A throwaway game turns out to be a blessing in disguise.
So my absence from the Internet has surely been tough on all my readers, all five of you. I like to call you my Rangers and see myself as your Zordon. “Rangers, Eipix has released another mediocre game, you must hurry!” (Just joking, I totally love you, Eipix… ’cause you’re totally reading this, right?) Ahem, where was I? Oh, right, time without me must’ve been tough.
But don’t worry, it’s been tough on me as well. No computer means no HOPA to play which, I’m sure you understand, is very tough on me. The thing about me is that if I stay away from something long enough then my interest kind of dies down to the point where I just… can’t be bothered. This happens in pretty much every facet of my life but it’s especially prevalent when it comes to my fascinations, as I like to call them.
So when I got my computer back, almost two weeks ago now, I honestly didn’t feel like playing much HOPA. Eventually I did get myself together and started playing Christmas Stories: Puss in Boots (which I’ll be posting about shortly) but it still felt more like an obligation than desire which is a bad place for me to be because the moment I feel like something is an obligation, I’m all the more likely to start disliking it.
I don’t do well with responsibility.
But I decided to try a new series to really get me going again and… well, it worked. I didn’t think it would but it totally did. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sometimes I need to be reminded why I love HOPA as much as I do and… well, Dark Dimensions: City of Fog did just that.
All around the world there are openings into another dimension. Silvertown was one such place and it vanished over a hundred years ago. Both buildings and people vanished completely from the face of the Earth. Until now. What used to be a dead end road suddenly leads back into Silvertown after all these years. But what made the city disappear and how is the murder of a young girl connected to it all? It’s up to you to solve the mystery of the City of Fog.
Dark Dimensions: City of Fog was made by Daily Magic Productions, a relatively new company to the market, out of Russia. I have absolutely zero idea why it is that Eastern Europe has cornered the market when it comes to HOPA. For every studio not in Eastern Europe or Russia there’s at least two or three from there. I’m not complaining, I’m happy for them but it just confuses me.
Anyhow, I’m not overly familiar with this studio as I’ve only played one other game from them, Sable Maze: Sullivan River. So I really don’t have an opinion about their work as a whole yet, not in the same way that I can talk about Eipix, Elephant or ERS. I intend to change that, though, as Dark Dimensions: City of Fog is actually a pretty good game.
Flawed… but good.
First thing worth mentioning is that the story isn’t necessarily all that good. It’s not bad but for a HOPA it’s hopelessly generic. You’re yet another P.I. looking into yet another mysterious murder with supernatural themes. But at least it’s not covered in ice this time around. That being said, however, it does eventually do something clever with the murder mystery as a whole that takes it into properly creepy territory. While it doesn’t do nearly as much with it as I would’ve liked, it still reminded me of some of the earliest HOPA I played that made my hair stand up.
It doesn’t quite get me to that level of fear but it’s definitely a head above many other supposedly scary HOPA. The atmosphere is definitely there, using colors pretty well and keeping to a fairly realistic style that meshes well with the actual actors used for the characters in the game. It’s partially my own fault but I just can’t get into a horror game that features lifeless, soulless paper cutouts that inhabit that strange valley called Uncanny.
It’s probably just me but I find this way of using live actors incredibly endearing and charming, calling back to the old days when everyone was just so fascinated by the fact you could put actual people in games rather than just pixels meant to represent people. It also gives the graphics some much needed life as it’s not easy bringing 2D to convincing life. Animating is hard and I think a lot of studios could cut themselves some slack by using actors.
But that’s just me.
Otherwise the graphics really only have one more problem: blue. It might seem like a weird complaint, how can a color be an issue? Especially in a dark and atmospheric game like this? You gotta have blue, right? Especially with the moon shining and all that jazz, right?
Well, yes, true, partially but also not at all true. It’s not necessarily the color itself that I hate or dislike, though I’m getting there thanks to all HOPA that abuse it. Seriously, the color blue should divorce HOPA. But it’s when the color is practically the only color on display that we have a problem. There are scenes that break it up but nowhere near enough and even the scenes with blue desperately cry for something to break up the monotony. Throw in some reds and greens, play around with it for goodness sake.
I’ll give the developers some cred as they at least have a decent explanation for why blue is so predominant other than it simply being night and that’s the titular dark dimension itself.
At least I can buy that excuse and the game is nowhere near as bad with this as other games. But it was still something that stuck in my mind and it kind of permeates the whole game. Even the menus are blue which is just taking it one step too far. There’s cohesive design and then there’s being blatant.
So far I haven’t really done much of anything to inspire much faith in the game, I know, but I kind of wanted to get this out of the way so I could focus on the positive aspects from here on out.
The hidden object scenes are great. Just challenging enough that I had to burst my No Hints rules. There’s just enough interactivity to keep the scenes interesting but never so much that it becomes tedious. You revisit enough scenes to create a familiarity, as well, something so many HOPA miss because they think we’ll somehow grow tired of it. That simply isn’t the case, throwing new hidden object scenes at me simply bores me faster because there’s no point in getting to know the scenes. This way, as it’s done in this game, it makes me think “Wait, didn’t I see pliers somewhere? Oh, where was it again…”
With no familiarity, hidden object scenes are quickly reduced to just a place where you pick up the next object that you need. Mechanically this is no different but running from hidden object scene to hidden object scene and never getting to know a scene means you’ll never get truly familiar with an area as a whole. Many HOPA walk straight into this trap, of constantly throwing new environments at you rather than focusing on a few and making exploring them fun.
Luckily this game is one of the few that does this well. There’s not a lot of different places to go and you’ll mostly be operating out of a hub, an area where you’ll return time and time again as it connects the different areas. In this game it’s a plaza but it can really be anything. Again, this makes you feel like you’re actually exploring a town and figuring things out on your own rather than being lead down a single street where you’ll figure things out when the game more or less flat out tells you what’s going on.
I figured the plot out a lot sooner than the game revealed it but that’s not a negative for me, that’s a plus. Because this shows that the game was willing to put the clues down and let me figure it out rather than keep it all locked away for a “shocking twist”. It may not have been the most original story but at least it treated me like an intelligent adult rather than a dumb kid.
But where the game really shines is in the puzzle department. Mostly because it utterly and completely kicked my ass at times.
While it’s not stellar across the board, even many of the returning puzzles that have become staples of the HOPA genre were here presented as something challenging, removing many of the crutches that other games tend to rely on. I never had to skip anything but sometimes I really felt like I wanted to. Sometimes it was just pure busy work that was needed and some times I really had to sit myself down and think a problem through. Every time I ended up back in the same situation where I had reset the puzzle previously made me tear my hair out… and it felt amazing.
This was another reason why I thought the game was older than it really was because it definitely drew inspiration from some harder games out there rather than the ones we’ve become used to. The fact that there were puzzles I had to reset and I couldn’t just completely brute force was great, more puzzles need failure states where you’ve simply screwed everything up so bad where you got no choice but start from scratch.
There was a time when games actually tracked this and gave you an achievement if you managed to completely all puzzles without having to reset. What happened to that? Convenience is what happened. It’s sort of telling that I thought the game was old mostly because of the puzzle difficulty. Does that say more about me or the industry? No clue but it’s interesting.
There isn’t really much else to say about this game. It’s not perfect or even in my top ten or anything but it does so many things right where other games trip over themselves in a dash to be as convenient and accessible as possible. There’s a good atmosphere, the hidden object scenes were a lot of fun and the puzzles were a joy to solve. I don’t know what else to tell you, if you’re looking for a decent HOPA that really tries to challenge your wits then this is definitely worth a try.
It definitely gets a thumbs up from me.