Game Review: Natural Threat: Ominous Shores and Vampire Saga 3: Break Out
Release: Natural Threat: 3/1/2012 – Vampire Saga: 3/8/2012
Genre: Puzzle / Hidden Object
Developer: Alawar Games
Available Platforms: PC
MSRP: $9.99 each
ESRB Rating: N/A (Would rate both games as E10)
Natural Threat: http://www.alawar.com/game/natural-threat-ominous-shores/
Vampire Saga: http://www.alawar.com/game/vampire-saga-break-out/
Alawar Games has been putting out quite a few new additions to their library of hidden object puzzle games, and Natural Threat: Ominous Shores and Vampire Saga 3: Break Out are two of the latest. Both games focus on the main characters being put into unfortunate circumstances that require exploration and puzzle solving skills to unravel the mystery. In Natural Threat, this takes the form of a vacation gone awry, as you and your friends are washed ashore on an island overrun with strange plant life that captures your friends and leaves you scrambling to save them. In Vampire Saga, you are a doctor trying to investigate what has happened to a small town where strange bodies are piling up in the local hospital, while also uncovering what happened to your daughter. The story for both games will be told through text journals and cut scenes, with no voice acting involved. While neither game is violent or overly scary, there are some brief creepy moments and mild cartoon violence.
Like other games in this genre, Natural Threat and Vampire Saga are graphical adventure games. You will solve puzzles, locate hidden objects, collect a minor bit of inventory, and use those items to advance the story. Sledgehammers will break stones that hide keys that will unlock doors… you get the picture (and if you’re counting that’s the second bad pun in this review; think of it as a puzzle for a puzzle game review). Both games offer casual and expert modes, the difference being that in expert mode, interactive elements on the screen are not highlighted, the hint meter recharges slower, and there’s a penalty for clicking randomly on the screen (a 5 second time-out where your cursor moves slowly, and you cannot click on anything – initiated by mis-clicking 5 times in a row).
Where Natural Threat is the typical hidden object game experience, Vampire Saga does veer off the standard path. The hidden object puzzles in Vampire Saga, rather than showing a list of words at the bottom of the screen with what you’re looking for, places the pictures of the items in an overlay on the screen. Because the items you were usually looking for were obscure medical instruments, this may have been necessary, as no one would know what half of the things you were supposed to be finding would look like. Vampire Saga also includes dialog with some of the characters in the game. While there are no choices to be made in the dialog, it was a variation in the presentation that allowed you to connect with the characters in the story a little more.
Both games feature a good variety to their puzzles, and while Natural Threat DOES unfortunately feature a Tower of Hanoi puzzle, it balances that out by also including a puzzle involving switching the starting places of knight chess pieces on a small board (nothing as difficult as similar puzzles in 7th Guest or 11th Hour, but a step up from what you usually see in these games). I found that Natural Threat was a bit more challenging than some of the other hidden object games I’ve played recently, and both games featured nicely detailed hidden object puzzle sequences. The story in Vampire Saga is mostly forgettable, but it’s enough to keep you interested until the end. Vampire Saga also had a spooky, if not a little repetitive, soundtrack. I really liked the interactive elements of many of the hidden object puzzles in Natural Threat; this is something that I hope to see more often, as it involves taking steps to uncover the objects you are looking for (grinding coffee beans in a coffee grinder to uncover the coffee you’re looking for, for example).
Both games suffer from similar problems as well. The cutscene graphics are considerably lower quality than the rest of the game (and much lower than another recent hidden object game from Alawar, Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers). Also, the games tend to move away from hidden object puzzles for a while in the middle, only to wedge them in at the end again. Personally, I prefer more hidden object, less other puzzles. Natural Threat suffers from some serious backtracking, especially at the end of the game, often moving from one end of the island to the other, only to do it all over again (Vampire Saga is a little better about keeping you moving between a few spots in the same area to solve puzzles), and Natural Threat also is void of music for much of the game, which really drags things down. I didn’t care much for the story in Natural Threat at all, and really struggled with keeping focused on completing the game. Finally, I felt that the hidden object puzzles in Vampire Saga were not as strong as in other games; seeing the pictures took away from the difficulty in searching for items. And the dialog trees in Vampire Saga also felt tacked on; it was a nice break in the action, but ultimately it was just a click-fest to move through the dialog, since you cannot progress without going through every dialog option.
Tym’s take: Your enjoyment of these games will ultimately be decided by whether you like puzzle games or not. If you’re typically not a fan, I would probably recommend some other games before these, as neither game is the best example of a hidden object puzzle game (though Natural Threat does a better job with puzzle variety and a more traditional experience). Neither game is outright bad, but both games do just enough wrong to make completing them feel more like a chore, and less like fun. I do like that many of the non hidden object puzzles were slightly more difficult than normal, but in the end, a lackluster presentation (both), excessive backtracking (Natural Threat), and regressive game features (Vampire Saga) detract from what is an otherwise fun romp through puzzles.
+ More difficult puzzles
+ Good puzzle variety
– Backtracking (Natural Threat)
– Lackluster story and presentation
– Poor hidden object and dialog execution (Vampire Saga)
Vampire Saga 3: Break Out: 6/10
Natural Threat: Ominous Shores: 7/10