Review: Cursed Fates: The Headless Horseman Collector’s Edition (PC)
by Aaron Sirois on January 9, 2013

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Cursed Fates: The Headless Horseman Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Fenomen Games
Genre: Hidden Object/Adventure
Release Date: 01/07/2013

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is not a new story by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s a classic American bit of literature. As such, there have been countless media interpretations of it. One of the more famous of these interpretations was the 1999 film Sleepy Hollow directed by Tim Burton. I mention this because Cursed Fates takes its cue from that movie’s plot instead of the plot from the actual story. That was an interesting revelation, and one that started putting up warning signs in my head.

The story follows that of Ichabod Crane, a detective from New York who aims to use his new forensic methods to solve a series of gruesome beheadings in the small town of Sleepy Hollow. Initially, he is completely skeptical of the rumors of a murderous demon. This is especially odd, seeing as he communes with an honest to God ghost before even stepping foot in the town. In fact, the game has Ichabod essentially following the headless horseman’s trail of equally headless bodies. Along the way, a tail of families and wills sort of gets told. That part seems to aim to explain who summoned the horseman and why. It does this very poorly. Most of that part of the plot is mentioned in passing and makes little to no connection to the murders until really late in the game. There are some journal entries you can read that help a bit, but they still don’t do a good enough job to really make the whole thing cohesive. It’s also interesting how quickly Crane is to dismiss demons, but readily accepts ghost and black magic. Also, despite the game going out of its way to mention that he is a forensic scientist at the beginning of the game, there is not one single moment after that he uses such method or even mentions it. Overall, this was a pathetic attempt at bringing the story over. I think what happened is they simply didn’t have a good idea of how to stretch the story into a full length game. They came up with witches, ghosts, and other such nonsense that simply didn’t fit. Basically, they fell back on using tropes of the genre.

headless2As for the presentation, it’s not at all bad. The town is pretty nice looking. It’s a bit cluttered, but not the typical mess that most HOG towns tend to be. Best of all, there are people there at all times, though they mostly hide for fear of the horseman. The animation is low rent at best, but does its job without too much trouble. The art style doesn’t rip off Burton’s style, which I was happy about. The music was low key and quite pleasant, while the voice acting was at best passable. I certainly wouldn’t recommend the game based on its presentation, but there’s nothing here so bad as to warrant avoid the game altogether. It’s thoroughly average.

One of things this game does right is find the right balance between its three gameplay varieties. For adventure fans, there are plenty of environmental puzzles to solve as well as ways to combine items. For HOS fans, there are two different kinds of hidden object sequences. On top of that, there are plenty of traditional puzzles to give your brain something a bit more challenging to work on.

For starters, the adventure sequences are pretty standard. You simply explore each area for items/places of interest. You can place items in your inventory to use at a different time, as well as combine some items to create new one. For example, you can tie a rope to a hook to create a grappling hook capable of dropping a platform. Environmental puzzles abound, so you’ll have to do things like figure out that you need to use that razor in your inventory to cut open a piece of fabric, or use that stepladder to reach an previously unreachable place. It’s as a simple as dragging the item from your inventory and clicking on the place you want to interact with. Once an item has no more use, it leaves your inventory for good.

Hidden object sequences are the trademark of this genre, and Cursed Fates has plenty of them. There are two different varieties here. The first gives you a list of items to find. The second actually gives you pictures of the items you need to find. After you’ve found everything, you are given one last item to locate. Once found, that item will end up in your inventory. For the most part, this area of the game works as advertised. However, it makes a few key mistakes. First, you revisit areas and end up performing a second HOG. This would be fine, except all of the items you’ve already found, including one of a kind key items that you’ve used elsewhere, have returned. This is just silly. Also, the game has a high number of instances where it uses a vague term yet wants a very specific item. For example, I was asked to find a “nail puller”. What the game actually wanted me to find was a crowbar. While it’s true that you can use a crowbar to pull up nails, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call it a nail puller. This led to me passing over said crowbar several times because it didn’t make sense. Also, another section asked me to find some cats. The lion didn’t work, neither did the large cat standing in front of the bookshelf. Instead, I had to click on what looked to be cat-like book ends. This kind of problem is found in every hidden object game I’ve played, but Cursed Fates has to be one of the worst examples of the problem.

headless3Finally, we have the more traditional puzzles. There are slide puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, gear puzzles, and pretty much everything you’d expect from a game like this. Instructions clue you in on what you have to do, and all of the puzzles control well for a change. They were good for giving a change of pace, and weren’t overly difficult as to cause frustration.

Most of the game is pretty darn easy, but there were some head scratching moments. Several of the items you need to find are hidden pretty darn well, to the point of actually being near unidentifiable because they are behind other objects. Also, some of the environmental puzzles are just odd. I needed to mill some rye to create flour. I figured that out. However, I first needed to beat the rye with a pair of nun-chucks (or what the game called a flail for some reason). How I was supposed to figure that out without using a hint I’ll never know.

Like most HOGs, this game offers little in the way of replay value. Playing through the whole game and the included bonus chapter will run about four to five hours for an experienced player. After that, you’re free to play again on the tougher difficulty setting, but that really just makes it take longer to use hints. There are some trophies to earn, and items to unlock for viewing in the trophy room. You unlock these by finding golden horseshoes hidden throughout the game. For completionists, this could add some time onto the game.

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The collector’s edition adds a few things to entice purchase over the regular version. Firstly, there’s a bonus chapter. This adds a good hour or so of gameplay, and basically ends the headless horseman by destroying his magical sword. It doesn’t really add to the plot, but it has a bunch of more our there puzzles that would have felt out of place in the main game. Also, there is a suite of screen savers and wallpapers to put onto your computer. Finally, you can listen to the game’s soundtrack at your leisure. It’s a decent amount of stuff, and the bonus chapter alone is probably worth the extra money.

The bottom line is that fans of the genre will enjoy this game, while opponents of the genre will find nothing to change their mind here. You’re also more likely to enjoy the experience if you’re not a fan of the source material, as this is not a good retelling by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it plays well and there are very few issues. It’s worth a look.

Short Attention Span Summary

Cursed Fates: The Headless Horseman is pretty much your average hidden object game. It controls well enough, has a good variety of puzzles, and has some decent bonuses for picking up the collector’s edition. There are they typical issues of a lack of replayability, vague terms, and lackluster story, but it’s all forgivable for a diehard fan of the genre. So long as you’re not expecting a faithful retelling of the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, you’ll likely find this game a decent way to kill time.



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