The Bermuda triangle. Remote, mysterious, possibly infested with aliens. The perfect spot to set a hidden object/adventure hybrid. And what a place to set the long anticipated fourth Hidden Expedition game, Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle. Yes, the Hidden Expedition Adventure Team (H.E.A.T.) is back and ready to brave the unknown! Let's follow along, shall we?
Before the game begins we are treated to a lovely cut scene in which one of H.E.A.T.'s best pilots suddenly crashes in the Bermuda Triangle. It is up to you, intrepid explorer of the Amazon, Everest, and the Titanic, to find her. Aboard H.E.A.T.'s new submarine (powered with an experimental power supply made of the glow beetles from Hidden Expedition: Amazon) you get underway on a mission to find the missing pilot. But before you begin you will have to find and install the amazing new power source. Easy, right?
Once you get started in the submarine, things begin to go wrong. A broken radio, electrical problems, giant ugly fish, and nasty pirates all make accomplishing the task a bit... difficult. And once the pirates steal your precious power supply you find yourself stranded on an uncharted island that is inhabited by some folks who are, well, let's say eccentric, shall we?
Gameplay is fairly simple. Once you are in a scene, sweep it with your cursor and watch closely. The cursor will change into a hand when you encounter things that can be picked up or manipulated, an eye for things that can be examined closer, and a strange blue ripple for things that may be of interest. There's a handy tutorial that will walk you through the gameplay dynamic in the beginning. There is also a journal that copies down important information you can review later. Even if you don't need the journal to remember things, check it out anyway for the funny biographies of the characters involved in the story. Each scene may include hidden object areas, tasks to complete, or puzzles to solve (sometimes all three). You will often have to travel back and forth to several areas to find all the objects needed to complete a task, making the game a true point-and-click adventure.
Some, in fact, might take exception to the way the scenes play out. Directions are not spoon-fed to you; once you are in a scene (or series of scenes) you will have to use your ability to observe and synthesize to determine what needs to be done. Hints can occasionally be found by talking to various characters, but mostly you are on your own. This evokes the past classics of point-and-click adventure (games like Myst, or Uninvited), for those who are old enough to remember the good old days.
Hidden object scenes themselves break down into two different categories: pure HOG and find the match HOG. In the regular hidden object scenes you will usually receive the obligatory list (not always, though, some scenes are simply "find all the flowers" or things of that nature). Click on a list item to see a silhouette, or use a hint to find an object. You begin each area with a certain number of hints, but Devil's Triangle has jettisoned the "find certain objects to gain hints" dynamic in favor of a refilling hint timer. Once you use the hints you have just wait as the timer refills. Mini-games can be played through using hints to skip if the player finds them too difficult.
What is really different are the match HOG scenes. The instructions will tell you "find 12 pairs of matched objects", and the fun begins. Do the chocolate chip cookies match with a fortune cookie (they're both cookies) or do they match with the glass of milk? As the game progresses the match HOG scenes require more thought as some pairings require a bit of a mental leap. These scenes make a nice change from the standard HOG found in most adventure/hidden object hybrids.
Analysis: Wow. In many ways Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle was definitely worth the wait. The combination of story, art, music, sound effects, everything shows what a massive amount of work went into making the fourth in the series a fantastic experience. Voice acting has been added in to give the characters more... well, character. Fortunately, only the beginnings of conversations have the voice-overs, once you get into the multiple choice conversation it switches over to all-text, keeping those scenes from dragging down the pace.
Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle has gone a step further than the other Hidden Expedition games. While the others were either pure object finding or the same with an adventure overlay, Devil's Triangle is more of a point-and-click adventure with HOG elements. Most areas don't have any form of hidden objects at all, just pure puzzle solving.
How to even begin discussing the artwork? As with all Hidden Expedition games massive amounts of effort have gone into making each scene look wonderful. In the beginning the scenes are more sedate, but as you move on to the island and further along you will encounter areas of breathtaking beauty. Once you find Gideon's house you may slow down just to pause and say "wow" as you encounter each room or scenic vista. The hidden object scenes begin to look like high renaissance art, the mini-games and puzzles are masterpieces on their own. There is a sumptuous look to Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle that is rarely achieved in a hidden object game. Take time to enjoy the scenery.
There are, however, a few things that keep this from being the perfect game. Solving a scene without hints is one thing, but the mini-games will pop up with no directions and no info button to let the player know what is expected of them. This can lead to frustration with some of the more esoteric games. Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle is also shorter than it could have been, and ends abruptly setting up a sequel rather than gifting the player with a complete story as its predecessors did.
Flaws aside, Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle is a gorgeous, fun, mind-bending casual gameplay ride. Fans of the old series should not be disappointed, and folks new to the Hidden Expedition games can enjoy as well. And, of course, any old fuddy-duddies (like me) who remember the days of the classic adventure game should enjoy the nostalgia of a point-and-click done right. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and find that lost pilot!