It’s quite an ominous title – Hidden: On the trail of the Ancients. Who were the Ancients? What adventure awaits me on this trail I apparently will need to follow? And of course, most intriguing of all: what is it that has been hidden? And by Ancients, no less? Well, at the risk of spoilers, I can tell you some of the things that have been hidden. The rest of the game, for starters. You’ll be quite happily playing your way through the second area when the game will end quite abruptly. The fact this is an episode and you’ll need to wait for, then buy, the sequel to find out anything further, also hidden. Any indication of the above at all on the Steam store page or the game’s marketing, that’s hidden too.
Developed by: Lost Spell
Published by: Lost Spell
Release date: August 5th, 2015
- Rich and mature Story, strengthened with docs, books, audio records and visual elements along the adventure.
- Classic Point n’ click gameplay.
- Intriguing and immersive detailed high-res locations set in the 30s.
- Horror fiction inspired by writers such as Algernon Blackwood and H. P. Lovecraft.
Ah, Ouroborous, you old rascal. Fancy seeing you here.
Before writing this review I thought quite a lot about whether I am being unfair. This is an indie title, developer-publisher Lost Spell having achieved their vision through Steam’s Green Light programme. The life of an indie developer is not one of streets paved with gold and unlimited funding and we should not expect games of the depth and length of the big boys in the industry, at least not at first pass. I’ve argued before that 10 bucks for 4 or 5 hours play is better value than going to the cinema these days, often not just in terms of time-for-cash but also creative return.
There are lots and lots of tools in this game. At one point, I had a hammer, a file, a wrench and a screwdriver. My dad would be proud. However, the dev seemed to think this was not enough and added additional photographs of tools as well.
I also consider games like the Darkness Within titles, which universe’s stories are not concluded in a single title, are enjoyable in their own right and leave you looking forward to future stories from those worlds. But therein is the problem with H:OTTOTA: it doesn’t conclude an individual story leading to its sequel. It’s not an episode because there’s no narrative arc within its play time. The focus of many of the puzzles is gaining information, photographs and etchings which are of zero use in this game. Thus, when the second act of the unconcluded story ends and brings the titles, it also brings a “what the heck was that?” feeling which is sadly dissatisfying.
I would love to take a classic steam train to Patagonia. Just not to a haunted camp site, obviously.
This is a shame as there is a lot which is done right in this title. At the start I was reasonably impressed, and it is possibly that early promise not being delivered on that skews my overall assessment of the game. The opening is cinematic, presenting studio, producer, music composer and then the voice cast as the stars as though starting a movie. The accompanying music is high quality, ominous with some mournful strings. The game’s premise is established through an opening narration which is classic gothic horror, if a little clumsy, which reminded me of the opening to the original Penumbra (which is no bad thing as one of my favourite games).
The writing in the background documents is excellent. However, the game also has that unfortunate horror trope that someone mysteriously doesn’t have the time to tell you what the heck happened, although they have time to write down that they don’t have time to tell you what happened.
I also very much liked the setting. One of the reasons the original Star Wars movie presented such a compelling universe was that it started its story partway through. So here protagonist Thomas Farrell arrives in Buenos Aires, en route to join an expedition in Patagonia which has gone on ahead, but first he is trying to find out what happened to Adriano Scopelli, a friend and colleague of his father who is leading the expedition.
“It’s too quiet,” says protagonist Farrell as his horse munches incredibly loudly into my ears.
From here, its classic point and click adventure territory, which is also no bad thing. There is no WASD free-walking, there is a free view of the environment which can be further examined with a mouse click. Movement is the traditional arrow-forward hotspot mechanism. There are no innovations here, like Penumbra/Amnesia sanity levels or the deduction mechanism in Darkness Within. However, puzzles are mostly logical, and with some notably very high quality writing in the documents you find, there is a good sense both of satisfaction as you piece together what’s happened and a growing unease at that revelation, including one section of palpable potential peril for the protagonist in an isolated mountain cabin. Unfortunately, it then just ends.
The works of Edgar Allan Poe, covered in blood. Yep, I’m outta here.