Haunted Legends: The Queen of Spades is a hidden-object adventure game that puts you in the role of an inspector who receives a letter from a colleague. It seems a young police officer who was investigating some disappearances in a countryside manor has gone and disappeared himself, and your colleague is too intimidated to look himself, having put much stock in the superstitious rumours that surround the old place of demons and curses. Hah! What nonsense. Poppycock, even! You're not scared of anyth-OHMYGODWHATSTHAT oh no it's cool, it was just a leaf brushing against my ankle. Heh. Sorry. Where were we? Oh, right, nerves of steel.
The site of all these strange happenings is the property of a woman who was once known locally as the Countess. Legend goes that hundreds of years ago she made a deal with the devil in return for a magic pack of cards, and built herself a massive fortune on them, rather than settle down and watch Judge Judy re-runs and play Keno on the weekends like every other respectable old lady. The Countess died alone, but the local villagers insist her home is still cursed... and once the bodies start piling up and someone starts following you, it gets harder to dismiss it as superstition. Will you solve the mystery, or will you too meet your fate at tiny murderous hands? Your investigation will take you all over the Countess' estate and the surrounding area, gathering items big and small to unravel the truth. Does the truth involve magical playing cards, or is there something even weirder going on?
Analysis: There have been a lot of horror- themed hidden-object adventure titles on the market lately, and while a month or so ago you might have been able to just pass this off as seasonal infatuation, it seems we just love anything the slightest bit dark and weird. Enter the Queen of Spades, which reminds me somewhat of a slightly less gory Elizabeth Bathory... with a gambling problem. While the music is probably going to sound a little familiar to anyone who's played any recent ERS Game Studio titles, the presentation here is still great. The developers have by now perfected the art of depicting shabby, once grand and elegant environments, and exploring the wonderfully creepy areas is a real treat for the eyes.
Surprisingly, and perhaps disappointingly, the game is fairly light on puzzles compared to other titles in the genre. Maybe that's a good thing when you consider how massive your inventory tends to get as you explore your surroundings... I didn't know Bags of Holding were standard issue for detectives. For the most part, item usage is pretty intuitive, and you'll usually be able to figure out which of the items you've picked up will best fit any situation. For the more abstract solutions, the sort of thing that you'd typically never figure out on your own, the game will usually tell you what items you need and it's a simple matter of tracking them all down. It's not particularly challenging, but it does make the game extremely accessible, and cuts out a lot of frustrating problem solving.
While the gameplay is fairly standard, Haunted Legends: The Queen of Spades is still a beautifully crafted, bizarre tale that will keep you busy for quite some time. It does a great job of keeping you interested and wanting to see how things play out, with a strange story that is anything but ordinary. While you might wish there was more of a challenge to it, if you're a fan of the mad and the macabre, you'll at least want to check of the demo. Just remember... when you stare into the gnome, the gnome also stares into you.
A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus chapter to play, wallpapers, strategy guide, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.