Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the Opera
What would you do for the person you loved? What if you found out they didn't love you back? As the saying goes, there's a fine line between love and hate. Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the Opera is a hidden-object adventure that is a grim, creepy, adaptation of the classic story, and is an absolute blast. With top-notch production values and a heavy emphasis on story, this is the game every other title in the genre wishes it could be.
Christine was once a celebrated opera diva, but she hasn't performed in years. Her daughter Evelina is fascinated by her mother's stories of the stage... but she doesn't suspect that the past doesn't always stay in the past. When Evelina receives a letter from a stranger, she awakens to find herself in the crumbling remains of the very same Parisian Opera House from her mother's early career. How did she get there? Who is the mysterious voice that hisses at her from the shadows? And why does he seem so convinced that she betrayed him?
As Evelina, you'll search through the Opera House, looking for clues and trying to find a way out. In most cases, points of interest will sparkle to grab your attention, and the cursor will change if you move it over something that can be interacted with. Like most hidden-object titles, you'll search through scenes for items you need to solve puzzles. Move your cursor over an item on your list to see what the silhouette looks like, or click on the hint mirror when it's fully charged to reveal a random object. If you can't progress, try going back to places you've already visited; sometimes getting a new objective will unlock new hidden-object scenes, or draw your attention to a specific item that could now be of use. Although the puzzles do offer you the ability to skip them if you wait long enough, Evelina's journal keeps track of valuable clues you might be able to use to solve them.
Analysis: While we tend to see a lot of games with horror themes, most casual releases seem to shy away from making them serious about it. They try to lighten things up with corny dialogue or other humour. But while it's not what you would call outright scary, Phantom of the Opera takes the whole experience seriously, and sets out to engross you in the story and raise the hairs on the back of your neck. At its core, this is a story about what happens when love turns into obsession, and the desire to posses something no matter who you destroy in the process. The narrative is revealed in the notes Evelina finds laying around, and the flashbacks that are presented when the Phantom appears.
Phantom of the Opera is no slouch in its presentation, either. The environments are incredibly well designed, the art work is absolutely gorgeous, moody and full of dark, bruised purples and frosty blues that help complete the atmosphere. As you play, the Phantom rages at you unseen, alternately cursing you and insisting he can force you to love him. Not only is it unsettling, but combined with Evelina's comments as she explores, it makes the whole place feel much more alive and involving by keeping the protagonist and antagonist from becoming faceless, mute entities. The Opera House itself is a great setting, so fallen into decay that it almost seems like another world.
One of the only real downsides to the game is that you'll be doing a lot of footwork. The Opera House and the surrounding area is big, and while the map the game provides probably won't be necessary to find your way around, it can still be frustrating to slog your way back and forth just to use one item, or to resort to poking your head in all the rooms to see if anything's changed. The rest of the game is also so moody that the cluttering of random, unrelated items in the hidden-objects scene, while admittedly a staple of the genre, feels out of place. Aiiieeeee, the Phantom! I must search this graveyard for a hamster, a bulldog, and a parasol, post-haste!
Fortunately, on a technical scale the hidden-object scenes are generally quite well done, and aren't just challenging because the hint button takes so long to recharge. Some of the objects are a bit more obscure than what you might be used to, ranging from specific Egyptian deities to uncommon plants to pieces of musical instruments... and prepared Absinthe. (Trust me, all the sugar in the world won't fix that stuff.) The puzzles you'll encounter are likewise solid, requiring you to both fire up the old gray matter as well as be observant. It's always nice when a game treats you like you're capable of knowing more than which way to put your pants on in the morning.
Visually stunning and engrossing, Mystery Legends: Phantom of the Opera, is one of the best games I've played in a long time, regardless of genre. The ending is a little unsatisfying considering all the build up, and definitely leaves the doors wide open for a sequel. For most players, the game will probably clock in at around four to five hours, more if you take your time; it's a respectable length, but you'll probably wind up wishing there was more to it, if only because it's so well done. At the very least you should check out the demo. You'll be glad you did.
A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a built-in strategy guide, a soundtrack, a bonus chapter, and a digital version of the original Phantom of the Opera book. 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.