Review: Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers Collector’s Edition (PC)

Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Alawar
Developer: Alawar
Genre: Hidden Object/Adventure
Release Date: 02/16/2012

After the disappointment that was Natural Threat, I’ve been kind of weary of hidden object games. It’s been a while since Brink of Consciousness made me a believer. I was starting to lose hope that I’d play anything but run of the mill stories.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly gung ho about reviewing Dark Strokes. It seemed like yet another hidden object game where I’d spend the whole time alone and looking for some poor lost lamb. Imagine my delight then, when I discovered a rather decent tale that comes close to the quality of that found in BoC. For the first time in a while, I found myself invested in what was going on!

So just how good is the story? Is the rest of the game up to snuff? Let’s find out!

Story

So things start off pretty normally for this kind of game. Ethan and Clair are set to be married, when a letter from his father demands their immediate departure to the town of Cedar Falls. However, they soon find the town is under constant threat by masked figures known as “faceless ones”. Clair is kidnapped, and Ethan’s father is revealed to be the next target. The distraught man must make his way through the city, find his loved ones, and get to the bottom of the attacks.

What makes the story so decent is that it doesn’t pull the usual casual game trick of being all setup and then saving everything else for the payoff. Bits and pieces are given to you constantly. New characters are introduced, more information about the past is found through old writings, and twists come readily without feeling forced. You’re also given some time with Clair before she’s kidnapped, allowing you some time to actually grow fond of her. As much as I like BoC, one of my biggest concerns was that I didn’t even know this girl I was risking my life to save. That is not the case here.

With a fleshed out story, great twists, and likeable characters, this is far and above what you normally get out of this genre. What’s better is that everything is pretty much resolved at the end, and ends in a satisfying way. The big twist doesn’t even feel forced. The bonus chapter included with the CE is actually a bonus chapter for once instead of the real ending. It gives you some insight into the events that occurred that caused the events of the main game. I appreciate that as well.

If you’ve been looking for a good story in a casual game, this one will definitely deliver.

Graphics

The character designs are actually quite solid for the genre. The humans don’t look like freaks of nature, even if facial animations leave a lot to be desired. The real stars are the faceless ones, as they combine sharp looking masks with a shadowy presence to seem truly unearthly. Animation is not to be found among characters, which is a shame, though understandable.

The city is a pretty neat place. While it may initially seem as just another cliché gloomy town, it has some pretty nifty areas to explore. It was certainly a nice break from all of the haunted mansions I’ve had to play through over the past few months. There’s also a nice contrast between the earlier parts of the city and the more abandoned later spots. The attention to detail is quite nice as well, with nothing looking out of place or odd. The church looks fantastic.

While it doesn’t do much to blow the mind the art direction is solid and looks good. There are some things that could be improved upon, but no real thing that detracts from the game in a meaningful way. This is an above average visual package for a hidden object game.

Audio

Voice acting is not the game’s strong suit, but it does OK with what it has. The characters come off a bit wooden at times, and there are no real standouts. There isn’t all that much voice acting though, so they never truly become annoying. The dialogue isn’t so bad as to make you cringe either. It’s serviceable, if unremarkable in every way.

The music is par for the course. There are a handful of tunes that aim to create a spooky, yet fun atmosphere. They do the job well enough, though I certainly would have liked more variety. It does nothing to distinguish itself from the pack, even if it is enjoyable stuff.

The rest of the package is what you’d expect. When objects interact with each other, there is an appropriate sound. For example, a key turning in a lock sounds spot on. There are plenty of items and plenty of sounds. It does exactly what it needs to.

This is pretty much what I expect from this kind of game.

Gameplay

If you’ve played one hidden object game, you’ve pretty much played them all. That’s the case here. There’s nothing radical about the gameplay. It’s simply point and click adventure style with some hidden object sections to keep things mixed up.

You explore environments by clicking on items of interest. Some can be added to your inventory, and others require you to interact with them in some way. For example, you can pick up a key and then use it on a door that you need to unlock. There are some more complicated examples as well. You might need to find a lever to lower a platform to get a puzzle piece to open another door. You’ll often find such long links.

From time to time, you won’t be able to find the items you need in the environment. Instead, you’ll need to find them in a hidden object game. You’ll be given a list of items to find in a static background. You simply need to click on them to cross them off your list. Some items require a trick to find though. A good example is one level where you need to roll a window up on a car in order to get the heart drawn on it. Another example is opening a coin purse to get at the coins inside. There aren’t too many of these sections, but they appear more than enough if you’re a fan.

There are also plenty of more traditional puzzles to test your brain matter. These come up in sections where you need to unlock a path or open a compartment. There are slide puzzles, rotational puzzles, and even a good old musical puzzle. These can be skipped, but they’re not so hard that you’ll likely need to make use of that function.

Those three gameplay types are the three pillars of a good hidden object game. Dark Strokes hits all of the usual notes while offering the same easy to play mechanics that casual players love. It may not bring anything new to the table, but the fundamentals are solid.

Replayability

Playing through the entire story will take roughly four to five hours. That’s pretty much par for the course these days. If you have the CE, you’ll unlock a bonus chapter upon completing the main game. This will add about another hour of gameplay to your total. That isn’t a whole lot of game for your money, but the low price helps soften that blow.

As far as going back for another run is concerned, there’s no incentive to do so. The story, puzzles, and solutions will be exactly the same. You could try playing on expert mode, but all that does is reduce your hints and make you spend more time clicking random objects.

Like most hidden object games, this is a one and done experience.

Balance

There are two difficulty settings. If you play on casual, you’ll have plenty of hints to use, as well as an indicator that tells you what you can interact with. If you play on expert, hints are at a premium and you’ll have to guess what can and cannot be tinkered with. Beyond that, the puzzles remain the same.

In all fairness, this was a pretty easy game to get through. The only puzzles I found difficult where the slide puzzles. I’m bad at those to begin with, so that doesn’t speak volumes or anything. There were a handful of frustrating moments where I wanted to use an item in the wrong spot but couldn’t understand why the game required a very specific item. It seems to me like a crowbar would be a great way to open just about anything, but there was one particularly nasty box that refused to be opened. This is a problem with the genre in general, but one the game does little to rectify.

If you’re the kind of person who plays a lot of hidden object games, you’ll have little trouble navigating your way through Dark Strokes. Newcomers might have some troubles, but that is mostly because they probably don’t understand the sometimes unintuitive logic that the puzzles utilize.

Originality

As much as I enjoyed the story, I can’t really call it original. The twists are great, but not something people haven’t seen before. The same can be said for the rest of the game. While everything is solid, there’s nothing new to attract people seeking something different.

I find nothing wrong with the lack of originality, except that long time hidden object players may find the game to be a grind. They’ve certainly done this all before. For newer players, this won’t be a problem.

Addictiveness

I tested this game for about fifteen minutes the first time. When I came back to actually play it, I played through the whole thing in one sitting, bonus chapter included. I was honestly hooked to the story. This is one case where the ease of gameplay came in handy. I wanted to continue the tale, and there wasn’t anything that would hamper me for long. I approve of this.

Hidden object games are pretty darn addicting to begin with, but a great story will take it to the next level. The game is simple to learn, not too hard to master, and therefore hard to put down. If you already know that adventure games are your weakness, than make sure you have plenty of time set aside before picking this one up.

Appeal Factor

For fans of the genre, this game hits all of the right notes. The gameplay is classic, the puzzles are fun without being too tough, and the presentation is on par or better than the average hidden object game. Oh yeah. There’s that whole good story thing too. Can’t forget about that.

For newer players, this game is a great entry point. It has all of the amenities that you’d expect to find, and you’ll certainly be entertained as you work through it. And as always, the low price helps further lower the barrier to entry.

Miscellaneous

For bonuses, the game sticks to what you’d expect from a Collector’s Edition. There are wallpaper, concept art, and a bonus chapter. You can also listen to any song or watch any cut scene at will. All of this is unlocked after you beat the game. The ability to watch cut scenes is probably the best thing about the extras, as this is probably the first hidden object game I’ve played that allows for that. It made revisiting favorite moments a bit easier.

There are some issues though. It is possible to get stuck without a way of moving forward. An item can be lost from the inventory and make clearing a path impossible. Also, if you do wish to play through the game again, you need to make a new profile. There is no way to restart. That’s just an oversight.

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary


A good story can go a long way. Dark Strokes sets itself apart from the pack thanks to a pretty decent story that keeps players hooked from start to finish. It may not have that defining character that BoC had, but the narrative is where it needs to be. The rest of the package is pretty average for a hidden object game. Veterans will be able to play without any problems, and newcomers have a small learning curve to overcome. This is an accessible, well thought out game that won’t leave fans disappointed.

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