Driving home one night in the pouring rain, you decide to stop and give a lift to a young woman standing shivering on the side of the road. She's pretty, alone, and very, very quiet. It isn't until after you drop her off at the edge of a rundown little town that you realise she's left you something: an old teddy bear in the backseat of your car. The very same teddy bear you remember from your childhood, in fact. But will you be prepared for what you find when you go looking for her? Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker from Artogon Games is an atmospheric, creepy, and unsettling hidden-object adventure, and is also one of the best examples of horror and mystery in a casual download title to date.
Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker is the point-and-click adventure that walks like a hidden-object hybrid. For the most part, your time will be spent exploring areas and trying to figure out what items you need to proceed as you search for clues. The cursor will change when you pass over a portion of the environment you can get in closer to or interact with, and if you're playing in casual difficulty mode, the game will even mark those spots with intermittent sparkles. The hint button can be used the traditional way to locate items in hidden-object scenes, but if you use it during regular gameplay it will also point you towards where you should go next. You've also got a flashlight and a camera at your disposal that you can use any time you wish. The flashlight, rather predictably can be used to illuminate the dark areas and help you find your way around, while the camera, well... let's just say sometimes it might help you see more than you'd expect.
Analysis: I've been complaining for a long time now that casual games frequently hold back from being really scary, so this was a real treat. The atmosphere in this game is absolutely brilliant in places, and is the sort of thing you should probably be playing alone with the lights shut off and the sound turned off. (Or, better yet, headphones.) The rain picks up as you wander down the street. A murder of crows takes flight as you round a corner. There are a lot of startling, scary, and even downright unsettling moments, but really only one instance that might qualify as a "jump scare" towards the latter half of the game, and that at least is fairly predictable. It's when you don't know what's coming that the game keeps you on edge and afraid to switch on your flashlight or peer through a keyhole. The stylistic influences from Silent Hill are pretty obvious (seriously, am I the only one nerdy enough to think that map looks familiar?), but if you're a horror fan you'll probably also recognise echoes of a lot of Asian horror movies as well.
The bad news is... well, the fact that there's even bad news at all. It's kind of a cliché, but the game can be likened to a roller coaster, if only because of its wild ups and downs; I went from being absolutely enraptured, to annoyed, to frightened, to frustrated and back throughout the course of the gameplay. A massive chunk of the chapter that takes place on the island is just drawn out backtracking without a lot of the atmosphere and chills of the rest of the game. The island is also stuffed with a lot of extra hidden-object scenes that don't feel like they fit It's not the proverbial nail in the coffin, but it is frustrating, and makes you feel as though the whole game would have been better off as "just" a point-and-click adventure. Yeah, I know I sound like a whiner, but it feels like it interrupts the flow of the rest of the gameplay and story so much whining is justified. Meh. Meh. Meeeeeeeeh!
Still, it should tell you something that despite all my plaintive caterwauling I still kept playing, and am still happy to recommend it. It looks and sounds great, and you'll want to keep going to find out how it all ends... or at least to see what the game is going to try to use to creep you out next. The story deviates drastically from the urban legend that provides the opening hook, and while there's no denying that some aspects of it are tighter than others and you might see the big twist coming, it's definitely entertaining and a creepy good time. It's satisfying when it's over in the same way watching any good scary movie is. I'll have to ask my Great Grandmother if she laid any ancient curses in her time, because now I'm kind of concerned that I'm slacking off compared to my ancestors.
Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker is a game that has its faults, but is ultimately a game I was glad to play, delivering some genuinely scary moments, and an interesting story. The bonus chapter included in the Collector's Edition shouldn't even be a "bonus" to begin with, because the story as it is ends on such a massive cliffhanger and the bonus chapter picks up exactly where it left off and basically fills in the gaps in the story and provides a proper ending. Altogether I spent around four to five hours on it, though of course your mileage may vary (particularly if you don't have a review deadline looming). Horror fans should definitely check out the demo to see if it's their cup of tea. I sincerely hope we see more horror titles from developers Artogon Games in the future because if this one is any indication, they really know how to create a creepy, bumpy ride.
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.