Review: Relics: Dark Hours (PC)

Relics: Dark Hours
Developer: Subdued Games
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 11/15/2011

I can’t explain exactly why, but I’ve always loved Full Motion Video games. From Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective to Double Switch and The 7th Guest, there’s something about these types of adventure games that I can’t help but find charming. While FMV games died off soon after the Sega-CD, they’ve come back in style lately. PC games like Darkstar and The 13th Skull used FMV prominently. Consoles too are starting to use it again, as we’ve seen with game like James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes and The Malgrave Incident. The latest FMV game is Relics: Dark Hours – a horror adventure game by independent studio Subdued Games. It’s a company I’ve never heard of until I discovered the game several months back in my search for upcoming adventure games. Sadly, while the game was scheduled for a Halloween release, it ended up getting pushed back until November 15th – right in the midst of a ton of other releases which I had already agreed to review. Now that the November release rush is done, I finally had a chance to sit back and see how Relics played. So is this budget FMV title worth paying seven to ten dollars for, or is even that too much to pay for it?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Did you ever see the old TV series Friday the 13th? No, it didn’t have Jason Voorhees in it. Instead it was about a dead antique dealer who sold cursed evil relics to people and how after he died, his nephew decided to reclaim them so no more harm would be done. Well, it’s the exact same plot as Relics except here you are the dealer’s son. I was hoping for something a little more original, but it is what it is. From the opening prologue, it seems like Dark Hours is meant to be the first in a series of FMV games. Here your main character travels to a school around Halloween time in search of an object that might have cast a rash of deaths for students and faculty alike. He gets inside by pretending to be Mike the new janitor and there he meets his list of motley subjects. Who is the keeper of a demonic artifact? Is it Jason the security guard and his lucky rabbit foot? Eddie the Janitor and his pocket watch or Nate the teacher and his necklace?

The story is an interesting and fun little diversion and lasts about three hours. The acting is somewhat wooden and hokey, but the cheesiness just adds to the enjoyment for me as it feels like a lost game from the 90s bit with higher resolution visuals. The relic in Relics is kind of a cliché and has been done before, but I’ll admit I wasn’t sure who the killer was going to turn out to be. All in all, it was fun and as a budget game I was expecting to be blown away by the story. It was no Casebook, but it was still mildly entertaining. I got my money’s worth and that’s all that matters.

Story Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

There aren’t any graphics in this game save for an occasional interface icon on the bar at the bottom of the screen. The entire game is pure video footage. It doesn’t fill out a widescreen fully and it was made for a pan and scan screen, so if your monitor or laptop is widescreen (as most things are these days) a good portion of your screen will be black. It’s not a big deal. This is just to let you know in case you think things are being displayed incorrectly.

The visuals are all video footage. Locations, characters, interactive puzzles and everything else was recorded with a video camera and things will be triggered based upon what you do and where you are in the game. For the most part the game is of the same quality as those interactive DVD board games that were popular a while back. The footage is definitely done with low budget camera work and some things are a bit blurry or hazy. There’s also an occasional issue that eagle eyed gamers will catch -such as the hands of your protagonist changing in different scenes (According to the credits, it was three different set of hands.). Still, I was impressed by the panoramic visuals and the fact Subdued went to the trouble to make a 100% full motion video game. Relics won’t win any awards for the visual presentation, but it was still fun for what it was.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

The music in Relics is pretty good. There aren’t a lot of tracks, but what is here fits the atmosphere of the game wonderfully. It’s very dark and brooding with ominous undertones. The bass hits at just the right time and throughout much of the game, the soundtrack helps the game still feel creepy when the acting is a bit too cheesy.

Yes, the acting isn’t very good, but as I said earlier, that’s part of the fun. No one here is going to win any awards for their thespian skills, and for younger or more casual gamers, the acting quality might be a turn off, but for me it reminded me of the “golden age” of this genre with things like Who Shot Johnny Rock? or Gabriel Knight 2 and so I actually enjoyed that it was schlocky. I laughed out loud during any scene with fighting or death, which probably isn’t a good sign, but I still had fun with it. As an older gamer, I remember when all voice acting or FMV work was actually worse than this, so I can still appreciate for what it is. So again, the music is really well done, but the acting makes Mad Dog McCree‘s look good. Overall, it’s something only older gamers will really like.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

Relics: Dark Hours is a point and click adventure game, meaning everything is done with a mouse. [-p;rttg/Arrows will show up to signify that you can move in a specific direction, an eye icon will come up if you can take a closer look at things, a hand will come up if you can interact with an object. So on and so forth. It’s very similar to a lot of adventure games. The problem is that the interface has some notable issues. The first is that hot spots for interaction are somewhat small and thus they can be missed quite easily. This is especially true for when you are trying to find something very small, like say, a half hidden locker which looks like a corner on the screen. Another problem is that with certain doors, like the one to the science lab, sometimes the hot spot doesn’t occur AT ALL. This means, you have to walk away and walk back, sometimes two or three times, in order to get it to appear. These two issues alone mean that some gamers will get exceptionally frustrated with the game because they will swear they have checked everything in the game and can’t move on and they’ll be right. The fact gamers will have to recheck sometimes in a genre that is all about specific location searches is simply a design flaw that shouldn’t occur. I’m actually surprised the game made it out with these two issues.

Navigation will be a problem for some gamers as well. Unlike most point and click panoramic games where you just move your mouse to the side in order to see the full 360 degree view, in Relics, you have to click on a direction and then you only turn 90 degrees. In the game’s defense this is because the game is done with FMV instead of graphics, but all the turning and the strange locations of some of the arrows may turn gamers around. There’s no compass and the map doesn’t help in regards to what direction you are facing, so prepared to get lost at least once in your play through.

Other than these issues, the game plays okay. There’s a lot of backtracking (which can be annoying) and most of the puzzles involve access codes or guessing the correct word. There are a lot less puzzles than the typical adventure game, so it’s more an interactive movie than anything else. The gameplay issues will stymie anyone who plays this until they figure out what the bugs are and it’s a disappointment that the interface has these issues, as it will turn a lot of people off.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Below Average

5. Replayability

Relics is quite short for an adventure game as it is less than three hours long. The game is also exceptionally linear. Every time you play the game, things will unfold in exactly the same way. Because of these two things and the hotspot issues, Relics really isn’t a game you’ll want to play more than once. Older gamers, or those that enjoy FMV titles, will have fun playing this once, but that’s about all you’ll get out of it. It’s not a bad game by any means, and seven to ten dollars is the perfect price range for it, but it’s definitely a “one and done” title. Interface issues alone will keep some people from even finishing this game once.

Replayability Rating: Bad

6. Balance

The hardest part about Relics is often figuring out where to go next due to the hot spot issues. The game has a “think” option where your main character gives you hints, but unfortunately, they’re not very helpful and you’ll find yourself saying, “I can’t get into room X!” Puzzles generally involve finding a painting or scrap of paper that tells you how to get through them, so there’s no real logic or skill test in the game. Instead, you’re just finding items to help you move on. I was disappointed there weren’t any real puzzles, as will many adventure gamers, but I guess since there are gameplay issues maybe it’s a good thing there aren’t any brain teasers. You don’t need two ways to get frustrated in the same game after all.

Relics isn’t a hard game by any means. It’s just a matter of finding an object that lets you move on or just following the linear story. Without the programming issues, the game would simply be a matter of following the linear narrative. So it’s not intentionally hard, but finding the correct way to get into a room may drive one batty.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

Although there have been a rash of FMV games as of late, Relics is the first to be completely done with FMV visuals in some time. It makes the game feel nostalgic to me, but it may seem weird or behind the times to others. It all just depends on your age and how much you interacted with the genre. Because of the attempt to revive the genre in its original form rather than the more modern updates we’ve seen as late, Relics is somewhat innovative as they try to stay true to how FMV games actually played when they first came out. It certainly makes the game stand out from the pack of other games available on Big Fish Games’ website. Although the game would be anything but original if it had been released in the 90s, it’s somewhat fresh in late 2011 simply because no one else is doing something like this anymore.

Originality Rating: Above Average

8. Addictiveness

I beat Relics in a single sitting one morning. It took me a little under three hours, but a good portion of that was trying to navigate through the various locations or getting hot spots to show up. I had fun with the game, but not as much as I had hoped to. It was cheesy and very reminiscent of the old FMV games. Unfortunately it was reminiscent of the games that weren’t very good rather than the classics. Don’t get me wrong -I had fun with it, but I was still annoyed by the problems and the lack of challenge. Now I’m a gamer that really likes FMV titles, so I know gamers that are new to this genre or have had bad experiences with it in the past are not really going to enjoy their time with Relics. If you’re a fan of kitsch or just like to play any adventure game you can get your hands on, you’ll probably finish the game in one go. For everyone else, it might take you some time to get through it – if you even bother to finish it.

Addictiveness Rating: Below Average

9. Appeal Factor

Have you enjoyed any FMV games as of late? Did you even know the genre has been making a comeback? Have you ever even played one? If you answered the first question with a “yes,” then you’ll probably enjoy this for what it is. If the answer to the other two is no well…this isn’t the game for you. In either case this isn’t a game I’d recommend to anyone who isn’t a fan of FMV for the sake of FMV as there are other, better games that use this style of gameplay that don’t sport the gameplay issues. The acting isn’t very good, the game’s plot moves pretty slowly compared to a lot of modern games and the gameplay issues are going to leave the majority of people that pick this up to be dissatisfied. It’s a budget game by an indie studio, so the seven to ten dollar price tag won’t leave anyone feeling ripped off, but it’s definitely not a game for everyone. Hell, it’s barely a game for anyone. It’s an extremely niche product and even those that like it will be, “Eh. It was okay.” I’m glad I played it, but that’s about all I can say for it.

Appeal Factor: Dreadful

10. Miscellaneous

So Relics: Dark Hours was a bit of a disappointment, but I still found fun to be had. The question is whether or not I would have had fun with the game if I didn’t have nostalgia for 90s FMV games? The answer is…probably not. I wasn’t a fan of the gameplay. Bugs like this would have been fine in the 90s since it was a new technology, but in 2011? No, other companies have shown it can be implemented wonderfully. The acting was hokey and that will probably turn a lot of gamers off. The end product was a cute tribute to early FMV games, but the entire thing was set up to be an episodic franchise and I just don’t see that happening. If I love FMV games and I have no interest in playing another Relics, I’m not sure who would. This is going to be one of those games most people will never care about, much less know exists. I almost said “unfortunately” as the first word in that last sentence, but then I realized it might be better that way. It’s not a well made game (but it does have its moments if you like kitsch), and it might just be best to read this review and then only considering getting the game if morbid curiosity gets the better of you.

Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average

The Scores:
Story: Decent
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Below Average
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: Below Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Relics: Dark Hours is not only meant to be a tribute to the old full motion video games of the 1990s, but also the first in a series of point and click adventure games. Unfortunately for it, it’s not a very good game meaning the first game will probably also be the last. The game suffers from gameplay issues such as disappearing hot spots and others that are hard to find, which will leave all but the most ardent adventure gamer frustrated. Throw in the fact that the game is also as cheesy (if not moreso) than the early FMV games it is trying to emulate, and you have a product that only a small percentage of gamers will have fun live. I like FMV, kitsch and adventure games, so I found the game fun at times, but I also found it to be a game I can’t really recommend to anyone. Relics is not a terrible game by any means – it’s just a sub-par one with a nice soundtrack.



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2 responses to “Review: Relics: Dark Hours (PC)”

  1.  Avatar

    I’m a live action video game fan and when seeing this game I thought I would really like it since it has live action characters and real scenery. I found it hard though to play even for an hour. I wasn’t easy to navigate in the game as the map didn’t show you which direction you were facing. The characters didn’t have a real feel to them. Had a hard time to get into them. Overall it needs a lot of work to make it interesting enough to go through with it.

  2. […] high, but even more so for hardcore FMV gamers. Games like Hysteria Project, the Casebook series, Relics: Dark Hours, and Raincliffe were also recent FMV adventure game releases, but their budgets were a fraction of […]

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