Play an Artifex Mundi hidden object game and you’re flipping a coin. Half of the time, you are getting an earnest tale. Whether you’re resurrecting a dragon or saving your sister from a giant bear, it’s all done with a serious frown across the face. The other half of the time, you are getting something overblown and camp that embraces the ridiculousness of rummaging in a messy room to save the world.
You can probably imagine which half of the coin we’re most interested in. Artifex Mundi adventures are released at such a frequent cadence – roughly one every couple of months – that they’re never polished, with fruity dialogue and wonky animations, so taking it seriously doesn’t seem like the right option. The best ones put on a theatrical voice, don a cape and have a whale of time. Praise the Hidden Object Gods, then, that Family Mysteries 2: Echoes of Tomorrow is emphatically in that camp. In fact, it’s alongside the best in the genre.
If you’ve played Family Mysteries: Poisonous Promises, the weirdness whacks you in the face with a sci-fi mallet immediately. The first game was in a modern setting, casting you as a CSI looking into the murder of a twin who was tossed overboard from a yacht. In Family Mysteries 2, well, you’re an inventor who’s created a teleporter and time machine, and a goatee’d doppelganger of Karl Urban has kidnapped your wife and is looking to kill you. There’s no connection to the first game, there’s no ‘Family Mystery’ to speak of, and the plot eventually develops to be a low-rent Terminator. And not the plot of the first or second classic Terminators, but the plot of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which is like ordering a burger and taking out the meat.
Let’s give you some examples of the nonsense: someone has gone undercover in your home, to make sure you don’t construct anything world-ending, yet they’re surprised that you’ve invented both a teleporter and a time machine. Good job, undercover dude. You create an AI that’s fully capable of taking over the world – in fact, you know it will – but you put it into something that’s completely stealable and breakable, and then get resentful when someone steals it from you and breaks it (the AI disappears in a puff of smoke and appears in the nearest computer, obviously).
It makes almost no sense, but it’s so much fun. This is arch-camp, and your appreciation of Family Mysteries 2: Echoes of Tomorrow will completely depend on whether you can switch off your mental faculties and appreciate it for what it is. This is dumb, silly sci-fi; more Demolition Man or Running Man than Blade Runner.
Visually, it’s that blend of art styles, both attractive and ugly, that happens with virtually all Artifex Mundi games. The object-tableaus and the environments are as pleasant as always, easy to scan with your cursor and clear what you’re doing. But then characters enter the frame and they’re gonky mannequins, most often animated using a ‘smudge’ tool on Photoshop rather than posing them or articulating them. They bulge and throb as they move and talk, and you wonder why Artifex never bother to work out a better approach. Everyone feels demonically possessed, which is presumably why everyone gets demonically possessed in Artifex Mundi games.
And then there’s the voice-acting. Good lordy, it’s always a cheese-board with Artifex, and Family Mysteries 2 doesn’t disappoint. The baddie, who effectively has one line repeated throughout the whole experience – “we’re more intelligent than you, so you must die” – is so much a wedding cake of cheese you almost see layers in it. He ‘screams’ in death at the end, and the actor has clearly given up by this point; he lets out a bored moan, as if they’ve captured the moment he woke up and remembered he was voicing the game.
Sure, the dialogue is leaden, but there’s a certain glee to be had when wallowing in it. It’s softened by the story and setting, which – while they make little logical sense – contrive to take you to bizarre places. A police HQ (we think they’re police – it’s not exactly clear) has an insectarium and a rat maze, as well as jet-powered boots and a telepathic mouse. You crash-land a helicopter randomly in the mountains, and come across a crystal mine and a machine for repairing robotic arms, just as you’re debilitated by a damaged robotic arm. We want to live in the world of Family Mysteries 2, because our homes would be full of face-swapping technology and convenient helicopters.
Having come off the back of umpteen hidden object games, it’s refreshing how different Family Mysteries 2: Echoes of Tomorrow is. Artifex games have a stale habit of repeating the same plot of a woman being kidnapped (which does actually happen here), and then chasing after a shadowy necromancer to get her back from a ritual. They tend to be fantasy or a kind of Lovecraftian panto-horror, so diving into a sci-fi future is a welcome difference.
Artifex have done the fantastic job of letting the sci-fi stuff mix the game up. Instead of just rummaging in skips, you’re navigating cluttered operating systems on far-future computers. They’re about as believable as the ones in Hackers or Swordfish, but they’re good fun regardless. You’re often hacking or rewiring, and ‘stealth’ sections involve avoiding CCTV or drones. The puzzles and hidden objects all dovetail really well into the theme, which makes a change from Artifex’s other games where the puzzles and scenes can stick out in their environments like a sore thumb.
Difficulty-wise, it’s on the easy end. A bonus episode ramps up the puzzle challenge a little bit, with two that took more than the customary five minutes. Otherwise, you’re going to glide through the game like it’s a flume. Puzzles are simple with plenty of safety nets (including the ability to skip, which you won’t need), hidden objecting feels clearer and therefore easier, and the graphic-adventure stuff feels supremely obvious. These are compliments, in a way, as the game is very good at making itself logical and self-evident. If you want a few hours of entertainment, most of this will be music to your ears.
Like an airport thriller, this will be throwaway tosh and you’ll finish it, perhaps in one go, over the course of three hours. Likely, you’ll have 1000G to show for it, particularly if you play on the harder game mode which doesn’t really make things much harder. Whether that justifies the outlay is up to you, so you might want to consider a future and inevitable sale price.
Family Mysteries 2: Echoes of Tomorrow on Xbox is prime nonsense; a retelling of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines but peppered with spot-the-difference puzzles and hidden objects, as if Arnie was sent back in time to tidy someone’s room. It’s supremely camp, but the best hidden object games are, and you’ll likely forgive the dodgy animations and script by the time you reach the end of its entertaining three or four hours. Ignore the ‘2’ in the title: this is a strong entry point for the genre, and one of its best to boot.