Review: House of 1000 Doors: Serpent Flame Collector’s Edition (PC)

serpentflamecoverHouse of 1000 Doors: Serpent Flame Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Alawar Five-BN
Genre: Hidden Object/Adventure
Release Date: 06/07/2013

You certainly can’t say that HOG developers take too much time between sequels. This is the third game in the House of 1000 Doors series in the past eighteen months. We’ve seen heroine Kate aid lost souls and save the house from an evil spirit. In order to ramp up the suspense, this time the entire world is at stake! I liked the first game, but found myself less impressed with the second. It’s time to find out how the third will fare.

Okay, bare with me for a second. The story starts with giant snakes erupting from the ground. They immediately start bringing death and destruction, usually by way of fire, wherever they go. As silly as that sounds, the game takes it quite seriously. Kate would be one of the doomed herself, but she is rescued by a stranger from another plane of existence. He brings her to the titular house, where she discovers a machine capable of wiping the snakes from the face of the earth. She’ll have to travel to four different periods of time and collect four “elements”.

serpentflame1It’s not much of a plot, to be honest, but it does have its moments. The cutscenes have seen a significant boost in production values, and the game isn’t shy about using them. Sadly, Kate is relegated to only speaking in her journal, as she never gets a line in during conversations. There isn’t much in the way of characterization this time. It’s all about the world-threatening plot. As such, this is more popcorn fare rather than the interesting journey that was the first game. It also ends rather abruptly. Even the bonus chapter doesn’t give us the end we need. A huge plot point is left hanging. This will surely lead to a fourth game, but it’s annoying to say the least.

As I said, the production values have been increased. Every conversation with a character takes place during a cutscene that is fully animated. The models look pretty good, but the technology isn’t up to snuff. As such, there are no facial expressions, and everything looks robotic. Still, it looks pretty darn good compared to the usual HOG offerings. The giant snakes in particular look fantastic. The art is up to snuff, and does justice to the various eras you’ll visit. There has been attention paid to detail, and the only off sections are the hidden object sequences themselves. Would it kill a developer to make the items in these scenes fit with the location? Why am I finding a modern pair of binoculars in ancient Rome? Anyway, this is an above average looking game overall.

Where the game falters is voice acting. So many of the voices are grating, unfitting, and/or just plain bad. An Aztec shaman should not sound like an old British man! One character sounds like Zordon and Alpha from Power Rangers had a love child. Then there are the voices that sound like random people reading lines off a paper. There’s little acting here at all. The voices are in contrast to the rest of the aural package. The music and effects, though typical, are enjoyable enough. It’s too bad they won’t be the thing that sticks with you.

serpentflame2As per usual, this game uses the tried and true mix of hidden object sequences, adventure, and mini-game mechanics.

The hidden object sequences come in a couple different flavors this time. While you’ll still get the normal object listing, there’s a new breed available as well. You’ll have a picture of an item, but your goal isn’t to find that item. Instead, you need to find the object on screen that goes with the item on your list. For example, if you have a key, you might need to find a lock or key ring to put with it. It’s a novel system, though some of the pairings can be a bit obtuse. If you’ve never seen a egg dish before, you might have no idea what it’s used for. Still, it offers a degree of critical thinking as opposed to just object hunting. It made for a great change of pace.

You can safely play this game if you’ve ever played another point and click title. Clicking on an object adds it to your inventory. Using the item is as simple as grabbing it from your inventory and using it on the environment. Most of the interactions are logical and easy to figure out. You’ll hammer nails into place, use keys on locks, replace broken statue parts, and so on. It’s all par for the course. The map system is incredibly handy, as you can instantly see any location where you have things to do. Also, you can use warp to any location you want via this system. It makes navigation a breeze, and saves a lot of time.

The mini-games are a nice mix of classic puzzles. All but one of them are straightforward, and the challenging part is in the execution. They serve to break up the action, but can be skipped if you can’t figure them out. The controls work great on all of them, which isn’t always the case with these games. It’s all simple pointing and clicking.

serpentflame3For extras, the CE is kind of stacked. There’s the bonus chapter, wallpapers, concept art, music, and even more. The game also allows you to replay any of the mini-games at will, which is a nice touch. There are even some bonus picture puzzles for those that find morphing objects in the main game. You can also re-watch the cutscenes, which just goes to show how proud they are of them.

All told, this isn’t a bad way to spend four or so hours. It’s not a long game, but it’s enjoyable enough. The only real issues are the lacking story and awful voices. Otherwise, it plays and looks just fine. I’m still waiting for the series to meet the potential of the first game though. I want to get back to helping lost souls move on. I’ve saved the world in too many of these games as it is.

Short Attention Span Summary

While the thin story and grating voices may turn off some, the rest of the package makes Serpent Flame a competent hidden object game. It has a good pace, and a good mixture of varieties. It doesn’t force you into a long series of hidden object sequences or forget about the mini-games. It’s technically proficient, and a worthwhile buy for any fan of the genre. Still, I can’t help but feel this series isn’t being all it could be. I’m sure there will be more games in the series, and I look forward to them as well.



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