There’s something reassuring about an Artifex Mundi adventure dropping at the start of the year. It’s a cosy reminder that, no matter what happens this year, we will still be getting messy bedrooms to search for spanners and magical objects. When everything else is changing, the hidden object genre will always be there for us.
It’s certainly a candidate for worst game title of 2023, and we’ve barely started January. We can imagine someone in the marketing department penciling in a placeholder name and then forgetting to update it. Aw Jeff, I thought you were the one coming up with this one.
Demon Hunter: New Chapter is the latest in what is becoming the most prolific of all Artifex’s series. There are five Demon Hunter games, but the catch is that this is just the second of them. How does that work? Well, Xbox is six or seven years behind PC (Demon Hunter: New Chapter came out there in 2015!), as the games get ported at the pace of a ride-on mower. So, this is the second Demon Hunter game on Xbox, but we can expect another three – at least – in the coming years.
You can see why Demon Hunter is loved by the Artifex Mundi community, because it fits their template to an absolute tee. Roughly eighty-percent of their games have someone being kidnapped (most often a sister, daughter or female friend) by a cultist or necromancer, so that a demon can be summoned from a dark ritual. Demon Hunter: New Chapter has this very structure, albeit with a male damsel (the freshness, the originality!).
As Miss Dawn, Demon Hunter extraordinaire, you receive a call from Doctor Stuart Williams, a friend of your father. He believes that evil ne’er-do-wells are looking to summon your nemesis, the demon Ragnar, and you should visit him as soon as possible. Demon hunting is clearly a profitable business, as you have a helipad directly outside of your office, and off you go for a spot of exorcising.
Hilariously, the Ragnar cultist doesn’t think much of magic, occultery or any other arcane shenanigans. Instead, they absolutely love a rocket launcher, and fire them at you whenever they see a window of opportunity. So, your helicopter gets obliterated (don’t worry, your demon-protection amulet can ward off RPGs), and you are conveniently downed just outside of the Doctor’s mansion.
So begins a story that we hazard to call pulpy, as it does a bit of a disservice to pulpy stories. This is storytelling at its most braindead, but – as with a lot of braindead media – there’s some fun to be had with it. Everyone is a suspect at some point, twizzling their moustaches and generally looking like they’d kick a puppy, before the game suddenly decides who its Ragnar-summoner is. Meanwhile, the facial animations seem to have been brought to us by Play-doh, and the voice acting would have been tossed out by Ed Wood for being unbelievable.
You can tick off all of the Artifex Mundi cliches on your bingo card as you go. Miss Dawn gets captured not once but twice (tick-tick), a secret laboratory is found under an old mansion (tick), and Miss Dawn is suspected by local law enforcement as being the baddie, even though anybody could point out the flaws in their conclusion (TICK!).
But for all the tuts and eye-rolls, we can’t deny that Demon Hunter: New Chapter is rather fun. Ignore all of the narrative faux-pas: this is one of the better examples of why Artifex Mundi hidden object games have been such an enduring sub-genre, and why it might be a good jumping in point.
First of all, it’s a hidden object game that actually includes hidden object scenes. Now, this might seem like an odd comment to make, but Artifex Mundi games are actually a bit spotty in terms of giving you Where’s Wally? style tableaux for you to scan. Often, they can skew more towards point-and-click-style adventuring, or go all-in on minigames. We can reach the end of one and wonder where all the hidden objecting went.
Here, there’s frigging loads of them. You can’t walk five metres without some detritus needing sorting. Even better, Demon Hunter: New Chapter wants you to return to the same scene twice. It might seem like unnecessary re-use, but we loved it. The reason is that, the first time you do a hidden object scene, you are removing a lot of the scree that’s there. The second time, you have tidied enough to make the puzzle easier. And that feels good, because you were the one who made it easier. We ended up thanking Past Us for doing most of the hard work.
Then there are the graphic-adventure elements, which feel like they have listened to our past five or six Artifex reviews and taken the feedback to heart. Except, of course, they haven’t, as this game was originally released in the heady days of 2015. You will often have five or six scenes connected together in a row, and it’s absolutely possible for an item from the fifth scene to be used way back in the first. It assumes at least a little intelligence on the part of the player, and doesn’t mean that you’re having your hand held through the whole game. Too often, these games will give you two or three scenes at best, leaving you precious few options for using your items.
Everything else is hidden object 101. There are sporadic puzzles that get you paying more attention, but they’re nothing you haven’t seen before. Light-puzzles, pipe puzzles and twisty-dial puzzles are all here in abundance. We did note that some puzzles required you to memorise safe solutions, rather than scribbling them on a sheet of paper that goes in your inventory. Again, it’s a positive move towards difficulty and getting the player to think for themselves.
If you’re an Artifex fan, it’s also worth noting that this is an impossible-to-miss 100% Gamerscore giver, but there’s no Bonus Episode to play. Increasingly, Artifex have been ditching these epilogues in favour of bulking out the main adventure, and – if we’re being honest – we don’t particularly miss them now they’re gone.
Demon Hunter: New Chapter is both a crime against game titles and quality storytelling. But you know the story by now: Artifex Mundi hidden object games are less about the plot, and more about the puzzling. And in that regard, it’s one of their best, with sprawling scenes and more hidden object scenes than you can shake a stick at.
If you want to understand the B-movie charms of this strange little subgenre, then Demon Hunter: New Chapter is a surprisingly good place to start.
You can buy Demon Hunter: New Chapter from the Xbox Store