Madame Fate is one of the latest Hidden Object (HO) games from the Mystery Case Files series, the same franchise that gave us the Ravenhearst horror titles and Dire Grove. A furtive fortune teller at a rather sinister circus has predicted her own death at midnight, and suspects that one of the other carnies is plotting to do her in. It’s up to you to investigate each of the shady characters in turn, a process which of course involves searching for coat hangers and paintbrushes in horrendously cluttered scenes.
Hide and seek
Madame Fate ramps up the difficulty from the likes of Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylum, with some truly fiendish HO screens. Some of the objects blend into the background perfectly, while others are mostly obscured or not quite what you’d expect – for instance, if you’re asked to find shells, you could be looking for seashells, or egg shells, or even shotgun shells. The ambiguity threw us off on a number of occasions. Don’t expect any semblance of logic either – you’ll see orange cows floating in the sky and all kinds of craziness. Still, if you’re sick of easy HO games and are looking for a serious challenge, you’ll certainly find it here. Some environments are repeated occasionally which is a shame, but it never gets so you're completely sick of a single screen.
Tension is further bolstered by a time limit for each section – on normal difficulty you have just over half an hour to complete around six different HO screens, before unlocking and solving the final puzzle. We usually finished each section with around 10-15 minutes left, but the constantly ticking timer definitely ensures you don’t linger too long on any single screen. Hidden Object virgins will be relieved to know there’s an easy mode which gives you extra time, and you can win back some precious seconds by finding objects in quick succession. Each section also gives you five hints, which highlight any particularly taxing objects.
Riddle me this
Some of the HO screens must be unlocked first by solving a puzzle first, which helps to keep gameplay fresh and break up the meticulous scanning of crowded screens. The puzzles are often word games of some description – hangman, anagrams and other such teasers. Each section also culminates in a random puzzle, which has to be figured out before it can be solved – with no instructions from the game unless you’re desperately lost. Working out what you have to do often involves a fair bit of trial and error, clicking on random objects and characters to see what happens, and for us this was the most fun part of the game. One example has you placing movie negatives in order, to produce a finished film reel. Another tests your ability to manoeuvre the cursor around and click as fast as possible. The level of challenge is pretty much perfect (although we got massively stuck on the very final conundrum and had to resort to a walkthrough) and we loved the variety.
If you’re a HO veteran then you’ll get a kick out of Madame Fate, which combines fiendish treasure hunts with a good selection of well-designed brainteasers. It’ll last you around eight to nine hours if you don’t have to repeat any sections, so is almost double the length of many HO games. HO virgins should start with something more leisurely, but genre fans should lap this up.