Published on March 18th, 2017 | by Graham0
Mystery Case Files: Broken Hour Review
Summary: Beautiful and with a great story, Broken Hour is the perfect example of the modern adventure.
So after yesterday’s review of Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst, dating from 2006 and the third game in the popular series, I’ve found it very interesting to jump forward to the very latest Mystery Case Files game. Broken Hour was released in November 2016 and is, in most respects, a huge leap forward, and shows how far the genre has come in a decade.
The first and most striking difference is that Broken Hour is gorgeous. The tiny window of Ravenhearst is gone, in favour of the widescreen size standard across most games released today (this window still annoyingly doesn’t fill my relatively modest 1080p monitor, so when I play fullscreen everything is a touch blurry, but it’s par for the course currently). The game opens with a well-animated cinematic that sets the tone and establishes the story nicely, and you can see straight away that a bunch of money has been thrown at this.
You’ve been invited by the Queen of England (yep) to investigate the disappearance of the royal photographer, at the spooky Huxley Boarding House near Manchester. On arrival at the boarding house you’re greeted by a rather dorky paranormal investigator, who in keeping with the rest of the cast you’ll meet, is nicely voice-acted and animated. You’re walked through the first puzzle, starting his van, which is a great touch and serves as a light-weight tutorial for those new to the genre, and then left to start exploring.
I’m not going to spoil the story, and instead I’ll just say that it’s highly enjoyable pulp gothic horror that quickly dives into the realm of the supernatural. It’s all very silly, and very engaging. It’s also surprisingly morbid; there’s no gore shown, but some rather unpleasant things happen (including mutilation and torture), and I wouldn’t play this game through with young children. Still, ultimately its tone is that of a spooky ghost-hunting romp, rather than anything truly dark or unpleasant.
Puzzle-wise, it’s interesting to see how far the hidden object genre has evolved from the days of Ravenhearst (and throughout this review, I’m referring to the first in that series here – the later Ravenhearst sequels I haven’t played but I believe they’re much more similar to Broken Hour). That game was heavy on the hidden object puzzles which used to form the core of this genre, and those were simple static screens where the player is tasked with locating a scavenger list of objects. They’re satisfying, but became repetitive, despite Ravenhearst mixing it up with a couple of other puzzle types.
Mystery Case Files: Broken Hour still contains a few of these hidden object puzzles (around half a dozen), but they’ve changed radically, in common with other series in the genre. For one, they tend to be a lot more interactive – you may have to pick up some shears to clear some bushes before you can access one of the objects. For me, this has lost some of the appeal of the old-style hidden object puzzle, as I can no longer just work my way through the list, and instead have to keep switching mental modes from searching for objects to solving puzzles – though it is helped by genre-standard sensible colour coding of the list that tells you which are currently visible (in yellow) and which need to be revealed first (in red). In addition, these particular scenes have become much easier – objects tend to be beautifully drawn, large and located in obvious places, and much of the pixel-hunting pleasure of the older games, where the designers cunningly hid objects against similar colours and textures of the background, has gone.
In truth, this genre has long stopped being really based around hidden objects, and Broken Hour is a hybrid of various puzzle types. And the puzzles are, generally, excellent and imaginative. There’s an excellent one where you’re trying to read the content of a camcorder, which requires solving several mini-puzzles in the same desk-based scene. These multi-layered “super puzzles” are used several times throughout the game, and are just fantastic. Building a battery requires, all on the same screen, solving sliding tiles, using limited amounts of wires correctly to complete a grid, balancing bottles, and several more mini-puzzles. There’s something very satisfying about starting off with this perplexing-looking scene, full of objects to play with, and breaking it down and solving it piece-by-piece. Similarly there are elaborate scenes that are a halfway-house between a hidden object scene and an inventory puzzle, with all the objects required in the one screen, and these are some of the highlights of the game.
On the down side, there’s a Minesweeper clone which involves an annoying amount of guesswork, and is included twice. And sadly, there are none of the hilariously quirky Pythonesque door puzzles of Ravenhearst.
Difficulty-wise, the puzzles are generally very doable (I went for the hardest of the three difficulty settings, but as usual this affects things like how quickly your hint meter refills, rather than how hard the puzzles are). But there were plenty of times inbetween puzzles where I found myself pretty stumped, and resorted to clicking everything in my inventory on everything in the environment. Sometimes I’d missed something, sometimes I’d forgotten an unfinished puzzle in a previous scene, and sometimes it was the requirement of an unlikely inventory item. Luckily, Broken Hour tends not to make too many rooms available to you at any one time, so there’s never too much backtracking required.
Overall, and in contrast with some others in the genre, there’s a very satisfying amount of actual game to Broken Hour. You’re never just clicking through for the story, as there’s always plentiful puzzles to solve.
I loved Mystery Case Files: Broken Hour, and it’s without a doubt now my current favourite adventure game. The story’s fun, the production values are sky-high, and the puzzles are an enjoyably varied mix. I played the entire thing through in one session of compulsive clicking, which took around six hours.