I'd played the last game in the Nightmares From The Deep series, and enjoyed it thoroughly, so my expectations were high going into this game. I'll start off the review by saying that yes, they were met, and this is another high-quality game published by Artifex Mundi, but in addition to general production excellence, the game had something of a huge surprise for me. When I first booted up the game, the last thing I expected to find was another addition to my list of hidden object games adapted from HP Lovecraft stories, yet that's exactly what I got. Surprisingly, The Siren's Call is a fairly faithful adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth - just less bleak, and without a troubling anti-miscegenation message. The developers have taken the thrilling plot, creepy backstory, and great monster design of the original tale and reworked it so completely that it becomes almost entirely their own - making this quite an accomplishment even before gameplay elements are taken into account.
Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?
Barely at all. As is frequently the case, the game is set in a town that's gone through a destructive event - here it's riots and social protest against a terrible mayor. As a result, the streets are a mess, and hidden objects are understandably difficult to find amongst all of the clutter. The screens themselves are beautifully drawn, with the items almost universally fitting the location in which they're found. The developers have even been mindful to avoid the various types of cheating so many games use to ramp up the difficulty level. Here only a few items have been shifted to an unrealistic size, and every time they want to hide an item by changing its colour from the expected they're always careful to establish a light source explaining the change in hue.
Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?
The game is split pretty evenly between 12:1 and fully integrated, with the fully integrated scenes consisting of bother mini-puzzles and construction screens. The game offers a healthy amount of hidden object games - with the only real drawback being how heavily the game relies on the map's ability to let players know when the next screen is available. This can be a little daunting from a design standpoint at the best of times - give players a map that allows them to fast travel and they're going to use it, but it's generally better to let them find a hidden object scene organically through travel, rather than just looking for a new exclamation point on a map. The Siren's Call has a habit of putting new hidden scenes a good 8-10 screens back from wherever a puzzle is being solved, which more often than not leads to a player getting stumped because they can't crack a particular door, then checking out the map and discovering that way back in the starting village there are two new HOSs to solve.
Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?
With its setting rife with magical pirates and ancient curses, The Siren's Call earns a pass on contrived locks and elaborate puzzles. These are evil fish-people who've been trapped in time for hundreds of years - of course they're going to get playful when it comes to sealing chests. The game especially impresses with the variety of locations it offers - starting in a Carribean island village, the game moves through a few locations seemingly set in different time periods using a clever and entirely believable conceit which I won't spoil here. The non-HOS puzzles are all especially well-grounded and fit the world - whether I was decoding a parchment, cracking a safe, or just repairing a set of clocks, all of the activities logically grew out of the story which contained them.
I was a big fan of the first Nightmares From The Deep, and The Siren's Call improves on it in every way. A compelling story, wonderful setting, and beautiful art make this one of the most high-quality HOGs I've reviewed. It's also important to mention just how well the Xbox One's controller handles the gameplay. I was initially wary about using a controller for a HOG, but these games have convinced me of its utility. Yes, every now and then the large 'clicking circle' in the HOSs has me grabbing an item other than what I was looking for, but it's accurate the vast majority of the time, and actually makes navigating from screen to screen easier, as well as speeding up inventory management quite a bit.
How good was the experience of playing Nightmares From The Deep 2: The Siren's Call on the XB1? Despite the fact that I already own the third game in the trilogy on PC, and am excited to see the next chapter - the Bonus Game does a great job of teasing the sequel - I'm probably going to wait until it's available on consoles, just so I can play this whole franchise all on one platform.
DISCLOSURE - I received a review copy of this game from Artifex Mundi.
Want to see the playthrough that led to this review? It starts with the video below!