Game Review: Dark Strokes: Sins Of The Fathers Collector’s Edition
Genre: Hidden Object / Puzzle
Developer: Alawar Games
Available Platforms: PC
ESRB Rating: N/A (I’d rate it T)
Hidden object games are a sort of guilty pleasure for this “hardcore gamer.” It’s an opportunity for me to take a few hours off from the rigors of more serious gaming, and click through a light adventure while hunting for spiders, glasses, and trying to figure out what version of the word “compass” the game wants me to find. So I came into Dark Strokes expecting the same lighter fare, where the story is really just tacked on to a series of interactive puzzles. Fortunately, Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers very quickly establishes that the story is worth paying attention to, and through the course of your adventure, you will actually be engaging in puzzles and hidden object screens that are integrated nicely with the flow of the story. The spooky theme isn’t as forced as previous efforts, as the protagonists are revealed early on to help drive the story.
The game itself follows the standard format for previous adventure / hidden object games. You will interact with relatively static environments, engaging in dialog with characters, moving between screens, and solving various puzzles. You will acquire an inventory through either picking up objects directly from the environments, or as a result of completing a hidden object game or puzzle. These objects are always used to solve later puzzles (using a bandage on a wounded person, key in a lock, etc). Everything is a single click, which makes interacting a fairly effortless process. The game will punish you slightly for clicking haphazardly by slowing down your cursor, so some effort is required to work through the various puzzles in the game. The puzzles themselves are varied, and some are a decent challenge (not as difficult as 7th Guest, but not as frustrating either). Special bonus: not a single Tower of Hanoi puzzle in the game, which is a feat in and of itself. The hidden object screens are richly detailed, and not as cheap as some other ones I have played; just about everything is hidden in plain sight, rather than artificially blended into the picture.
You will have the option in the beginning of the game to play on either Casual or Expert mode. Casual mode will highlight interactive parts of the environments, and allow you to use a hint every minute, whereas Expert has a 2 minute delay, and no such highlighting. These highlights are only on the non-puzzle parts of the game, and show where you should (or will need to) be clicking. To be honest, the highlighting is subtle enough that you’re still required to scan the whole screen; it just makes it so you’re not randomly clicking all over the screen until you see something to interact with (a shortcoming of old-school adventure games), so I would recommend the casual mode. Hints are handled well: if you use a hint outside of a puzzle, you’ll be directed to click on something on-screen (either a direction arrow to move to another screen, or an interactive element on the screen). You can use these hints as much as you want, until you’re directed to actually take an action, at which point the hint timer will reset. This is nice for when you are stuck on which screen to go to, as it will let you move quickly using hints, and then force you to wait once you take action. Using hints in a puzzle will often solve it outright, and using hints in the hidden object game will highlight one of the remaining objects.
Dark Strokes does an excellent job of letting the player move as quickly as they wish through the story. Screen transitions are quick and fluid, most dialogue can be clicked through, and a full strategy guide is available if you just want to plow through the story. For those that like to take their time, there’s plenty of descriptive text available on each screen by clicking on non-interactive elements, and the game does a great job of adding animated graphical elements to the static screens. The quality of ambient music and graphics are also excellent, and set the mood well. The puzzles are fun, detailed, and well animated. I also enjoyed watching my objects interact with the environment when appropriate. Overall, the game feels very polished, and made it difficult to stop playing once I started.
There is some backtracking, particularly early on, but thanks to the quick screen transitions, this isn’t too annoying. The game actually gets a little too easy after the first half of the game, as you start focusing on smaller parts of the map, so deciding on which objects are used where becomes much simpler. There are some pretty neat interactive elements used in the early hidden object puzzles that never make an appearance again (clicking on a purse to open it to find one of the objects, for example). More variety on these interactive elements, including red herrings, would have been nice. The story, which is far from bad, is predictable and formulaic, and where the bonus chapter could have been great in giving some back story, it really comes up short (and almost laughable at parts). My final gripe is more of a wish for the genre as a whole: add some consequences. There’s no time limit, there’s no chance of dying, and therefore there’s no sense of urgency. Especially with a story like this, there were plenty of times where having a 5 minute timer to solve the puzzle would have made sense, or where clicking on the wrong things could have resulted in a game over screen. It seems that games are afraid of showing gamers a Game Over screen, and I hope that even for casual games like this, the Expert mode can include such features.
vttym’s take: Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers provides everything you could hope for from a hidden object adventure game. The puzzles are varied, the hidden object sections are nicely integrated with the environment and story, and the presentation itself it top-notch. The story leaves a little to be desired, but is hardly a distraction, and does its job in getting the player engaged in the characters. If you’re looking for a high quality puzzle game, you’ve found it.
Final score: 9/10