An introduction to Hidden Object adventures
Adventure games have enjoyed an unexpected resurgence in recent years thanks to a growing numbers of dedicated indie developers, who snatched the torch from the likes of LucasArts and Sierra to keep it burning on. The past couple of years have also seen the rise a break-away faction of adventures, known as Hidden Object (HO) games.
While traditional adventure games are often designed for hardcore gamers, featuring brain-meltingly complex puzzles wrapped in lush and well-developed plotlines, HO games tend to be more casual, family-friendly affairs that usually shun in-depth stories for a quick and easy gaming fix. The basic premise has you hunting for a treasure list of items that are buried away on screen, kind of like a digital Where's Wally, but there are often a few twists thrown in - be it a time limit, objects that morph into other objects, or some other original slant to keep things interesting.
American company Big Fish Games is one of the leading distributors of HO games, releasing at least one new title every single day. With a vast and impressive back catalogue of titles on offer, Game Debate decided to plunge in and pop our HO cherry, to see what all the fuss was about. Our first port of call was Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylum...
What a nightmare
A fantastic animated introduction reveals the recurring nightmares of the troubled protagonist, who dreams every night that he’s being chased down a corridor of a creepy old asylum, before taking a brief but messy trip down an elevator shaft. Turning on the news after one such plummet, we see the asylum of our nightmares is a real place, and a body has just been found there. Most people would probably think ‘Bugger me, that’s weird,’ then switch over to Countdown. But not our hero, who decides instead to drive up to the asylum and break in, to explore the ruined interior...
Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylm's plot generally takes a backseat to exploration (until near the end, at least), but the locations are beautifully drawn and packed with interactive hotspots. There’s a good split between inventory puzzles and HO sections, with a couple of brainteasers thrown in to keep things interesting – although these puzzles are fairly scarce. They’re the usual blend of sliding tiles, object rearrangement and so on, although a couple are better thought-out, including one that tests how steady your mouse hand is. All puzzles are skippable if you’re the impatient type, and we admit we had to bypass one infuriating insect conundrum that had us frothing with rage after ten minutes of random clicking.
HO areas actually sparkle so are very easy to spot, and are generally simple to complete. Very few items are unfairly obscured, although you have to assemble some objects in order to collect them, which is a neat twist on the norm. Each screen cleared gives you an inventory item to use elsewhere, often to gain access to new locations. For instance, grab a wrench and it’ll allow you to tighten the bolts on a swimming pool ladder, to climb down. You can also find objects hidden around the asylum’s rooms, with only the occasional tricky hotspot. These inventory puzzles make Abandoned stand out from a lot of other HO games, so it feels more than an adventure game.
Give me a clue
Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylum will last the average gamer around five to six hours (not bad considering the cheap price) and is entertaining from start to finish. It’s never really scary per se but the atmosphere is pervadingly creepy at times, helped by the non-intrusive soundtrack, full of tinkly pianos and haunting violins. If you get stuck there’s a full built-in walkthrough (which we referred to a couple of times for the item puzzles) and you can highlight any objects that you’re struggling to find during the HO sections, with another built-in hint system.
Overall, Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylum is a good blend of inventory puzzles and hidden object sections, wrapped up in a polished and carefully designed package. It'll suit Hidden Object virgins as well as seasoned fans, so don't be afraid to dip your toe in and test it out.