The hidden object games from Artifex Mundi are always pulpy and camp, but Demon Hunter: Ascendance heads into uncharted territory. It steps beyond the campness of Dark Arcana: The Carnival, the previous holder of ‘most trashy Artifex game’, and claims the rosette for itself.
This is the fifth in the Demon Hunter series, but the first (and presumably not the last) to feature the hunter Hector Cole. He has been employed by Edmund Strange, the owner and curator of The Museum of Mysticism and Monstrosity, to find a tourist who got lost overnight in the exhibits. This Vincent Price-a-like (even Scooby Doo would know that he’s not to be trusted) doesn’t want the police involved, as he wants to preserve the Museum’s reputation. Along for the ride is his wife who looks quite a lot like Bernie Ecclestone.
Without spoiling things too much, The Museum of Mysticism and Monstrosity isn’t quite what it seems to be, and Hector Cole has to investigate, survive and finally overcome one of Artifex’s traditional necromancer/ghost/demon things. Artifex Mundi love a paranormal big-bad.
It’s a game of two halves. The first half stays in the Museum and has a great deal of fun with the setup. Animatronic ghosts whizz past, shrunken heads chat to you and it’s got the faint outline of a Tales From the Crypt. But a twist comes like a wrecking ball and things get boring soon afterwards. We would have happily continued on the rails that the first half slapped down.
On the way, it’s the traditional Artifex Mundi stuff. There are hidden object scenes where you have to spot items from a list, and Demon Hunter: Ascendance opts to have a high degree of interaction in them. You lift up stuff to see what’s underneath, and it works reasonably well. Some three-item scenes where you look through illustrations in a book are too repeated and far too easy, but the hidden object stuff is otherwise clear and – as usual – well drawn.
There are puzzle minigames and they, too, do a decent job. Every single one of them has been seen in a previous Artifex Mundi title, so don’t get excited about the prospect of fresh new designs. The Demon Hunter series staple – the magical battle, looking for symbols that DON’T happen to feature in the opponent’s attacks – are also present and correct. For a reheated lunch, it’s still quite tasty, though. We had to use a skip on one of them, which shows that Demon Hunter: Ascendance is on the more difficult side (you can play a match-two minigame to skip hidden object sequences, too).
Finally, there’s the graphic adventure stuff, as you accumulate items to use in the environment or on each other. This landed in our sweet spot: giving us lots of items to play around with, rather than a few (some hidden object games can be overly simplistic and obvious), and offering a large number of areas at a time in which they can be used. Nothing is abstract, everything’s got an obvious use, and there are no prizes for guessing the kind of items you are given: rope, plenty of knives, crowbars, axes etc. It’s the Artifex Usual Suspects.
For a modern Artifex title, though, it’s an ugly old game. Don’t get us wrong, the landscapes are fantastic and we take them for granted nowadays. They are gloomy and painterly, and the artists clearly had fun in the House of Horrors at the start. But the characters are pretty dreadful. The budget must have been lower than average, as none of them truly animate, and they instead warp and morph to communicate things like ‘talking’ or ‘attacking’. One of them consistently attacks you throughout Demon Hunter: Ascendance, and we spent most of the game having a chuckle rather than anything approaching threat.
What undermines Demon Hunter: Ascendance most, though, is its fall from grace. The second half is so thuddingly generic, with an enemy that – somehow – feels even blander than Artifex’s usual. We went through the motions, chasing the same old enemy, doing the same minigames, and collecting familiar items. The technicolour campness washes off Demon Hunter: Ascendance and is replaced with beige, and it leads to its eventual downfall.
Demon Hunter: Ascendance isn’t bad, in hidden object terms. For its first hour, it even threatens to cover new territory, taking you into a knowingly tacky house of horrors. But it soon becomes generic, and the second half of the game is a perfect median of every Artifex Mundi that has come before. For a game named Ascendance, it doesn’t half go downhill.
You can buy Demon Hunter: Ascendance from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S