Oh, those wacky university students! All the time getting in trouble with their keggers and their pranks and their wild spring breaks and their vanishing in a remote ghost town riddled with echoes of violence and panic! What will they get up to next?... well, uh... nothing, unless you can save them in Elephant Games' hidden-object adventure, Mystery Trackers: Raincliff.
A bus full of university students and their driver has gone missing near the town of Raincliff, and since the town has been mysteriously deserted for years, questioning the locals is out of the question. As the master detective who unraveled the crazy mystery surrounding Void House in the previous game, you seem like the perfect choice to bring the missing people home safely. But when it quickly becomes apparent you're not alone in the snow-blanketed town, you might wish you had reinforcements of your own. Who do you call in when knives start hurling themselves at you in an empty diner? Ghostbusters or Gordon Ramsay? Things only get stranger as you begin to uncover a very strange and very unique family secret, but will you be able to get to the bottom of things when it seems like someone is trying very hard, very often, to kill you? Geez, what'd you do? Post on a forum about how Picard was the worst or that you preferred Highlander 2 over the original? You monster! You deserve it!
Can click? Can play! Raincliff offers three difficulty settings to choose from when you first start the game, mainly pertaining to whether interactive areas are highlighted and how long the hint/skip button takes to charge, but whatever challenge you sign up for the gameplay is the same. You'll move throughout the town hunting for clues, solving hidden-object scenes and gathering items to solve puzzles. If you're completely flummoxed as to where to go next, try the hint button; the adorable, well-dressed toad helper is back, and if you give him a click, he'll actually tell you exactly what your next step should be. If you're a film buff, you can also click on the projector icon to watch any cutscenes you've already witnessed.
Analysis: I loved Mystery Trackers: The Void, which I thought was an underrated gem with a remarkable amount of creativity and goofy charm. In comparison, Raincliff is somewhat more restrained, with less demonic teddy-bears in mailboxes and more seemingly straight-up ghost town shenanigans. While the basic concept of missing students in a snow-logged deserted area may sound familiar, Raincliff refuses to go the predictable route and instead holds some great twists and unique ideas. Is any of it realistic?... well... no, of course not, but if you're looking for realism, you're in the wrong place. Raincliff is a beautiful game, and exploring the town is made all the better with the detail in every scene and the moody, atmospheric music that knows exactly when to pick up and die down.
There are still some niggling flaws that hamper the game somewhat, with perhaps the biggest being how much backtracking there is. The town and the surrounding areas are large enough, but the game sends you packing to and fro over them so often it quickly gets tiresome. There's also a noticeable degree of "adventure game logic" at work that Raincliff's predecessor lacked, with some of the item uses being unintuitive or downright silly. Perhaps most disappointing, however, is that all the puzzles are fairly standard and, to be honest, a little bland; most of them are just variations on "put these thingers in the proper order" or "move this dealiebobber into this doohickey".
Fortunately, Raincliff gets a lot right as well, mostly due to the same imaginative and original approach to its story its predecessor had. Rather than dumping pages and pages of story information in a journal, Raincliff marries the narrative and the gameplay by having things revealed in cutscenes and notes found throughout the game. You're constantly kept on your toes as you come under siege by the mysterious forces in the town, and the result is a surprisingly cinematic experience that mixes equal parts adventure and mystery. Despite some genuinely creepy and weird moments, players who prefer games without jump scares can play with confidence here.
All told, the game will probably run most players between four to five hours, with the included "bonus" chapter tacking on another half-to-full hour of play time. I'm actually a little conflicted about that extra, because in what's becoming a frustratingly common occurence for Collector's Edition games, that chapter adds a lot of context and perspective to the rest of the game and actually wraps up the story much more neatly. It's not quite as severe as Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker in terms of what gets left off, but players who wait for the standard edition will miss out on a big finale and be left with an extra plot hole or two.
Despite a few bumps in the road, Mystery Trackers: Raincliff comes highly recommended. It's fun, surprising, creative, and wonderfully weird, offering up a big mystery and adventure to boot. The series is shaping up to be one to watch and consistently offers up some of the best quality and bang for your buck in the genre. Try the demo before you buy, but try it all the same; Raincliff is one strange town you should definitely pay a visit to.
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.