Review: Dark Mysteries: The Soul Keeper Collector’s Edition (PC)
by Aaron Sirois on December 19, 2012

Dark Mysteries: The Soul Keeper Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Cerasus Media
Genre: Hidden Object/Adventure
Release Date: 12/10/2012

It seems the world of Lovecraft just can’t be stopped. This is in fact the second game I’ve played this year based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by the legendary author. The first was a part of the Haunted Hotel series. There may be more that I don’t know about, but even if there isn’t, two is a pretty impressive number in and of itself.

Cerasus Media is no stranger to crafting games from Lovecraft’s works. Last year, they did Mountains of Madness, which our own Alex Lucard enjoyed quite a bit. This certainly gave me hope that not only would the game be faithful to the source material, but that it would also be an enjoyable game experience as well.

Unfortunately, the game does a lot of things wrong.

Story

Like the story it’s based on, The Soul Keeper involves a young man named Charles Dexter Ward who’s managed to resurrect his ancestor by the name of Joseph Curwen. It also involves an interested third party, in this case a detective, who comes to Ward’s town in order to try and put things right. This is pretty much where things deviate from the story altogether.

In the book, Curwen is a necromancer who murders Ward, assumes his identity, and ends up in a mental institution because he can’t act the part due to cultural shock. In this game, Curwen is an evil ghost that steals souls. That’s fine and all, but it takes some odd turns.

Besides Ward, you never meet a living soul in the town. There are people, sure, but you always find them right as they’re being murdered or after they’ve been killed. Also, you end up communing with their spirits, to the point of performing mundane tasks so they’ll give you a hint. Many of them have been trapped in some sort of elaborate set up that Curwen created to slow you down. However, Curwen is shown to be capable of murdering anyone at any time. He also has great need to murder people in order to meet his soul quota. Thus I’m forced to ask why the hell he doesn’t just murder you on the spot, steal your soul, and win the day? When he does finally take you down, why does he leave you alive and right near all the tools you need to destroy him? It’s beyond stupid.

On top of that, the bonus chapter found in the collector’s edition involves a previously unmentioned character enlisting you to undo all of the damage caused by Curwen. It tacks on an unneeded happy ending and feels in direct contrast with the tone set by the rest of the game.

They had some great material to work with, but this game squandered it and created a mess.

Graphics

Artistically, the game works in some ways and not so much in others. I kind of dug the unusually bright colors. It didn’t contradict the dark atmosphere at all. Instead, it made the world much more interesting to look at. The characters were a bit of a letdown however, seeing as lips didn’t sync with the words and there was very little animation to be had.

Where things fall apart comes in the details. This is supposed to be a normal east coast town that just so happens to have an evil ghost running around. So, why does the place look like it has been abandoned for years? Everything is in disarray, there are wrecked cars in the middle of the road, most mechanical devices are rusted and broken, etc. I know the genre uses these kinds of touches more often than not, but there are times when this approach doesn’t make any sense to the story. This is one of those times. It creates a disconnect between the visuals and the rest of the game.

Audio

From the moment I turned the game on, I expected nothing but aural awesomeness. The menu theme is utterly fantastic. Honestly, it’s a tune that would have fit with games like God of War and Skyrim, but here it is in a humble hidden object game. I let the thing play for a while any time I was at the menu.

Sadly, the rest of the audio fails to match that initial impression. The tunes are generic, boring, and at times quite annoying. The tune that plays during hidden object scenes is grating. I came to dread all such moments. The voice acting is OK, but not really good. The effects are nice, but that is usually the case for games in this genre. There are plenty of creaks, thunderclaps, and the like to keep you immersed in the world.

Honestly, this would be a pretty average sounding game if not for that strong start and abysmal finish for the music. I suppose that would have made things too easy to score.

Gameplay

If you’ve ever played a point and click game before, you won’t have any issues with this one. Everything is done with a click of the mouse, from moving, picking up objects, using items, finding hidden objects, and completing mini-games. The controls are timeless, work well, and are easy to learn. I have no problems here.

Where the game starts to unravel is in its pacing. Most of these games have a good mix of hidden object sequences, mini-games, and classic adventure game mechanics. However, this game throws all of that out the window. It seems like they cut the mini-games in half and replaced each missing game with a hidden object sequence. Thus, there are moments where you complete a HOS to get an item, use that item to open a door, and end up only unlocking a new HOS to complete. Most of the game’s length came from these sections. That’s fine if you love HOGs, but not so fine if you expected a proper mix. Also, you’ll revisit some HOSs two or three times until you’ve cleared just about every item on the screen. Even more mind boggling is the fact that the game has you hunt down similar items on each screen. I must have clicked on a dozen pieces of jewelry, a dozen pots, and a dozen fans. I’d also like to mention that the game uses several terms that are either misleading or outright don’t match the item you end up clicking on. For example, you may have to find a “pin”. This could be a bowling pin or simply the tool used for sewing. Either way, you could be in trouble. Another example is the time I was asked to find both a “bone” and a “fossil”. There was a skull that certainly looked to be from a dinosaur sitting in plain sight. Even if it didn’t turn out to be a fossil, I could certainly be forgiven for thinking that it could count as a bone. After all, skulls are bones. However, clicking on the thing did nothing. That’s just frustrating. While these kinds of issues are commonly found in other games, they were definitely far more prevalent in this title.

As an odd thought, the extra chapter is also uneven in the gameplay department. It has only a handful of HOSs, but is chock full of the typical adventure stuff. It seemed all the ideas they had for object collection/interaction were swept aside and put into this bonus content. So, even for the people who enjoyed the HOS heavy main story, this secondary mode will be a disappointment.

One thing I did like about the game was the optional use of the hint system. While you can still press hint to show you where you need to go, you can also drag an item from your inventory to the hint button. This brings up a picture of the area where that item should be used. I found this incredibly useful, especially in cases where I knew what to do with an item but forgot where the I was supposed go.

Overall, the game is playable, but uneven. It relies too much on hidden object sequences, but doesn’t do a good enough job with them to justify such the sheer number of them. If anything, they become an nuisance. The game needed more balance.

Replayability

Playing through the game will take you probably three to four hours. The length depends heavily on how quickly you complete hidden object sections. If you’re quick at them, expect the game to end much sooner. Honestly, the game could probably be completed in less than an hour without them. The bonus chapter adds about forty-five minutes to your time, which is nice.

Beyond that initial playthrough, there is nothing to go back for. There are no achievements to unlock, no additional bonuses for going through a second time. While there are three difficulty settings, the puzzles remain the same on all three. This game is good for a single playthrough, and nothing more.

Balance

I’ve already talked about how the gameplay is an unbalanced mess. However, it’s worth noting that the difficulty isn’t exactly on a good curve either. That’s not to say the game is uneven. Rather, it stays on a straight line throughout the entire game. That line just so happens to be called “incredibly easy”.

It is rare that you come across an area where you don’t know what you need to do. The mini-games are also a cinch to complete. I did all of them without using any sort of cheat, and on the first try. Usually, at least one or two of them give me trouble. Not here. Most of them can also be simply beaten through brute force, which is uninteresting and lazy.

Playing on hard turns off hints and doesn’t allow you to skip anything. This is normally a daunting thing, but I ended up not really needing hints anyway. I used them because I was lazy and didn’t want to search for things. The game was just a breeze to get through. A little challenge would have gone a long way.

Originality

Not only does this game fail on being original in its genre, but it also fails at being the first game based on this particular story, just for this year! While it certainly takes the interpretation in a different direction, I can’t exactly call it original by any means.

A lack of originality is really no problem though, unless you’re someone who’s simply grown weary of the genre. After all, these games have a formula for a reason. That formula works, and is what their fans are expecting.

Addictiveness

I usually get through these games in one or two sittings. That’s both due to the short length and inherent in the genre. For Soul Keeper, I had to expand that to five or six sittings. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the heavy focus on HOSs killed any momentum the game had in terms of puzzle solving/story revelations. Just when things would start to get interesting, I’d end up in a string of boring hidden object games. The other reason, which I’ll touch on in the last section of the review, was that the game ran very poorly. It frequently slowed to a halt when switching screens, and crashed about ten times throughout my time with it.

This game simply became a chore to play. Now, I’ve reviewed more than my fair share of these games this year, but this is probably the least amount of excitement I’ve had about turning a one back on to continue the adventure. That awesome menu track helped, but only slightly.

Appeal Factor

One of the nice things this game does is include a digital copy of the Lovecraft story. Sure, you can get the same thing from Amazon for a buck, but it’s a nice inclusion here. If you’re both a fan of these games and a fan of Lovecraft, that’s a pretty nice bonus.

Beyond that, there’s not much appeal here. The story doesn’t do the book justice, the game runs terribly, and has an uneven feel throughout. Honestly, the game is significantly more appealing until you actually play it. That’s just a letdown.

Miscellaneous

The CE for this game includes the typical suite of bonus features. There’s the concept art, strategy guide, and bonus chapter. There’s also a behind the scenes video which was fun to watch. The final inclusion is the digital copy of Lovecraft’s work. That’s a pretty sweet package honestly.

One thing I enjoyed about the game was that it had a sense of humor about itself. At one point, I came across a squirrel in a tree. As a veteran of these games, I knew that I would have to lure that squirrel down to get at something it was holding. With that in mind, I clicked on the squirrel. Instead, I was treated to some inner monologue about how nice it was to not have to lure the animal down to get at an item it was holding. That was just cute.

The game ran like crap throughout my entire time with it, and I’ve seen many a people online who had the same issues I had. Firstly, it the game would stall often as I tried to switch locations. The game would freeze up anywhere from five to thirty seconds before switching screens. That was maddening enough. On top of that, the game downright crashed about ten times throughout me experience with it. It wasn’t my computer that was at fault this time. I checked. It was the game. That’s just unforgivable.

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

Short Attention Span Summary

I was honestly looking forward to this game. It’s depressing then, how much it failed to live up to what it could have been. The story just didn’t make any sense, the gameplay was an uneven mess, the music got annoying, the game crashed, when it didn’t crash it ran poorly, etc. While the game certainly has a few positive moments, they only serve to reinforce how much of a disappointment is the overall experience. If they release a bug free version, it may be worth checking out. As is, however, I can’t recommend this game at all.



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