reviewed on PC
Just a click away
The interface itself is as simple as the premise. The left mouse button is all that you'll need, and you won't have to do anything other than click it on the correct item to send it to your clue bag. The item will then disappear off the picture and off the list - which is great for reducing some of the confusion.
Naturally, the mouse cursor does not give any indication of whether or not it is hovering over a required item, or whether or not it is hovering over an item at all. You can find yourself clicking repeatedly over a location where you -think- you see something, but there's nothing there but scenery. Or there might be something there which you don't need to collect, but the program doesn't let you know either way. Your only feedback is either a wrong or right sound-effect, accompanied if necessary by a correctly-discovered item flashing and moving off the picture.
The greatest part about all games in this series is that within each game, the player isn't simply confronted with individual rooms, but rather the search is integrated into some sort of detective story in which the player is trying to uncover some plot or evidence for some purpose (it changes in each sequel, of course).
For instance, in the first game Hidden Expedition Titanic, the player makes dives into the wreck of the titanic to rescue items of historical importance and later donate them to a museum. What happens in practice is that the player goes through a series of dives. Each dive will take the player to a couple of rooms as they are explained above, where he must find a set number of items. The player needs to collect all the important items in these rooms, around 8 to 10 items each. He may choose to visit the rooms in any order, and may even switch from one room to the other should he become too frustrated with one. Once all the required items in all available rooms are found, the player then enters a puzzle phase where he must solve some sort of puzzle, often a simple but still challenging puzzle, which concludes the dive. This could be anything from a simple jigsaw puzzle to another 'find the items' round where the player is shown the pictures of the items he needs to find (making this easier than a proper room). A short congratulation follows, and the player is then promoted to the next level, and a new dive begins promptly.
In the Mystery Case File series, which followed Hidden Expedition, the designers took the idea a step further and further with each successive sequel. To begin with there are no dives, but rather the player visits locations in a city to look for clues about particular crimes or particular individuals suspected of crimes. Each investigation may include up to eight different locations, and the puzzles at the end of each investigation are much more interesting, including a word search or a find-the-pairs game in Prime Suspects.
Time is monkey
The most important element of the game, and gosh jolly gee I can't believe I'm just getting to it, is time. Naturally, games like this wouldn't prove much of a challenge without a nice little timer counting down the seconds until utter doom (or rather the failure of the level). Each dive or investigation gives the player a limited amount of time during which he or she must find all the items in all the given scenes as well as solve the finishing puzzle. At first this may seem very daunting, especially for anyone who plays the online demos which offer greatly shortened time limits. The full-games and their shareware versions offer a much more relaxed time frame, and of course the later missions are much more challenging where time is concerned. In the earlier games, clicking on the wrong item or on background scenery may cause a time penalty, but this is often not severe enough to really discourage the occasional miss.
In Prime Suspects, the penalty was completely removed, and in Ravenhearst there is also an option for relaxed play where there is certainly enough time to play slowly.
Another major perk in the game is the 'Get a Hint' button, which is practically a lifesaver when you feel your brain is about to meltdown after ten minutes of pixel-scouring. This will make a sparkling effect over an area where one of the items on your list is hidden. Fortunately, the designers at Big Fish realized the importance of these, so you get three of them in Huntsville, four in Prime Suspects, and a whopping five in Ravenhearst, per mission. After playing the games for a while though, you'll often find that the hint button merely saves you time in hunting the last items in a level, but they're generally very handy for picking out something tiny like a matchstick in a fedora's strap, or an item camouflaged in the wallpaper. However you don't get to choose which item on your list will be hinted, so it's best to save the hints for the moment when only one or two items remain to be found. The hint comes especially in handy if you're running out of time.
No Pros and Cons at this time