Hidden Chapter 1:
How close are you with your family? What if you received a letter from an uncle one night, asking for your help in investigating rumours of an ancient culture deep in the wilderness? Would you pack your bags and head out to help? You might. But the blood on the ground when you arrived might give you serious pause. But how bad could things be, right?
Hidden Chapter 1: Primitive Essence puts you in the position of Santiago Achotegui, a far more dedicated nephew than I would be. He's an intelligent fellow, well-read, as the books you'll see stacked in his room should tell you. His uncle has always had a fascination with old legends, and his letter suggests that, with the assistance of an old family friend, he's on the verge of a very big discovery indeed.
As horror games go these days, Hidden is unusual because it plays its fright so close to its chest for most of the game. So much effort is spent on building atmosphere, creating tension and a sense of wrongness, that when something does suddenly happen to frighten you, your reaction is probably going to be over the top. Thematically, it borrows heavily from not only Lovecraft's idea of ancient, fathomless evils, but primarily Native American lore, despite the setting. This first chapter focuses heavily on setting the stage for things to come, and there are tons of items to click on to learn more about the setting, from news clippings tacked to walls, to Santiago's own copious collection of books.
The point-and-click gameplay is about as simple as it gets. You play the game entirely with your mouse; the icon, usually a golden arrow, will change to point directions if you move your mouse to the edge of the screen, and clicking it will make you move in that direction. When the icon turns into a hand or eye, it means that you can either manipulate the object or move in for a closer look. You're given an inventory you can scroll through by tapping the arrows on either side of it, a magnifying glass that you can use to examine various things to pick up, and, maybe most importantly, your journal. Not only does your journal keep track of your objectives — written with decidedly old world flair — but it also enables you to save or load your game.
You'll progress through the game much quicker if you give into your inquisitive nature and click on everything. And I mean everything.
Analysis: One of the problems with Hidden is that hand-holding is virtually nonexistent, but some direction would have been nice. Some items won't activate for interaction unless you've looked at something else in the room and much of the puzzle work is done through trial and error. I spent a lot of time backtracking and rubbing each of the myriad of items you'll pick up against everything I could think of because I refused to look at a walkthrough. It's not that it's brain-bustingly difficult, but unless you got your doctorate in Ancient Rituals and Portents, you probably won't immediately know what to do once your arms are full of decidedly shady looking ingredients. The books you'll find do help a little, but they're maddeningly vague. Then again, they are ancient texts, after all, and they so rarely do "Reader's Digest" editions.
Unfortunately, some things in the game will be Hidden unintentionally because the game is so dark. Even with my monitor settings amped up to Staring-Into-The-Sun bright, a lot of sections of gameplay featured a palette of colours so dark I had to crawl my cursor slowly across the screen, watching to see if it would change to indicate a hotspot I couldn't see. Some of these "hot spots" are also frustratingly tiny or at odd areas of the item you want to interact with, so it can be easy to miss them. Navigation could have been handled better as well. There are multiple instances where you should just be able to turn in a complete circle to view the contents of a room, and are forced instead to click back through every screen to return to your original orientation. At one point, after I had clicked on a door to zoom in, I found I couldn't just click back out; I had to turn to the left, then again, which took me back to the entry point of the area, and then reorient myself on the door again. Not game breaking, no, but certainly annoying.
As befits the first chapter in a series of adventures, you're going to end this one with more questions than before, and maybe, just maybe, a prickling feeling of unease at the back of your neck. Go ahead. Give it a try. 'Tis the season, after all. Just don't forget to lock the door behind you.