Artifex Mundi have a plethora of hidden object puzzle adventures in their back catalogue, with some of them spawning multiple sequels. Not many have had the longevity of The Secret Order series though, lasting for over half a decade and recently launching its seventh instalment on Xbox One. The series has consistently explored the constant battle between the Order of the Griffins and the Dragon Clan, seeing the latter attempting to bring about carnage at every opportunity. Is the arrival of The Secret Order: Shadow Breach just one too many, or will it deliver an enjoyable experience in the midst of the chaos?
From the outset, The Secret Order: Shadow Breach showcases itself as one of the most interesting Artifex adventures to date. You’ll follow the incredibly skilful Sarah Pennington, a high-ranking agent within the Order of the Griffins, as she tries to clean up another mess created by the Dragon Clan. A great evil, Odessa, has escaped imprisonment upon the unearthing of a relic buried centuries before. As such, Sarah must act swiftly to gather the necessary artefacts and, ultimately, prevent the world from devastation.
The story manages to incorporate both modern tech and old artefacts really well, combining scientific methods with magical elements to great effect in a bid to stop Odessa. Due to the required armaments being spread out across the globe and other-worldly realms, there’s a real freshness brought about by traversing a wide range of fascinating locations too. These include a delightfully posh manor house, a fantastical dwelling of a druid, and a high tech science laboratory, to name a few. All of the locations are beautifully hand-drawn, full of vibrant colours and a surprising amount of detail to ensure your eyes are captivated.
Unfortunately, the scenes don’t look too good when the camera zooms in or during some parts of the cutscenes, with the visuals tending to become pixelated. Considering how rare such pixelation occurs however, Shadow Breach can be somewhat forgiven in that aspect. The voicework on the other hand is just dull and lacking in convincing delivery of any emotion, which makes it a bit of a struggle to care for any particular character or be drawn into the drama.
That’s fine though, because the main draw is the puzzling side of proceedings and that’s split up into the inventory-based problem solving, hidden object finding, and completion of mini-games. There’ll be many different items to acquire for your inventory, all of which serve a purpose and lead to vastly diverse solutions to problems. It’s quite cool how at one stage you may need to use a flash drive on a PC to print off a blueprint, while another sees you gathering basilisk venom to petrify a dangerous plant.
A similar variety is found in the mini-games as well, with a whole load of fun to be had from the offerings within Shadow Breach. Some are instigated by interactions using inventory items and others as a result of Sarah’s magical bracelet. The mini-games you’ll face feature mathematical equations, the mixing of colours, repeating patterns akin to the Simon game, a Pipe Mania style obstacle, and so much more. None of those will be awfully taxing on the brain, but for folk who do prefer a challenge, the sliding and light puzzles kick things up a notch. The best part is that if it is too tough, there’s a choice to skip any mini-game and still get the rewards for completion.
Even the hidden object scenes provide a decent mixture due to the environments changing regularly and different kinds of item lists to check off. At times there is simply a list of item names to scour an area for, but in others it may show the various fragments needed to create a whole object. Everything’s well hidden and occasionally parts of the scene are interactive – like being able to open drawers and such – both of which makes the whole activity enjoyable. The only let-down here comes in the cursor accuracy, meaning you may click on an item and it’ll not register correctly. That’s most annoying when you’re not sure what an item looks like, for example an amphora, and so you won’t even realise to click again.
The main narrative shouldn’t take more than a few hours to finish, but this can be extended by an additional hour courtesy of a bonus chapter. It focuses on returning the relics as you journey through magical realms, capping off the story nicely. The continued presence of the collectibles seen in the main game, in the form of scrolls and morphing objects, gives even more of a reason to check out this very good little add-on.
The Secret Order: Shadow Breach is an intriguing instalment of Sarah Pennington’s ongoing adventures that’s certainly worthy of your time. The combination of science and magic ensures an interesting premise is in place alongside a lovely selection of hand-drawn environments to peruse. Granted, the voiceovers aren’t great and the cursor accuracy is a problem, but that’s counter-acted by the puzzles. You see, the solutions are clever, the mini-games offer so much variety and the hidden object scenes are really well designed.
If you’re after a relaxing experience full of nifty puzzles, then The Secret Order: Shadow Breach on Xbox One will be a damn good addition to your library.