We’re in San Francisco and time is not on our side… like, literally against us. Because Time is an entity that doesn’t seem to like you very much. And there’s a lot at stake. So take on your trenchcoat, style your hair and prepare to narrate.
I call myself That Swedish Guy. During the day I’m like any other bloke walking down the street. Completely unaware of the world that hides in the hidden places. But at night I’m something else… a reviewer and I review games. It’s a tough and dirty job but someone’s gotta do it. Someone has to keep them at bay.
A few days ago I was contacted by an organization that wanted me to find, play and review a certain game. I’d known about this game for a while but had put off reviewing it. Perhaps I was scared. Perhaps I knew the path it would lead me down. But it felt as good a time as any to deal with this game once and for all.
But it’s just the beginning. Had I known then what I know now… would I have made the same choices? God help me… but I think so. I’m That Swedish Guy and this… this is my review of Adam Wolfe.
You are Adam Wolfe, a detective of the supernatural. Your sister went missing years ago and you’ve been searching for her ever since. But you found nothing. Not a damn thing… until now. At first it just seemed like an ordinary case, at least as far as you’re concerned. But when your sister resurfaces after all these years, you find yourself hoping for the first time in a long time. With each case you feel yourself getting closer. But closer to what? What did your sister get mixed up in? And why does all of this feel… wrong?
I have struggled with this review. This is the fourth time that I have deleted everything I wrote and started more or less anew. No matter what I write, I can’t seem to collect my thoughts on Adam Wolfe in a coherent way, there are topics I want to touch upon but they never seem to weave easily into my typical writing style. As such it has a tendency to come off like I don’t like Adam Wolfe which couldn’t be further from the truth. I like it. I like it a lot.
But there are things that I feel the need to talk about more than others. Because Adam Wolfe is important. In fact, it could easily be the most important HOPA in recent years… perhaps the most important HOPA ever. This seems like hyperbole, I agree, but then I can’t really think back on the countless HOPA that I have played and name another one that I consider “important”. Good. Yes. Awful. Yes. Different. Yes. But not important. And Adam Wolfe is important.
For a long time I’ve wondered if HOPA-centric studios want or need to break out of the genre. Is the audience big enough to support as many studios and games that there are now? Is the audience growing, stagnating or perhaps even losing members to the mobile platforms? And up until now most of my thoughts and theories have had been speculative at best.
But I think Adam Wolfe shows that there are definitely HOPA studios out there looking for another audience. Because even though I call it a HOPA, I wouldn’t really say that it is a HOPA. And others seem to agree with me. Multiple reviews I’ve read say it’s closer to a typical point and click adventure game than a HOPA. Part of this is because there’s not a lot of hidden object scenes in the game. And the game has made a significant effort to weave the scenes into the narrative rather than simply having them be there so you can pick up items.
Whether it’s Adam reminiscing about various objects or if you’re looking for a way to break into a box, most of the scenes aren’t there just for the sake of having them. And it took so long for a list-based hidden object scene to even show up I assumed they’d done away with them entirely. So when they did show up they felt out of place in the tone and setting of Adam Wolfe. And even then they’d been significantly streamlined, perhaps in attempt to not scare away a new audience that might not be so keen on hidden object scenes.
That’s not saying they weren’t well designed, because they were, but they were on the easy side and won’t satisfy anyone looking for a proper HOPA challenge. In fact, go into this game for the HOPA aspects and you run a serious risk of being disappointed. And it’s not going to convince new customers to try HOPA either. In fact, depending on sales, it wouldn’t surprise me if any Adam Wolfe sequel did away with the HOPA aspects entirely.
Because that’s what this is, an adventure game with HOPA aspects in there. I can’t even begin to estimate how many hidden object scenes were in it but I doubt you’d need more than three hands to count them all.
In their place we instead get a plethora of minigames. Be it fighting bad dudes, driving a bad ass motorcycle or swinging on a rope, Adam Wolfe is ready to tackle it with the gusto of a proper action star. You want to shoot with your gun? You get to do that too! Tired of always slapping the cuffs on the suspect. Don’t worry, in Adam Wolfe you actually shoot the bad guy… I see why Big Fish slapped a “Mature Content” on this game. Considering how tame HOPA have gotten, I can’t imagine they were too pleased with this.
Even then, Adam Wolfe is not that gruesome. It contains mature themes for sure and actually throwing down with an opponent and seeing him get bloodied as you beat the living… uh, daylights out of him is a fair bit further than most HOPA go. But considering this is a noir themed game set in modern times, I’d be disappointed if this stuff wasn’t in there. That said, I do wish there was more depth to the minigames and rather than jumping between a lot of different ones, a few that were recurring. For instance, dodging and weaving traffic on a motorcycle is cool but the briefness of the minigame, lack of challenge and never doing it again made it feel… a bit empty.
Having recurring minigames would allow you to slowly scale the difficulty upwards. Sure, first time you only dodge five cars with plenty of space to get ready in but the second time you might be driving faster and there are more cars. Third time, hell, who knows, maybe the cars are moving from lane to lane this time. Now there’s a challenge.
Oh, and just because it’s my thing, variable difficulty where the player can choose their own level is sorely lacking here as well. And it’s an easy fix for most of this. Like the motorcycle chase pictured above, how about just removing that bit on the right which flat out tells you which side the cars are coming on and when? Instantly a bit more challenging. Or, in the fighting segments, how about instead of just making it a Simon Says-puzzle, make me interpret the opponents move and block and hit accordingly? It’s still a puzzle, just a less railroaded one.
And speaking of puzzles… meh. The first two or three episodes of Adam Wolfe lacked decent puzzles and focused more on the minigames. And yes, the line between minigame and puzzle is blurred here, more than usual, but even if you categorize them as puzzles, they’re still on the easy side. In fact, I didn’t come across any puzzles that really challenged me until late episode 3 and from there on suddenly quite a few puzzles engaged me. Hell, some got really creative, even. It’s not that the puzzles were bad, just… aimed a bit too much at beginners, I think. And there weren’t enough unique twists to really stand out.
This needs to stop. I hate this. We have a journal for this stuff. When confronted with a password protected lock with four digits, it’s not rocket science to figure out that I need to punch in the latest four digit number that I found. Hell, I even taped this thing together, how much more in your face could this number get? Just file it in the journal and at least give me the pleasure of going “AHA! I know this code! I just saw it. Me so clever, I smart!”
And this isn’t just a jab at Mad Head Games. EVERY SINGLE HOPA STUDIO DOES THIS AT SOME POINT AND YOU NEED TO STOP. If it’s a puzzle that requires a more complicated code, sure, hang a clue up. But if it’s just a code that need to be punched in then do not DO THIS. HOPA are easy enough as is, don’t make them easier than they have to be. Or AT LEAST make it optional. In the option menu, have a setting called hand holding because that is what this is. If you turn it off, this goes away.
Adam Wolfe itself doesn’t do this a whole lot because it rarely relied on these types of locks and that’s good. But just once is enough to make me annoyed and developers keep doing it. And more importantly, if you are looking for an audience outside of the established HOPA audience, they will not take kindly to this.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s move on from puzzles and talk about graphics instead. They are good. Quite good, in fact. Stellar, one might even say. My one complaint, as always, is blue being the dominant color. I get that you’re going for a very moody, dark feeling and as such blue fits the bill but there were times when I thought you could’ve used other colors. Like the wrecked ship area, casting that in a green color would’ve been far more effective. Easily my favorite area in the whole game was the brief stint in the desert because the colors were just such a beautiful contrast to what the game had relied on previously. I assume that was the intention but it made it stand out a lot.
That said, this was something that I thought more on AFTER playing the game and less during the game. Looking through the screenshots I took while playing, I thought “Wow, that is VERY blue.” So it’s less a point of critique and more just a little nudge. I feel that once a design philosophy becomes too common, it loses a lot of its strengths. Blue isn’t the only color that can effectively portray a dark atmosphere, is all I’m saying.
But one of the things I found most wonderful were the cutscenes. Framed like comic books, they really helped cut down on what I think of as “awkward animation”.
Not too sure about the filter, though, felt a bit too… Photoshop.
But even then, the animation was quite smooth and high quality. It’s still not frame by frame animation and sometimes it looked weird in certain angles, I have to say. Heads didn’t always seem to belong on the bodies and some animations were more paper cut out doll than perhaps intended. But these are nitpicks that only showed up in brief glimpses rather than a nasty trend.
The comic book cutscenes coupled with the narration really helped sell the noir sense the game was going for. It’s a good thing they picked a good voice actor for Adam Wolfe himself cause his narration worked really well, though someone who narrates as much as Mr. Wolfe should probably see a psychiatrist. Unfortunately that’s perhaps the biggest flaw of the game in my eyes: we don’t get a lot of development of the characters. Adam Wolfe is really the only one who gets any sort of examination but the remaining supporting characters are left more of a mystery. I struggle to name anyone except for Adam. I know them mostly as “cop buddy” and “missing sister” and “that one dude who might be evil?”.
And that’s a bit of a problem for me. Because there are definitely stories to tell there and I really do hope that they intend to get into that in future sequels. Why does cop buddy still help Adam? We’re told they’re friends but they interact so little outside of Adam needing help with clues that for all I know Adam blackmails him or pays him on the side. Do all cops know about the supernatural? Or just cop buddy? And does cop buddy really believe it? Why?
I would’ve liked to see more supporting characters as well. Perhaps a tech guy or someone he goes to consult on supernatural stuff. Stuff you can build on for the future but that are established early on. Where are his snitches, for instance? You can’t be a successful noir detective without a reliable stable of snitches to feed you information. I CALL FOUL! I would also like to see him interact more with supernatural beings rather than just “combat” them all the time.
This game pretty much just scratches the surface of a much bigger world, or at least that’s how it feels. We’re never given any sort of good explanation on how any supernatural underground might work in San Francisco and considering how busy Adam seems, there definitely seems to be one.
The plot itself is divided up into four episodes or parts if you prefer. This is one more unique aspect of Adam Wolfe that sets it apart from other HOPA: it was episodic. For those of you who don’t know, episodic games work much like a TV series. You watch one part, wait a week then watch another. Or you wait until the season is finished and you binge it on Netflix. Episodic games are much the same though episodes are typically released a month or so apart. So there’s a sense of anticipation and excitement between each episode.
I binged it myself. I was given a review code by Mad Head Games to review this game but I had had my eyes on the game for a very long time and was quite excited to play it. Partly because of all the positive buzz surrounding the game but mostly because I’m a sucker for noir.
But returning to the plot, it’s not really anything special at the core. Adam is looking for his sister and in the meantime he takes on other cases. It starts out relatively innocently enough when an efreet wreaks havoc in San Francisco but it all eventually ties back to his missing sister. Think of it as a TV series where every season has its own arc that comes to an end in the season finale but episodes themselves can be standalone. I’d say episode 1-3 are mostly standalone while episode 4 is the big finale. It’s the fascinating world crafted by Mad Head games that makes the game stand out. The cases he takes on are almost more fascinating than the core story but once the core story takes over it feels very organic since it kind of happens gradually.
Of course, I’m not forgiving you for that ending. Any sequel better be in the pipeline or I will lose my mind. Seriously.
One more complaint that I have with the game is that there wasn’t a lot of detecting going on in the game. Most of the game is pretty linear and most of the conclusions are done for you and it’s rare that you ever have to make any sort of assumption. Perhaps making the player try to connect various plots together or combine theories in creative ways to progress the game. Instead we get a fairly tame method of sorting clues in a scene, usually in some really obvious manner. At first I found it quite interesting, I read the clues and tried to figure out the correct order but once you’re used to it you just kind of look at the pictures and figure out the most probable order. And it never really failed me.
On the flipside you had the time travel mode where you got a glimpse into the past to get a vague idea of what happened, usually depicted in bright white silhouettes. There’s typically something you have to do to make the scene play out, set items in their correct places. Unfortunately I don’t think it was… tough enough, I suppose? The items are outlined quite clearly so it’s rarely difficult to figure out what goes where and the few times I stumbled it was mostly just a case of me not having found the proper items yet. One way they could’ve done it instead is show the sequence without the items in place then ask the player to figure out which items were used and in what order.
This could lead to some quite funny results but more importantly it asks more of the player. And that’s okay, you can demand the player be more active than most HOPA do.
Another way that I felt the game… not failed but rather could’ve done better was with the choices. You didn’t often get to make any kinds of choices, the game is entirely linear with very little roaming, but at times you did get to make choices and they… didn’t really end up affecting anything, at least that I noticed.
In one part you’re looking into the past, seeing someone writing a letter and you actually get partial freedom in what the character writes. I expected this to factor into the game, at the very least affect the dialog or perhaps even a little minigame/puzzle where you had to find differences between the letter you wrote and the one in the present, leading to some kind of revelation. But after writing the letter it doesn’t really factor into anything. There was no fail state as far as I could tell so it seemed like the choices were there for the sake of having choices. Or maybe I just composed such an excellent letter from the start?
With a time traveling mechanic in the game, to me it would make sense for it to be a bigger, recurring focus with puzzle elements. Like I said, the aforementioned sequence puzzle coupled with a “spot the difference” puzzle would’ve been more than enough. As it were, it was okay, perhaps even good but could’ve been so much more.
If it seems like I’m overly harsh on Adam Wolfe it’s… because I am. But it’s because it’s so important that I am hard on it. I genuinely believe that Adam Wolfe could be the first new step to revitalizing the HOPA genre. Because it has gotten incredibly stale. Very few HOPA seem to dare challenge the status quo and that has me worried.
And then came Adam Wolfe, an episodic HOPA leaning more towards adventure than hidden object and it was pushed hard on Steam. Way harder than any attention it got on Big Fish, that’s for sure. It was new and exciting and by most measures a very good game. The graphics are good, the sound is good, the gameplay fun (for the most part) and feels adult.
But I still see the shackles of HOPA on the title. The included hidden object scenes felt more like they did it because they had to rather than wanted to and it partially hurt the game. The minigames weren’t engaging enough and the adventure aspect wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been.
This could very easily be Mad Head Games breakout title, the one that moves them from being just a casual HOPA developer to a serious indie contender. And it’s not just Adam Wolfe, their recent Greenlight adventures with Tank Spank hints at a studio seriously looking for a new audience. And their previous project, Mini Bang (which I have received word is still in development), also looked like an attempt to get away from HOPA or at least broaden their appeal.
Maybe Adam Wolfe was meant as something in between and it does work when viewed that way. But if they intend to continue like this, they run the serious risk of trying to please everyone and satisfying no-one.
Adam Wolfe is not bad. I keep reiterating this because reading my review it might seem like I dislike it but I did not. I got hooked instantly and raved about how good it was to my friends between each episode. “Oh my god, you guys, this is the future of HOPA!” and “Mad Head Games are magnificent bastards, I read their book!”… not so much that last one (but if you got the reference, good on you).
My mind was instantly alive with the potential that Adam Wolfe has. First a successful game franchise. Then you broaden to comic books (miniseries, not ongoing, keep it simple with four to six issues per case). And eventually you make an actual TV series along the lines of Kolchak! Low-budget for something like Syfy with a good cinematographer and a focus on the people, I’m telling you, it might be the next Supernatural!
But with this potential also comes a burden. They can’t get complacent, they need to keep evolving their gameplay and they need to be willing to take the risk. I understand business dealings might be complicated but I would honestly advise Mad Head to maybe completely let go of the HOPA aspects for any potential sequel.
Cause this game has the makings of an all-time classic. I can easily see this being the franchise that makes the rest of the video game industry sit up and take notice of Mad Head. But they need to nurture this and take a long, good look at what they want to do. Or else they might end up missing the goal entirely and I most certainly do not want that.
Or maybe I worry for nothing.
I highly recommend checking it out on Steam. If you don’t have an account on Steam, now is the time to get it because the HOPA scene is definitely growing there.