Thursday, 4 August 2016

Demon Hunter: Chronicles From Beyond

 Demon Hunter: Chronicles From Beyond has the least surprising villain reveal I've ever encountered. I'm truly baffled that the developers could have included this sequence in a game that is, by all appearances, not a parody or satire. I'll set the scene - the main character's foster father has been murdered, and she's come to his house to investigate the death, where she finds his assistant, who professes innocence in any involvement with the crime, and offers to help track down the real culprit. Then, at the end of the conversation, this happens:

Yes, that was him teleporting away in a cloud of smoke, like a cartoon demon. He does this multiple times in the game before he reveals that he'd been working for the main demon villain all along, and each time I was baffled and delighted. If only that was a reaction that the developers were hoping to get from me!

Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?

It's pretty bad. There are plenty of HOSs in this game - most screens are visited more than once, in fact. Those screens, however, are shoddily-designed to the point of distraction. Not only are all of them flooded with random nonsense beyond all reason or plausibility, but every kind of object concealment cheating a developer can attempt - colour, gravity, size - they're all on display. The strange thing is that this doesn't actually lead to difficult HOSs. The clickable objects are all drawn in a style distinct enough from the backdrops that they garishly stand out from their surroundings, leading to one of the easiest-to-complete sets of HOSs I've ever encountered in a game.

Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?

It's all 12:1 screens, I'm sorry to report that absolutely no work was put into merging the the searches within the narrative. Glittering areas appear, and the player searches them, finds a single item, and then moves on to the next puzzle or HOS. There's no flair or innovation here, but at least there's plenty of gameplay, and some effort is made to keep the HOSs lively. In addition to the standard 'hidden items' that need to be unlocked, or have a foreground object moved, the game puts 'beyond objects' that constantly shift into the mix, asking players to find an apple, but having it transform into a baseball from time to time, forcing players to click on it at just the right moment. Little inclusions like this make sure that the game is always engaging, even when it fails to do anything really interesting.

Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?

The narrative follows the main character exploring her childhood home and its environs, which wind up being fairly preposterously random. The creepy house is well-designed and fascinatingly complex, but some of the other locations the player visits seem random and out of sync with the rest of the story. Why is the player travelling to an undersea kingdom and trying to arrange a fight between a shark and a kraken? At what point did things go off the rails, exactly? Things get even more bizarre and random in the bonus chapter, which frames its story as a nightmare that the main character is having after her ordeal battling a demon in the main game. This seems like a flimsy way to justify the completely random series of locations that the bonus level takes the player - from a dentist's office to a jungle to a dilapidated asylum - it's almost as if the bonus chapter was made up of environments that had been cut from other games, then stitched together here with only the barest pretext justifying them.

That being said, I can't be too hard on the bonus chapter, as it introduced me to the Hidden Object Guru Channel's new mascot: Scarecrow Dentist

Demon Hunter: Chronicles of the Unknown is kind of a mess. The story only gets around to introducing demons right at the end, and the whole thing winds up feeling more like a prologue chapter to a series than a narrative in its own right. On a purely mechanical level, though, there's plenty of content here, both in the glut of HOSs and environmental interaction. The story may not be anything special, but there certainly is plenty of game on display.

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