Review: Hidden Mysteries: Gates of Graceland (PC)
by Aaron Sirois on October 22, 2012

Hidden Mysteries: Gates of Graceland
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Gamemill Entertainment
Genre: Hidden Object Adventure
Release Date: 10/14/2012

It’s been thirty-five years since Elvis Presley died, yet his music and legend lives on. I, myself, having been born ten years after his death, am nevertheless a huge fan. I’m not sure how many times I listened to his greatest hits collection on my Walkman back in the day, but I do know I wore that CD out quite well. I’ve stopped typing this paragraph several times now to sing along with Jailhouse Rock. That should tell you all you need to know.

As you can imagine, I was pretty darn intrigued when I saw that this was indeed a game about Elvis. Almost all of the hidden object games I’ve played over the past year have been about stopping powerful supernatural forces. A more casual trek through Graceland sounded relaxing and refreshing by comparison.

So, does this game about the King of Rock and Roll manage to engage the player without the hook of an evil witch about to murder your significant other? Let’s find out!

Story

The game starts with a female narrator explaining how much Elvis inspired her/meant to her. In fact, she became a musician because of the King. After her career has ended, she moves on to take the job of managing the Elvis exhibit at a museum. There, she stumbles upon a clue that suggests that Elvis wrote a song for his mother and never released it. She immediately heads to Graceland, the Presley family home, to hunt for the song.

Beyond the setup, there’s not much real plot. There are a couple of characters that show up once to pleasantly dissuade your efforts, but they really only have one or two lines before they disappear for good. However, there is a ton of Elvis history presented in the game. There are video clips that show moments from concerts and interviews during key moments of his life. There are also home movies that show him in his more private moments. These are nice additions that keep the game focused on Elvis instead of just another scavenger hunt. The ending is pretty satisfying as well, and might even bring a tear to the eye of a diehard fan.

So, if you’re an Elvis fan, you’ll find an enjoyable story that offers some fun looks into the past of one of music’s greatest icons. If you’re not a fan, you’ll find a game with an interesting setup and a satisfying conclusion. However, you won’t find the mid section particularly interesting, as it deals exclusively with the singer instead of the protagonist.

Graphics

The game doesn’t take place entirely in Graceland, but the bulk of the game is there. However, the game does not use a perfect shot by shot remake of the mansion. After all, that would make it hard to put in the usual hidden object game stuff. However, the game does provide a fictionalized version of the mansion. You’ll still find a room full or records, the pink Cadillac, and even a few Grammys.

The game is light on effects and other niceties to give it a visual wow factor. It relies heavily on the visual appeal of Graceland. Thankfully, the mansion is a pretty nice looking place with a surprising variety of places to visit. The jungle room is as iconic as always, and an utterly bizarre design choice.

It’s a nice looking game. That’s really all there is to be said.

Audio

Sadly, there isn’t very much Elvis music in the game. Instead, there is a very competent original score that does at least manage to sound similar to the kinds of tunes that he would sing. There are about four or five songs that loop into each other. When one ends, the next one starts. They’re quite nice, but not what I was hoping for. There are a couple of clips that show Elvis singing live. These are the musical highlight for obvious reasons.

The game is light on voice acting. The narrator gets some lines at the beginning and end. She does a decent job with the material, and I found it enjoyable. Most of the spoken words are actually from Elvis. Since these are actual clips of the King, I can’t complain one bit.

Aurally, the game works. Even though it can’t use too much of the King’s work, it does a good job of evoking his style. It pays homage with every sound effect and every recording. While actual licensed songs would have been an awesome addition, what’s here is more than satisfactory.

Gameplay

This game does nothing to set itself apart from the pack in terms of gameplay.

Gates of Graceland is a point and click game. Interacting with the environment is as simple as clicking on the item in question. You can pick up certain items, use items at certain points, and move about by clicking on doors and entryways. Items go into your inventory and can be used by dragging them to where you want to use them. In a couple of cases, items need to be combined in order to be used. The game does this for you automatically though.

There are many spots in the game where you play a simple hidden object mini-game. In these instances, you simply have a list of items to find and a static screen in which to find them. Several of these sections have a list of Elvis-related items to find. For example, you’ll find blue suede shoes, a hound dog, and concert tickets. Finding all of the objects will give you an item to use elsewhere in the game.

Of course, what would an adventure game be without puzzles? There are many of these as well. These tend to be pretty easy. Most of them can be solved with simple trial and error. For example, you’ll solve a jigsaw puzzle, use notes to configure a sound board correctly, and arrange pieces of carpet so that they all fit properly. In the event you can’t figure one out, you can use the skip button to move forward, provided enough time has elapsed.

As usual, there is a hint system in place to help players who get stuck. Using a hint will move you to the right location, and encircle whatever it is you’re supposed to interact with. You can only use one hint at time, but the recharge speed is pretty quick.

As I said, this is a pretty run of the mill entry for the genre.

Replayability

A single run through of the game’s story will take about three to four hours. This is pretty much standard for veterans. Sadly, the game offers nothing to come back for. There are no achievements to earn, extras to unlock, or changes in the game upon a second run through. You can try going to the harder difficulty if you started on the lower one. However, the puzzles will be the same. It just changes how often you can use hints.

This is worth a single run through only. You’re not likely to get more than a few hours before you’ve done all there is to do.

Balance

This is one of the easier hidden object games I’ve played. They don’t tend to be hard as a rule, but this one didn’t really put up a challenge. The closest it came was a puzzle or two where the solutions required some extra thought to complete. There were also a couple of odd uses for items. For example, I needed to put a goldfish in a bird bath so that I could attract and capture a pigeon. This pigeon was then used to befriend another bird that would knock another item off a roof. That’s a bit out there.

If you’re someone who has experience with this kind of game, you’ll have no problems here.

Originality

From a gameplay perspective, Graceland follows conventions to a tee. The mechanics are standard across the genre, and there are no little quirks or changes to differentiate the game from competitors.

Where the game does earn some points is the integration of the Elvis footage. It made the game rewarding to play and didn’t feel forced in. It only seems natural that you’d watch a clip of Elvis talking about his home town and figure out the password to open a door from there. More puzzles like this would have made the game a heck of a lot more interesting.

Addictiveness

I played through the game in one sitting, but that’s become normal for me with games from Big Fish. Honestly, I’ve got reviewing titles from the site down to a science by now. If I really wanted to, I’m sure I could play and review every singe game they put out for the entire year and still have time left over to live a normal life.

What I’m trying to say is the game doesn’t really do anything to hook the player in besides offer those clips I keep bringing up. It may move at a decent pace, but there’s no proper story to reward you with new insights or twists. It’s fun to find pieces of the hidden song, but the payoff is really in hearing the whole thing.

Appeal Factor

The only people who are going to really enjoy this game are Elvis fans. That’s not to say the game is bad by any stretch. It’s just that the game is the very definition of generic. Without the infusion of Elvis, it would be just another hidden object game in a very crowded market.

If you’re not a fan, you’re going to want to look elsewhere for your hidden object fix. While this is one of the few titles out there with a more relaxed feel, it caters to a very specific audience.

Miscellaneous

You can watch the end video freely after you’ve beaten the game. It’s a collection of clips and photos set to the hidden song that you find. It’s pretty neat, and I’m glad I won’t have to play through three and a half hours of game before I can see it again.

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

Short Attention Span Summary:
Gates of Graceland is a wonderful option for Elvis fans looking to play through a game that honors the King of Rock and Roll. Beyond that, it offers a generic hidden object experience that doesn’t really do anything to set itself apart from the crowd. The lack of extras is a letdown as well. Without the Elvis influence, this would be a wholly unremarkable game from top to bottom.



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