Bringing a modest helping of Ringu to the hidden object genre is True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1. It’s what everyone needs: a ghost jumping out of cupboards as they try to complete a spot-the-difference.
As a nice change, this is not an Artifex Mundi hidden object game. This is from developer Goblinz, who have been merrily adding to the True Fear: Forsaken Souls story on PC, where they are currently working on Part 3. Xbox has some catching up to do.
Goblinz touts this as a “mystery escape game”, but we’d argue that’s a misnomer. Escape rooms are confined and claustrophobic and the aim is to get out. True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 is huge, bigger than some graphic adventures, and there’s up to twenty rooms available at once to explore. It’s a simplistic label, but hidden object game will do.
And your aim isn’t to get out: you want to wade further and further into the derelict houses on offer, so that you can find out what happened to your twin sister, who has gone missing in a house that probably has a civic complaint or two. It’s half-destroyed, covered in bloodstains and is haunted by the ghost of a young girl, who does the customary horror shenanigans of twitching with the head to one side, appearing when you least want her to.
Tonally, True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 is an odd old beast, because it’s not altogether that scary. You’re never under any threat, there’s only one ghost in the main portion of the game, and she only really appears in hokey cutscenes. The game basically announces when you’re about to be scared – when you don’t have control of the character, that’s your signal. It’s not much scarier than your average hidden object game.
But it IS glum. It’s our greatest criticism of True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1. The idea of a hidden object game in a horror movie is a good one, but boy does it get wearing after a while. The looped soundtrack is the culprit here: it’s both incredibly repeated, but also constantly on edge. It gives you the odd break of silence, but your best bet is to just turn it off. Equally, everything’s so drab and horrible to look at. We wanted to pick up a pack of Crayola and add in some primary colours (that wasn’t blood).
But aside from that sizeable quibble, True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 gets a lot right. As mentioned, it is huge – bigger than anything named ‘Part 1’ should be. It’s almost double the size of your average hidden object game, spread across three acts and three different locations.
It’s also faintly different, being a non-Artifex game. The hidden object scenes are less like a Where’s Wally and more like compact graphic adventures. All your inventory is removed, and you have to find and use objects in the scene to construct an escape. These bits do feel like an escape room, and they’re a welcome change.
It’s sprawling, and not just in a size sense. At any given time, you might have twenty-or-so rooms and the same number of items. That’s a lot of permutations, and a lot to keep logged in the head. We’re into LucasArts adventure territory here, and it will be Marmite to potential players. If you fancy that kind of cognitive overload, then True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 has your back. If not, then you might want to avoid it, or stick it on Casual setting where items twinkle and you can use unlimited hints.
There are some additions that other hidden object publishers should take note of. In the menus, you can jump to any of the game’s minigames or hidden object scenes and replay them. You don’t have to find a manual save or replay from the beginning: it’s all there with a single button press. When you’re achievement hunting, it’s invaluable. And a Bonus Episode isn’t some throwaway story about how the main character bought a sandwich once: it’s a substantial addition to the story.
Perhaps it’s because we have played almost every Artifex game on the Xbox, but True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 could have also benefited from stealing some usability ideas from other hidden object games. You can move from room to room by clicking on the fringes of the screen, but these click areas are way too large, and we found ourselves moving rooms when we didn’t want to. Some interactibles also don’t look interactive: it loves a pile of earth and scattered twigs, but doesn’t quite make them look different enough from other soil and twigs. It can be a bit trial and error.
Otherwise, True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 is a solid example of a hidden object game. It’s substantial, has plenty to keep your mental cogs whirring, and introduces some ideas that will prick up Artifex Mundi’s ears. And if you were wondering, it’s about as scary as reading the back of a DVD of The Grudge. It’s up to you whether that’s a good thing.
You can buy True Fear: Forsaken Souls Part 1 from the Xbox Store