Review

Published on March 16th, 2017 | by Graham

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Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst Review

There’s fourteen games in the popular Mystery Case Files series, and I’m looking today at one of the very earliest – the original Ravenhearst, released back in 2006.

Tomorrow I’ll be checking out the latest Mystery Case Files game, Broken Hour, as I’m curious how far the series has come.

2006 is an eternity ago in game terms, so let’s see how it holds up against modern standards – is Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst just a relic of the past, or is it still worth a play today?

Ravenhearst is a hidden object game, where the player spends most of their time looking for scavenger lists of objects in static images filled with unlikely items.  Theorectically we’re in Blackpool, England, but there’s an undeniable American vibe to many of the objects – I’ll be asked to find a “catcher’s mitt” or a “pigskin” or other items that I’m only familiar with through watching far too many US TV shows, and which you definitely wouldn’t associate with a crumbling English stately home.

You’re an Agent, of some description (I don’t think it’s ever spelled out), invited by the Queen of England (yep) to investigate ghostly goings on at the Ravenhearst manor.  You have the beginnings of the diary belonging to a lady, Emma Ravenhearst, who stayed at the manor in 1894.  Throughout the game you reveal more pages from the diary, which fill in the story.

And the story is one of the best things about the game.  It’s predictable, for sure, but I found myself clicking through all the hidden object scenes mainly to get the next diary page of plot.

The Mystery Case File series has tended to add a new puzzle type or feature with each game.  As this is only the third in the series, it’s a bit limited.  Each stage of the game has a few rounds of hidden object scenes and generally one fantastic door puzzle that’s a mix of Rube Goldberg machine and Monty Python-esque humour.  Each is unique, and they’re generally brilliant.  The stage ends with a jigsaw puzzle where you’re tasked with piecing together an image from the diary, and these are also great fun, though a little repetitive after doing it nearly twenty times.

The lack of puzzle types in this older game is a real weakness, and towards the half way point of the sevenish hours it took to complete, I was basically clicking through for the story and the door puzzles, and tended to use a few of the five hints available in each stage to skip some of the object finding.  The same rooms are used over and over again, and each time they have the exact same objects in the exact same places – sometimes your scavenger list even includes objects you’ve previously found in that room.  There’s simply too much repetition.

It’s not helped by the muddy details of the hidden object scenes.  Because graphically, we’re very much in eleven-year-ago territory here.  The window size is simply too small.  If I leave it as a window then it’s tiny on my monitor (which isn’t particularly high-tech – it’s just 1080p, whereas modern 4K monitors are 2160p).  And if I blow it up to full-screen, the limits of the graphics become clear.  Playability is definitely affected, with some objects hard to spot simply because they’re a smudgy, blurry unclear mess.  It’s compounded by the game not always detecting clicks unless they’re on a precise part of the object.  And the art has been far surpassed in more modern games.

Tonally, things are all over the place.  Ravenhearst is going for creepy and there’s any number of ghostly whisperings, creaks and vaguely disturbing background sounds that accompany your puzzling.  These combine nicely with the gothic horror told in the diary entries.  But contrasting this is the playful sense of humour of the developers.  As mentioned, you’ve been invited by the Queen of England, with the letter signed off with a “Seriously” that can only be poking fun at how ridiculous an opener this is.  The scenes include plenty of daft puns, like searching for a “mothball” which is literally a tennis ball with moth wings.  And the door puzzles have any number of Pythonesque elements.

“Seriously”

It’s great to have a mystery that’s not completely po-faced, but it makes it harder to take the story seriously, or really buy into the conceit that you’re exploring a creepy haunted house unlocking one room at a time.

For some reason, you’re up against a time limit, generally around forty minutes per stage.  It’s not really clear what will happen to this mansion that’s got untouched for over a hundred years if the time limit expires, but luckily it’s generous enough that I never found out.  Still, the constantly ticking clock does add some mild pressure to the solving, though it can be disabled by playing the easier difficulty mode.  There’s a time penalty if you just click randomly around the scene, which is a great idea.

It’s around a medium difficulty level.  The hidden object scenes are sometimes a bit tricky, mainly for the technical reasons given above, and the door puzzles are generally a perfect level of trickiness (though I had to skip two, one of which was one of those obnoxious puzzles where clicking one thing changes it and all the things around it.  Can’t stand ’em).

I liked my time with Ravenhearst, overall.  The story’s engaging, the door puzzles are great, and the jigsaws are fun.  But it’s very clear it’s an older game with rather low production values, with a small window and dated, static graphics.  I’m looking forward to playing the latest entry tomorrow to see how far the series has evolved.

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