One morning last week I had a bit of time to kill, so I decided to download a hidden object game titled White Haven Mysteries. Depending on how good you are at understanding adventure game logic, hidden object games typically don’t take long. I’d had this one on my Steam wishlist for a while, as the storefront page promised “a unique horror experience.” And because I could think of worse ways to spend a dollar on a dark, quiet morning, I decided to give it a shot.
In White Haven Mysteries, you take the role of an amnesic young woman who wakes up in front of a creepy abandoned building. A young girl who seems to know you beckons you inside. You quickly learn that the building used to an asylum/research facility, & that it isn’t as abandoned as it seems. The doctor who ran the facility lingers still, with an unhealthy interest in you, going so far as to poison you. Now you have to uncover your memories of this place while searching for the rest of the antidote before the poison drives you insane.
White Haven Mysteries functions as a combination of point-&-click adventure game & hidden object game. You comb through the various sets looking for things to interact with. Sometimes you’ll have to complete hidden object puzzles, where you’re required to find all the listed items to earn a key item you need to progress. There are also a few proper puzzles scattered about.
Narrative: At best, the story is passable. It serves to give you a purpose for being at the asylum & giving your character motivation to continue forward, but for most of the game I barely registered it. The game actually did a far better job of revealing the backstory of the asylum & what had occurred there than it did telling me about my character. The articles you find scattered about pace the history well, & slowly you gain an understanding of what happened. Unfortunately, not as much effort went into the main character’s history. Sure, a few scraps hint at who she is, but not enough. And the ending came way out of left field. Up until the final scene, I had kept up with what the notes hinted at. The woman had been a patient, the doctor’s pet subject, & sent away when the lab came under scrutiny. But the twist revealing who the little girl & doctor we’d been seeing was just one stretch too far. Not only that, but the game just sort of ends at that point. The truth is revealed & then… nothing. The game ends, leaving me wondering what happened after. Did she stay? Did she leave? So overall, just a very basic story that leaves no lasting impact. Score: 2
Mechanics: In broad terms, there’s nothing wrong with the gameplay. You click on things, & you pick them up. Classic HOG standards. For an adventure game, the logic required to pass obstacles is pretty grounded. No really far-fetched solutions, although sometimes the path to get what you need can be a bit convoluted. For example, at one point you need to find a statue head, which requires a key to get into the shed, a poker to get the statue’s head out of the furnace, & a hose to cool the head off. But in a way, I kind of like that. It makes you think about how you can use the items you pick up, & makes it satisfying when you have that Eureka moment. Unfortunately, a lot of the obstacles come down to just finding X-number of items to unlock the next area. There are a few proper puzzles in the game, & while I give the developers credit for the variety, none of them are challenging. For instance, there’s a rhythm-based cooking puzzle where you have to select the ingredient as it appears on the bottom of the screen in time. Or the last puzzle, which involves memorizing switches on a grid… or at least should have, had the game not held my hand & simply marked the switches after I found the solution. Mostly, I felt the game missed a lot of opportunities. There were several unique moments or ideas that were used once & never brought up again. One section in the beginning (with the cooking puzzle I mentioned) was set up as a hallucination, which would’ve been a novel mechanic. After all, we’ve established the poison is driving her crazy, so why not have more hallucinations to navigate? But it’s never brought up again. The game also drops the ball on being scary. Despite some good atmosphere in the beginning, there’s only one really scary bit. Yeah, it’s a jump scare I saw coming, but it was still well-done & exciting. But then nothing scary ever happens again. So overall, there’s nothing really wrong with the mechanics, but there’s nothing memorable. Just a lot of missed opportunities. Score: 3
Aesthetics: Both the art style & musical direction do a good job of setting up an eerie ambiance. It’s dark & oppressive, & filled with whispering voices. The scenes are nothing but still images, with the occasional moving bit to make them feel more alive. The backgrounds are nicely cluttered, lending to the feel of the place being long abandoned, but not so much so that you’re not drawn to areas you can interact with. Some of the animations on the characters seem a bit off, though. Very uncanny valley. The music, as I said, fits the mood, although it can get repetitive if you’re in an area for too long. The voiceacting is okay, the few times there actually is any. I mostly remember that the main character’s voice made me think of someone actively trying to change how their voice sounds. So overall, a decent presentation. Score: 3
Replay Value: Very low. I can’t see anyone, even those who enjoyed the game, playing through more than once. There’s no real reason to. Score: 2
Final Word: While not a bad game, White Haven Mysteries is fairly unmemorable, even as hidden object games go. I doubt it’ll turn skeptics on to the genre, but fans of HOG might enjoy it if they can pick it up on sale.
[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6BHAbaaH8YTitle: White Haven Mysteries
Console: PC, iOS
Developer: Gogii Games
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: April 17, 2014