I’m willing to bet most you probably haven’t played any Hidden Object games. You may have never even heard of the genre before. If you haven’t, they’re exactly as the name suggests. Hidden Object games are essentially Adventure games, but parts of them involve finding a list of random objects in a cluttered still image. I’d never really played any before, but I recently watched an episode of Extra Credit that talked about this forgotten region of gaming. It piqued my interest, so I checked out a recent release on Steam called Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts.
In Realm of Ghosts you play as Sarah, a young woman who gets a call that she’s inherited a mansion. The house originally belonged to her parents, but after her mother’s mysterious death from falling out of the attic window & her father’s arrest for her murder, it’s been abandoned & fallen into disrepair. But not long after arriving, Sarah’s deceased mother contacts her through a mirror telling her that there’s a dark force in the house that was responsible for her death. And now it’s after Emily.
Realm of Ghosts controls like a point-&-click adventure game. In each area, you have to search for items to get past obstacles. Each room will have one hidden object portion where finding all of the items in the image will reward you with more tools. But Sarah has a special gift. She can use mirrors & any object that show reflections to enter into the ghost realm. Here, you get clues to some puzzles as well as find objects that you have to hide in the ghost realm to be able to use in our realm. A major component of solving the mystery of the house is locating glyphs which you have to create to remove the barriers from some doors.
Narrative: The story for Realm of Ghosts, while not the most complex one, is told decently. You learn most of the story through picking up diary entries and other notes. But I was left with a vague feeling about the plot. I think it’s because there are a lot of things that I wished they would’ve explained. Why were the servants conjuring ghosts? Why was the ghost after Sarah’s mom? Did Sarah’s dad die in prison? What happened to Sarah between the time of her mom’s death & getting the mansion? Based on the title, I assume the game could be the start of a series of games & such questions could be explained later, but it still bothered me. Sarah herself is your classic silent protagonist, except for in the opening. You are Sarah, more or less. So overall, while the story is coherent, everything feels a bit vague. Score: 3
Mechanics: Realm of Ghosts is an adventure game to the core, so most of your time will be spent dragging the mouse around the screen waiting for it to change icons to indicate there’s something to see. But to the game’s credit, most of the places to look were pretty apparent. It never came down to a pixel hunt. The Hidden Object sections of the game were alright. I’m honestly not sure how to critique something like that. You won’t be looking for the same list of items each time. Thankfully the game has a hint feature that will point out one object before recharging, so you shouldn’t get totally stuck on anything. The ghost realm aspect was pretty interesting. I like the idea of hiding items to use later. For instance, in one ghost realm I had to find items to cut a sofa open to hide the tools & sew it back up. It would’ve been nice if there were more puzzles in the ghost realm, though. Speaking of puzzles, I have to give Realm of Ghosts credit for not having any really obtuse puzzles to solve like most adventure games have. It was usually pretty clear what you have to do. For example, an early puzzle involves having to catch a fish to feed a cat ghost so he’ll stop blocking a door. However, there were a few times when I wasn’t sure why a puzzle would lead to an outcome. Why would placing a teapot & salt shaker on a table make a pot of honey appear (which I then used to catch a fly to lure a spider away from a light bulb)? The game was also pretty minimal on backtracking, & you will usually know when you’ve gotten something for another room. But the game can start to feel repetitive. Most of it goes: enter room, scan for puzzles, go to Ghost Realm, find tools, hide them, go back, get tools, solve puzzle. Some puzzles require a bit more exploration to get all of the pieces, but that’s the typical pattern. But Realm of Ghosts also allows you to customize your difficulty through having harder Hidden Objects to find, if Sarah will give you clues about puzzles & if you want on-screen hints for interactable places. So overall, while not exactly action-packed, the game has some interesting puzzles even if they are a bit on the easy side. Score: 3
Aesthetics: I’d call the graphics decent. You’ll be mostly staring a still images, but the backgrounds are pretty nice to look at. Each room is unique & definitely looks like an old haunted house. The music is also decent. It’s very atmospheric, with low, droning tones. One section was particularly well done, with whispering constantly going on to put you on edge. Typically there’s a different sound for each room, but I noticed occasionally the sound would get stuck if you backtracked until you reached a new room. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not. The voice-acting is a bit bland. Granted, there’s only four characters that talk in the game, but none of them were that great. Especially Emily, Sarah’s mom. She sounded like when someone’s trying to alter their voice by talking in a higher pitch. Just forced. Overall, I’d say it has some nice atmospheric music & everything else is average. Score: 3
Replay Value: Low. Definitely a one-&-done game. There isn’t much reason to replay it. Sure, you can raise or lower the difficulty for the Hidden Object sections, but none of the actual puzzles change. Score: 2
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts is an average game with some interesting puzzles that avoids a lot of the adventure game frustrations. While it won’t appeal to everyone, it’s worth checking out for those looking for an old-school adventure game or something on the casual side.
Title: Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts
Console: PC & iOS
Developer: Gogii Games
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: April 10, 2014