It's been a long time coming, hasn't it? First you explored Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst, that twisted house of horrors. Then you returned to Ravenhearst in, appropriately, Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst and found even more evil lurking within. Now in the newest chapter it's time to escape in Mystery Case Files: Escape from Ravenhearst, the latest adventure/hidden object hybrid from BigFish Studios. Yes, Charles is back as is his crazed son Victor and they are out for revenge!
If you are one of the two people on earth who has never played a Ravenhearst game, here's a brief synopsis: There's this evil guy named Charles who, when thwarted by the love of his life, disposed of her and trapped her spirit in the gloomy recesses of Ravenhearst, his maze-like house. Playing the master detective, you first freed poor Emma in the original story, then went back and freed her maid and the maid's twin daughters whose spirits were also trapped, burning down the mansion in the process. However, a taunting package has arrived that lures you back for a third time with the news of mysterious disappearances in the Blackpool area.
Are Charles and his crazy son at it again? You betcha! As you arrive back at the scene of so much evil Emma and her cohorts return as well to help you on your way, although they spend most of their time warning you, you Master Detective you, to turn back. Unfortunately you don't heed their cries and pretty soon you and they are "guests" of Charles, traveling through his nightmarish past. Can you find the missing people and help them and the spirits escape before you go as insane as the Dalimars? Delve deep and find out, although you might need a shower afterwards.
Like Return to Ravenhearst, Mystery Case Files: Escape from Ravenhearst plays as a point-and-click adventure with some hidden object elements incorporated. The great surprise this time around is that the designers have jettisoned the classic "list" type of hidden object scenes and replaced them with something far trickier: morphing objects. The premise of morphing objects has been seen in previous Mystery Case Files games like Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate and Dire Grove, but this time around they are taken to a whole new level. The spirits of Emma and the others cannot help you directly, they can merely cause objects in the background to "morph", or change shape, directing your attention to them. When entering a morphing object scene the only clues you receive are from Emma's locket, which tells you how many morphing objects can be found. Find them all and the spirit will direct you to an area of interest where there is something helpful or handy to be found and placed in the bottom-loading inventory, all the while warning you about getting any closer. Items in the inventory are then used to progress to new areas or launch a varied array of mini-games and puzzles that are clever and unique. A changing cursor helps you navigate the dangerous grounds and a pleasant surprise is the lack of "sparkles" to indicate areas of interest, eliminating a lot of hand-holding which plagues many adventure/hidden object hybrids.
Analysis: Mystery Case Files: Escape from Ravenhearst brings the story of Charles and Victor to roaring life with its intense storyline and out-and-out stunning graphics. Just be warned right now, while the first two games were already pretty dark, Escape from Ravenhearst is even more twisted. BigFish has a disclaimer on the game page: "This is an intense psychological thriller that may reveal deep-seated fears. Not for the young or faint of heart. Consider yourself warned." Seriously, they are not kidding. Once you become a guest of Charles you learn the history of the Ravenhearst story from his point of view, and he's one sick puppy.
Lots of hybrids on the market have stunning graphics, but few have all of the bells and whistles that BigFish studios has poured into this amazing game. Along with breathtaking locales you will find dramatic music and incidental sounds to match, together with some of the best puzzles seen in this series in a long, long time. The change from classic hidden object scenes to the morphing object scenes is just whipped cream and nuts with a cherry on top.
The lack of sparkles and other directional hints makes for more challenging gameplay, as do the morphing objects which are not confined to the morphing scenes but are scattered around in other locations as well. Folks who like classic "list" types of hidden object scenes might be disappointed, however, with the new type of gameplay. And granted the morphing scenes do slow the gameplay down a bit, although the refilling hint timer does refill pretty quickly, eliminating some of the drag. The mini-games are fun and challenging, and best of all skippable if they turn out to be not your cup of tea. There is a bit of back-and-forth backtracking, although not nearly as much in Return to Ravenhearst as Escape from Ravenhearst is divided up into more manageable sections.
Mystery Case Files: Escape from Ravenhearst is bound to be controversial. Some will love the leap from classic hidden object scenes to morphing object scenes, some will not. Some will love the live actors and voice overs (especially Charles'), some might object to the drag they sometimes place on the story. Most of all, though, this is a deeply disturbing game which might not be for everyone. If dark and twisted with a side of gorgeous is your cup of tea, though, then this is definitely the game for you!
A Collector's Edition is also available. It includes a bonus collect and match quest, a bonus quest featuring the detective's case book, additional hidden object scenes, and a huge integrated strategy guide. 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.