Escape the Museum
Escape the Museum is an utterly fascinating adventure/hidden object game for Windows/Mac that reaches into room escape territory for inspiration. You play as Susan Anderson, a museum curator showing her daughter a dinosaur exhibit when a fierce earthquake rocks the building. Falling debris knocks Susan unconscious, and when she wakes she discovers she's trapped in the room and Caitlin is missing! Find the objects you'll need to reach the exit, then recover precious museum artifacts as you work your way through the rubble searching for your daughter.
Escape the Museum is a lot like Azada or the Dream Chronicles series in that it mixes adventure-style puzzles with light hidden object gameplay. Levels alternate between game modes to keep the experience from growing too dull, and the story is told through a series of cut scenes complete with voice acting. Susan is in contact with several co-workers who provide hints via cell phone, telling her which items she'll need to clear a path to the exit. These usually consist of simple assembly puzzles that require you to locate items or item components and use them in the appropriate area to continue. For example, finding a flashlight and then having to locate batteries and a bulb to make it work, all of which are second nature to room escape fans and adventure enthusiasts alike.
Once you've reached the exit, another worker asks you to recover precious museum property from the broken exhibits in a seek-and-find-style game. There are two types of item hunting scenes you'll come across in Escape the Museum. The first is the usual "find the list" fare where you have a specified set of items to locate in the rubble. The second is to find ten of a particular item in the scene. Some of the latter puzzles are a bit vague, bordering on the unfair (find ten dinosaur bones in the room with a big dinosaur skeleton?!), but the challenge level is just about right for us casual players.
In addition to puzzle solving and object finding, you'll also complete several jigsaw-style levels where you'll find and piece together precious items within the museum. And what archaeology-flavored experience would be complete without the Indiana Jones-style "grab the item and replace it with something of equal weight" gimmick? Escape the Museum has them all, and they're nicely woven into the story and don't feel too contrived.
Analysis: The adventure/hidden object hybrid games are coming into their own, ditching the tiring lists of dozens of items to find in favor of shorter seek-and-find experiences everyone can enjoy. Puzzle elements are fairly light but still deliver a good punch, forcing you to scratch your head once or twice, then quickly rewarding you with the solution. The museum environment feels old and dusty and conveys the post-earthquake feeling extraordinarily well, complete with small rumblings from time to time. The cut scenes are interesting, but I found the voice acting and dialogue a bit too amateurish for my taste, and the "skip" button doesn't progress things fast enough.
Once you complete a task in an area you'll unlock new puzzles that will either open new rooms to explore or new puzzles in places you've already been. The backtracking isn't as exciting as uncovering a new scene, but it's handled well and doesn't feel too stale. All of this makes Escape the Museum a surprisingly long game, nearly twice the length of similar titles!
An excellent expedition into the realm of adventure/hidden object hybrids that delivers everything it should in a well-thought out package.