It’s 2010, a whole eight years ago, and the game industry is a primitive thing… well, the HOPA part of it is. Back then the games were still called HOG (Hidden Object Game) and were despised by the gaming community. Casual, they said. Easy, they said. Casual? Easy? My ***!
For anyone who’s read my reviews of HOPA for any length of time, I’m a stickler for playing series of games from the beginning. Regardless of how disconnected the entries in a franchise are, I just don’t feel comfortable jumping in late in the series. So every so often, when I want to try my hand at a new franchise, I have to crawl all the way back to 2010.
This comes with many issues. First I have to get into the mentality of me back in 2010 and at that point that me has to get into the mentality of me even further back, when early 3D animations like this and 4:3 formats were still considered alright. And that would be roughly in the nineties for me, even the first Playstation started sniffing around the notion of widescreen even though it didn’t start being standard until partway through the Playstation 2’s rule.
It also means going back to a time when HOPA weren’t quite as streamlined and player friendly as they are today. UIs (User Interface) is still a bit hinky and many Hint systems were still quite rudimentary. And, of course, graphics weren’t quite as high fidelity today not to mention technical difficulties, bugs and system incompatibilities and the like. But, to me that is less important than what I will mostly be talking about today: Challenge.
And Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven… cause that’s the game I’m reviewing. And all of the other things at least to some extent. It is a review after all.
It never really mattered where you were going, it only mattered where you ended up. When a freak accident forces you off the road, crashing into a cemetery, you couldn’t have known what was in store. Because it was no accident that you ended up here and now you must fight not for your life but the lives of people buried here. It’s time to set right what was once wrong.
Or whatever. Something, something, you end up in a cemetery that’s haunted and you have to intervene in the ghosts’ past/life in order to set their regrets right. One wants you to find a murderer, another to save his daughter and so on, so forth. It’s pretty basic stuff in the grand scheme of things but that’s alright, this is 2010, the dawn of time after all. In this it’s rather important, however, that the stories told are cohesive and thematically and for the most part I guess they are.
The title sort of gives it away, it’s all about redemption. Some had things done to them, others failed on their own while some never stood a chance. I am very unsure, however, how this whole thing came to be from a narrative standpoint. Some things seems to have happened very recently while others happened decades ago. And changing events should’ve had pretty signficant consequences of the current world.
But those are nitpicks. There are worse things to complain about in this game so let’s get down to business. For one, the UI wasn’t particularly well crafted and some of the chain of events were… fuzzy at best. Every so often I ran into situations where I felt like I had done everything humanly possible. Which was often the case too, with solution so whacked out they made no sense or missed an object barely perceptible to the naked human eye. It didn’t help that the Hint system was as rudimentary as you can get, not even pointing you in the right direction but only telling you if there was something you could right now in your current location.
That means if you did run into problems, you were reduced to walking around in every single location and clicking Hint. Not exactly smooth gameplay to be honest, not very fun either which is a bit of a drag. And because it is split up into distinct chapters, it also makes each interlude feel a bit pointless since those parts rarely figure into anything UNLESS you have the Bonus Chapter which sort of ties everything together. I’m not a fan of locking something like that behind an additional paygate so the game definitely earns some scornful remarks for that.
Perhaps luckily then the game is not a complete write off. It has two things going for it and those two things happen to be things I care about. First up are the hidden object scenes:
Now, they weren’t “special” in any shape or form. In fact, they were refreshingly straight forward. 16 objects at the very least, no interactivity and quite demanding. Sitting back and relaxingly poke and prod your way through it is no way to go through this game, it won’t give up its secrets so easily. Items are small and/or obscured. Shapes are distorted and colors have been changed. And it plays around a fair bit with what words mean too, tricking you into looking for specific shapes when in reality you really should be entering with an open mind.
You also return to scenes quite often, I don’t think there were many, if any at all, that were one-shots. I appreciate this since I find it quite enjoyable to also try to remember where I saw the object last time and not just endlessly dragging the cursor around the screen.
That’s not to say the scenes were perfect. For one I noticed that some objects were strangely difficult to click on. I’d read the list, go “Oh, there it is.”, click on it and when it didn’t work, assume I misinterpreted the list or I got a word wrong. Only to then, in pure frustration when only one object remains and nothing matches it, click on it again, sometimes multiple times, until it triggered. Other objects were “hidden” so well I just don’t think it was possible to find them without clicking around a bit randomly.
Some scenes were also crazy cluttered, making me feel supremely uncomfortable, wanting to click on everything in hopes to clean the place up. And trust me, that’s not a feeling that comes easy to me. But at the end of the day, even as I played the game, I began to change and realized I actually appreciated this. It’s a challenge and it lives up to its genre name: hidden object. Many times I found myself staring at the screen with narrowed eyes, trying to focus my mind into a razor sharp tool for detecting wayward objects. And when I succeeded, I let out a deep breath of victory. Or when I finally admitted defeat and clicked Hint, which happened numerous times, it was a strange sense of relief to have the function, allowing me to progress in the game despite falling short here.
Basically, what I’m saying is that I liked it. It was challenging and fun. Imagine that.
The second thing the game did very well were the puzzles. They weren’t stellar or particularly original. It’s the same kind of puzzles we’ve been seeing for a while now but what was here was challenging, required actual though and there were surprisingly few “overly complicated locks”. Some, sure, and every so often it simply asked me to enter combinations into locks as if it was something to overcome.
For the most part they were true and tested puzzles but some times that’s all that’s needed. Some you can do on auto while others force you to sit yourself down and actually think about what you’re doing. Hard, I know. But the game didn’t mess around, it didn’t give you many handouts in solving it, no puzzles half finished just waiting for you to fill in the blanks. No, these were puzzles like back in the good old days of… puzzles.
Yes, I know I harp on and on about puzzles but they matter to me. After all, I play Professor Layton for a reason… and it’s not because of the cutscenes. If you can give me a charming and cute plot in the process then cool beans. If you can wrap the puzzles up in a sense of dread and horror, you got my approval. But the puzzles matter more than anything else… except maybe the hidden object scenes.
Graphically the game surprised me a great deal. Many franchises this old had considerably more humble origins, like Haunted Hotel, but this game holds up very well… for the most part. The titular cemetery is especially haunting and the creators understood the concept of contrast so when you go into the “other stories”, their nature and light tended to be lighter or at the very least not the same dark, depressing kind as in the cemetery. Instead you wandered about in sunlight or in cozy homes… if not for the fires burning everywhere.
The game’s not perfect, however. For one, it doesn’t support widescreen format and doesn’t take it into consideration at all, stretching the image to take upp full screen. Some of the animations were also appropriately bad for a 2010 HOPA. Some 3D animations were surprisingly good while some 2D animations had me alternating between giggling and cringing. The little girl in the first “chapter” in particular was poorly animated for some reason.
Perhaps the least interesting bit, graphically anyhow, was the last chapter which just continued the graphical style of the cemetery. It made perfect sense, given what was going on but it’s still the chapter I’ll remember the least based on the impression it made graphically.
It was also a bit narratively confused. Yes, it was about ghosts, thus supernatural, but one chapter had me fighting a werewolf? For whatever reason, this just felt… incredibly odd. The different graphical styles and the sudden shift in narrative at times made me wonder if this game wasn’t made by three or four different people then sort of pasted together using the narrative device of “redemption” to smooth out the seams. Not a bad tactic but it worked… so-so in some cases.
Audio-wise I couldn’t tell you, honestly, cause it made no impression what so ever. I swear I’ve heard this music before but given how the HOPA industry works, I wouldn’t be surprised if ERS, sorry, AMAX simply reused to music in multiple games. The sounds were… well, okay, I guess. Again, nothing really stood out.
However, the real reason I wanted to talk about this game was that I… well, I’ve been talking trash about new games lately and not really been enjoying myself. There’s always risk in taking too much of your nostalgia at face value and never really challenging yourself into seeing if it really used to be better.
Well… I really liked Curse of the Raven. Sure, it’s only eight years old but in HOPA terms it may as well have been from the 19th century. But I liked it and I probably had more fun with it than I’ve had with many modern HOPA. I often complain about balancing the challenge and this game did exactly that. And if it proved too difficult? You skipped or asked for a Hint. The perfect casual game, in my opinion. Fun, great in bite-sized chunks and never demands more than you’re willing to put in yourself.
Perfect? No. But I don’t ask for perfection. Just for a HOPA to do what HOPA does well.