Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove
There's something deeply disquieting about a snow storm. The muffled sounds, the diffuse light, the eerie stillness... beautiful, yet silently deadly. It's in the midst of one such raging storm that you will find yourself in Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, the much-anticipated follow-up to Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst. Once again Mystery Case Files has produced a stunning adventure/hidden object hybrid that will send shivers of cold up and down your spine.
This is, as you might expect, a sequel to all of the previous Mystery Case Files games in which the player plays the role of the Mystery Case Files detective. Dire Grove picks up as you are driving home from the events that transpired during Return to Ravenhearst. And although it continues the over arching story line, Dire Grove is a standalone game that incorporates little shout-outs to the titles that came before it. The story begins as you, the anonymous detective, find yourself traveling through an unexpected and unseasonal snow storm. You come across the small hamlet of Dire Grove, closed for the season, and a mysteriously abandoned car. Cue spooky music...
A quick search of the car reveals no living person, only a handy video recorder and a deeply disturbing note. Continue your explorations and you will begin to come across video tapes scattered in various places, each tape a short vignette into the story of four college students and their trip to Dire Grove. What happened here? Where are the students? Where are all the people? Why is it so darned cold? Perhaps you'd better explore further.
Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, like its predecessor, is built around three things: point-and-click exploring, puzzle solving, and the classic hidden objects scenes the MCF series is known for. Navigation is simple, just move your mouse cursor around and directional arrows will appear. The cursor changes to a magnifying glass when something needs to be looked at closer, or a hand-shaped cursor if you've passed over something that can be taken or manipulated. Objects or places of interest will catch the eye with a brief single sparkle, and hidden object scenes are denoted by a shower of sparklies.
Upon entering a hidden object scene, you will be confronted with a list of items to find, one of which will end up in your inventory and be useful later. It can be surprising, sometimes, which objects end up in the inventory. Some items you will find a use for pretty quickly, and some you will be toting around for quite a while before you discover their purpose.
And, of course, there is always the handy Detective's Casebook, which jots down information as you come across it, remembering everything that you might not. The hint system works with a refilling timer in your mystery crime computer. Use them to find hidden objects or to skip certain puzzles. Some puzzles involving found objects or information cannot be skipped, so be warned.
Analysis: Yes, after a long wait, the newest Mystery Case Files is finally here! How does it stack up against its predecessors? Well, let's start with the visuals. The developers have gone all out to make the look and feel of Dire Grove something to behold. The locations, the hidden object scenes, the puzzles, everything is flat-out gorgeous. Bright, vivid, and three dimensional, Dire Grove even manages to capture that eerie diffuse light you get during a snow storm. And boy, is it snowing. The video tapes, incidental sounds, and musical score that ranges from plaintive to creepy to dramatic, all heighten the immersive factor of the game. Play Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove for very long and you will begin to feel the cold creeping in.
The hidden object scenes, like everything else, are sharp and clear, reducing the graininess and clutter of scenes from previous Mystery Case Files games. Those with older eyes will appreciate the clarity which will reduce eye-strain significantly. The story hangs together well, told in dribs and drabs by the video tapes, correspondence, journals, and other found items as you make your way in and around the town. Yes, it's all a bit Blair Witch Project, but compelling nonetheless. Although the story is original to the game, you can still find slight shout-outs and references to previous Mystery Case Files adventures, especially the return of the lovely mysterious, morphing objects from Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate. See if you can find all of them hidden in the scenery as sort of a bonus side quest.
The puzzles... well, here's where Dire Grove perhaps fails to meet expectations. The Mystery Case Files series have long been known for their tricky, original, elaborate puzzles. Although there are some nice brain-teasers here, much of it is pretty familiar. Perfectly enjoyable, mind you, but if you've played a lot of hidden object games, you won't encounter a lot of original puzzle designs. A small off note in what is otherwise an excellent game.
Although Dire Grove is perhaps not as long as Return to Ravenhearst, it still manages to buck the current trend of ever-shrinking gameplay time now seen in most adventure/hidden object hybrids. Between the exploration, the hidden object scenes, and the puzzles you are looking at hours of fantastic casual gameplay.
Why are you still reading this? Go play Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove!
A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains bonus gameplay, more hidden objects to find throughout the game, 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.