object games? What do you think of this free-to-play setup? Sound off in the comments!