Review: Snark Busters: High Society (PC)

Snark Busters: High Society
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Alawar Entertainment
Publisher: Alawar Entertainment/Big Fish Games
Release Date: 05/09/12
Minimum System Requirements: OS: Windows 7/Vista/XP (Note: I ran it on Windows 7 64 bit and it works fine), Processor: 1.4 GHz processor or better, Memory: 1GB or more, Video Card: DirectX 9.0 compatible or better, Hard Drive Space: 720 MB or more.
Buy it Here: Alawar Home Page
OR Here: Big Fish Games

So, almost a year ago to the day, Alawar released Snark Busters: All Revved Up, a hidden object game in their Snark Busters series, and I ended up reviewing it. To say that I was not a fan would be fairly kind; while hidden object games can be fun if the concept is solid, the Snark Busters series is framed almost entirely around a plot concept that’s unexciting at best. All Revved Up was based around the concept of proving yourself worthy of being in the Snark Hunting club and finding a car which would help you catch the aforementioned Snark everyone’s so interested in… but ended right when you were about to actually start chasing the damn thing. Indeed, for a franchise called Snark Busters, the second game didn’t seem particularly interested in the Snark at all, which didn’t help the experience much, as everything else about it was utterly paint by numbers. Well, a year later, we have Snark Busters: High Society, which is also a hidden object puzzle, features a completely different main character and setting, and has even less to do with the titular Snark than its predecessor. In theory, this could be a good thing, as unshackling the game from its “find the Snark” plot hook could open up the experience a bit, and with some strong puzzles behind the game it could be a substantial improvement. In practice, however, Snark Busters: High Society is even more by the numbers than its predecessor and commits some horribly unforgivable sins, and it’s basically impossible to recommend it to anyone.

Snark Busters: High Society takes place in some sort of steampunk future and casts you in the role of Elizabeth Hughes, a world famous photographer, which we know because she has a darkroom that she goes back to a lot. Shortly after announcing her engagement to a secret fiancée, we discover said fiancée, Nicholas Fortright, has been accused by his employer, Duchess Olivia Daffington, of stealing a priceless family heirloom: a locket that, unbeknownst to her, has special Snark hunting capabilities. Of course, Elizabeth sets out to prove that Nicholas didn’t commit the crime, Olivia is of course horribly evil, and the Snark is discussed a whole lot as Elizabeth sets out to find out the truth… and (indirectly) join the Snark Busters club. Elizabeth is a better main character than Jack Blair, but the plot still plays the entire concept straight to a point where the whole experience comes across as incredibly stereotypical and borderline laughable at the best of times. Further, the Snark is a completely irrelevant concern to the game, as aside from the locket being a tool that can be used to track it, and some of the destruction in the different environments being blamed on it, the Snark never matters at all in the plot and could have been excised entirely with no difficulty. The game doesn’t have to be about hunting the Snark, per say, even in a series devoted to this, but when the plot revolves around a stereotypically evil plot and a destructive monster that barely matters, nothing works and the whole experience is left boring from the start.

High Society looks better than its predecessor, somewhat; it retains the aesthetic sensibilities of the prior game, making use of very pretty backgrounds that feature a lot of personality and interesting designs, as well as switching between the normal world and the mirror world, changing the environments in obvious and interesting ways. The cutscenes feature somewhat better animation of the characters as well, though when characters talk it becomes very reminiscent of watching martial arts movies on Saturday morning, IE their lips move for long after they stop speaking and never match what they say. The game is still only marginally animated, however, and moving objects in the game world tend to look like they’re moving across a static background, so there’s still some work to be done on the visual side of things. Aurally, High Society retains the novel sounding musical flair of its predecessor, featuring tunes that fit the environments well, though none of it is especially memorable so to say. The voice acting is also somewhat improved, in that there is some, and it’s actually pretty solid, if not exceptional. The sound effects are also as serviceable as ever, and while some are still repetitive as you go through the game, they work well enough that they’re not problematic.

High Society is a hidden object game, as was its predecessor, and as such, functions more or less identically: objects are hidden in the game world, and you have to find them. In each of the game’s stages, you’re presented several different locations you can switch between by clicking on the entrances and exits, and each location has several items you can assemble by finding the parts of each item strewn throughout the location. Each item, in turn, can then be used somewhere within that location to generate some sort of an effect, whether it requires you to solve some sort of puzzle, spawns an item piece, opens a new location, or something completely different. The catch is that you may not be able to complete all of the items in a particular location without having cleared out another location first to change something within that area, as the mirror universe locations influence the main locations and vice-versa. You may also need to turn up an important item, which can be carried through locations as needed, to solve a puzzle in another location altogether. Your goal in each area is to find the ghost haunting the location, resolve whatever dilemma they bring to your attention, and receive a photo negative from them that you can then develop in your darkroom to lead you to the next location. The game is simply enough to control through all of these actions, as a simple point and click will get you where you’re going or find the item you’re looking at, though if you’re stuck, the game allows you to use free hints to locate hidden items (though there’s a cooldown between uses), and you can skip puzzles entirely if too much time has elapsed. Speaking of the puzzles, they’re generally amusing enough, as you’ll have to rearrange pictures, realign colored objects to their correct sides, use magician puppets to rearrange items into their correct spaces in three circles, and so on, so if nothing else, they’re pretty varied.

The game features five chapters, as well as an introductory sequence to get you used to the mechanics of the game (and the darkroom development process), and you can complete the game as a whole in about two to three hours (I leaned closer to two), depending on your item finding skills and puzzle solving aptitudes. You can always go back and play through the game again if you wish, and should you choose you can also flip through the news reports that pop up about Jack and his exploits from the main menu if you wish to do so. However, games of this sort are often not notable for their replay value, and High Society is no different; once the game is done, it’s done, and there are no scores to improve, difficulty options to change, or secondary mode to play around with, making this an obvious “one and done” affair that won’t give you much reason to come back. The game does offer an Expert Mode, which changes a couple things; Normal Mode allows the cursor to turn into a hand when you mouse over a collectible item, which Expert Mode disables, and the recharge time of hints increases in Expert Mode, making for a marginally more challenging experience. This doesn’t actually change the layout of the game in any significant way, however, so you’ll be able to plow through it with minimal difficulty regardless.

Now, here’s the thing: High Society falls into the exact same trap as its predecessor did, in that it’s a casual game in every possible sense of the term. It’s not at all challenging, offers no rewards to speak of for not abusing the hint system or playing in Expert Mode, offers no motivation to do anything to challenge yourself, and offers puzzles that are exceptionally easy to complete. In theory, as a game for small children it’s not the worst possible experience, but even for fans of the genre there are games that have handled this concept much better than any of the Snark Busters games have, so far. The puzzles are either solved with items found in the game world or are exceptionally easy, the hidden objects themselves are easy enough to find, and once the game is done it’s done and there’s nothing to come back to in the slightest. Unlike the prior game, however, High Society also holds the distinction of trying to install THREE pieces of spyware on my PC, including Incredibar, a piece of software that actively overwrites search engine information in Firefox and Internet Explorer, and Weatherbug, one of the most annoying pieces of malware I’ve ever had to deal with as a computer technician. AND THIS IS IN A GAME THAT THE COMPANY IS, AT SOME POINT IN THE PROCESS, ASKING YOU TO PAY MONEY FOR. Virtually every free and paid antivirus and antimalware application you can install hates these applications, okay? Spybot, Spyware Blaster, Kaspersky, Avast, Malware Bytes AntiMalware, all of them hate these programs and Alawar includes them as a possible part of the installation process.

I’m sorry, but that’s frankly incredibly disgusting, and I’m not even going to pretend I have anything nice to say about the game or Alawar from here on.

The bottom line is that Snark Busters: High Society is a mediocre hidden object game that you can acquire for ten dollars or less, but given that you’ve seen everything the game has to offer if you’ve ever played a game in the genre before, and the fact that the developer loaded it up with spyware, you’d be better off lighting your money on fire. I’m sorry, I’m not even going to go over the game’s good and bad points at this point. It looks fine, sounds fine, and plays fine, but it’s utterly derivative and the publisher wants to infect your PC with incredibly hard to remove, harmful applications as part of the installation process. I don’t have anything else to say on the subject and that I even bothered to complete the game before reviewing it is only because I felt the obligation to do so, spyware or no, as a reviewer. I can think of no reason to put your PC at risk with this game for free, let alone for any amount of money, and you could spend your money on anything and it would be a better use of said money than High Society

The Scores:
Story: POOR
Graphics: MEDIOCRE
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: WORTHLESS
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: WORTHLESS
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS


Short Attention Span Summary:
I have absolutely nothing to say about Snark Busters: High Society as a game at this point. It’s utterly mediocre in thought and deed, and comes equipped with multiple pieces of malware, which is reprehensible for a freeware application, but outright insulting given that you have to pay to complete the game. Do not spend your money on a game that tries to infect your PC. Do not give your money to a company that tries to infect your PC. Do not buy High Society, do not play High Society, set your money on fire and flush it down the toilet before you even consider doing so. I have no tolerance for any company that would willingly partner with organizations that compromise the security and functionality of the end user, and it is from that place I say: to gamers, do not play Snark Busters: High Society or any other Alawar game until this practice stops, the end.



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