If you've ever played games on a mobile phone, tablet or PC, the chances are that you will have played a Hidden Object game. The aforementioned platforms are flooded with games of this sub-genre. There are the few that are of fantastic quality, the many that are of rather questionable quality and plenty of others to fit in between the two. Whether it is because the budget of these titles won't stretch to console development or, more likely, it is because the genre struggles on a platform where players can't tap the screen or use a mouse, Hidden Object games are few and far between on consoles such as the Xbox One. Developer Artifex Mundi has set out to change this. After the success of Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart
, they've brought a second Hidden Object title to Xbox gamers: Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink
Mysterious earthquakes are devastating the steampunk world of Gottland. They're becoming stronger and more frequent. Dr Ambrose Ink, a renowned scientist, has been investigating these occurrences and all of the evidence that he has gathered so far points in the direction of the village of Hochwald. More specifically, it implicates the doings of Gerhard Barber, Gottland's General Engineer, who resides in the closely guarded Barber Family Castle up in the nearby mountains. However, Ink needs definite proof if he is to stop these earthquakes and, to do this, he enlists the help of intelligence special agent Evangeline Glass. Can the titular pair get to the bottom of the mystery?
While Artifex Mundi may be known primarily for Hidden Object titles, this type of gameplay does not make up the majority of the game. Instead, players may be surprised to find that the title follows the format of a standard Point & Click title, albeit a simple one that won't tax the brain cells too much. Players will need to search a variety of locations for clues or items that are needed to progress further, or occasionally talk to a supporting character. There are few red herrings -- every item serves a purpose and a lack of conversation options makes it impossible for players to avoid the clues that they need. There's even Matthew, Glass' mechanical bird companion, who is able to reach objects that would normally be out of reach and providing a simple solution to an issue that would otherwise be complicated and convoluted in other Adventure titles.
You need to get past those gates and Matthew can't help you this time.
Aside from the standard point & click gameplay, players will find HOGs and FROGs, but not those of the animal variety. In most of the game's locations, players will click an area to be taken into a close-up view. These always take the form of a mini-game, the first type of which is the developer's speciality Hidden Object Game (HOG). Unlike many hidden object games, there are just enough objects to provide a bit of a challenge when trying to locate the listed items, but not too many that the scene becomes a cluttered mess. The text clues also make it perfectly clear as to what you are trying to find -- there is no trying to work out if "Bat" refers to an animal or one of the many varieties of sports implements. Items in white text can be found straight away. Objects in blue text require some manipulation of other objects to reveal the item that is needed, but as the cursor provides obvious indication of interactable objects, these can be solved simply through trial and error if needs must.
Other close-up scenes take the form of a Fragmented Object Game (FROG), where pictorial clues are provided. Each picture represents a piece of an object. Once all of the pieces are collected, the object is pieced back together. Sometimes the picture clues are too small to be of much use, meaning that players may resort to randomly clicking over the scene. With a lack of penalty for clicking too frequently and no scoring system in sight, there's no incentive to be picky. Hints are provided and have a cooldown timer once used, but there's little point in using them when random clicking has the same result.
Yes, that is a clockwork computer.
Then there are the interactable Hidden Object games for which there is no convenient acronym. In these scenes, players see silhouettes of the objects that they must find, but each object can then be used to solve a puzzle within the same scene. For example, players may find kindling and a match. Once the kindling is put in the correct place and is lit with the match, the smoke may scare away a nearby creature and make a new object visible. Other mini-games take the form of a variety of logic puzzles. None of these mini-games are too difficult, but the player does have the option to skip them if they hit a wall. Be aware, though, that you will cheat your way out of an achievement if you choose to do this. The game does offer two difficulty levels, Normal and Expert, but all that this does is to change the availability of hints and HUD clues. Most players will easily complete the game on Expert difficulty. This is not necessarily a bad thing and it makes the game much more accessible to a wider audience. You don't need to be a veteran of the genre to be able to reach the end of the game.
The game's story travels along at a satisfying pace. The game may be short at just 3-5 hours for completion, but this means that it doesn't outstay its welcome. Over this period of time, players will be treated to a very pretty village where a lot of care has been taken over the hand-drawn appearance of the game's characters and scenery. The voice acting is a little more hit or miss. The game's leading characters are voiced adequately, but some of the supporting characters will make you squirm, especially the hilarious over-the-top German accents afforded to Gerhard Barber and his soldiers.
You need to talk to all of these people. That may also include the cat.
Upon completion of the story, players will unlock a final bonus prequel chapter that tells the story of Ink and the reason why he felt the need to request the help of Glass. The chapter will add an extra hour to your play time and offers more of the same, the story necessitating the re-use of many locations and characters. You will need to complete this chapter to earn one of the game's achievements, the other 17 of which can be earned in a single playthrough of the story. To do this, you'll need to make sure that you play on Expert difficulty
and not skip any of the game's mini-games
. You will also need to find all of the game's Steambug collectibles
, of which there is one in every location, and there is one missable achievement that requires players to talk to everyone in the Inn
. None of these will provide much of a challenge.
Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink will surprise many gamers. While genre aficionados might find the gameplay a bit too simple, most will appreciate its accessibility. Artifex Mundi's experience with the genre is obvious with well-balanced hidden object gameplay coupled with puzzles that never feel frustrating. Although the game may feel short, the story doesn't outstay its welcome and players will likely appreciate the shorter amount of time spent listening to the variable quality of the voice acting. Adventure fans shouldn't pass this one up, and even those who don't normally play this type of game should perhaps consider splashing out on an easy and enjoyable completion.
- Simple and accessible gameplay
- Pretty graphics
- Pictorial clues can be too small
- Questionable voice acting
The reviewer spent five hours trudging through the snow and avoiding hostile clockwork contraptions to solve the mystery of the earthquakes and earn all 18 of the game's achievements. An Xbox One review copy was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.