Let’s get this out of the way — shortly after booting up Department 42: The Mystery of the Nine, a new hidden-object game ("HOG") exclusive from Big Fish Games, I was prepared to give it a solid "A" for its challenging and polished game-play, interesting story, adventure game-like puzzles and outstanding production values.
But while these things are true, slowly the flaws of this game began to appear, and as a result lost some — but not all — of its appeal.
In Department 42: The Mystery of the Nine, you’re an agent for a secret organization committed to investigating the paranormal, and you’re tasked to locate nine evil artifacts which have gone missing due to a fire at Grimstone mansion, where they were locked up. Mysterious and malevolent things are now happening throughout the continent, so it’s up to you to solve these nine stories to save the world from harm.
It’s a little weird if you’re a male player who is asked to type in their name at the beginning of the game and then you see a picture of your female character, Alice Wright, but we’ll forgive the developers on not having a male agent, too.
Much of the game-play is "HOG"-based, so you’ll comb through a messy indoor or outdoor scene to look for clues. These items are listed at the bottom of the screen and when you find and click them, they’re removed from the list. For the most part these items have nothing to do with the story or location, which is disappointing — like a TV remote in werewolf’s den, a strawberry in a brook or pencil outside of a trailer home — but a few items per level will be added to your inventory and used to solve puzzles or unlock new areas in the scene.
For example, you might need to mix and boil liquids together, therefore you’ll collect the ingredients, vials, matches, and so on. This element is very well done and players will find themselves scratching their heads on what to do with these half-dozen items in their inventory (some you’ll need to wait until the next location to use).
Another issue that becomes apparent here is players will have to click exactly on the right spot, as it’s not too forgiving in this department. For example, early on in the game I was searching for "prints" and clicked many times on paw prints on a rock, but it wasn’t correct (click too many times and your mouse spins in a circle for a short while). I succumbed to the "Hint" button when it was the last item on the level and it highlighted the paw print; only when clicking right on one of the sides of the paw did it register. Sigh. This also happened later on in the game.
Some items are confusing, too, such as clicking on a "cocktail" in a bar, but finding out it’s not the correct one, or a butterfly that looks way more like a leaf than an insect. You get the point. Some games simply handle this better than others. Oh, and if I see another hotdog in a HOG game I’m going to boycott the genre altogether.
These issues aren’t going to ruin your experience but it might frustrate you a little. The game’s intriguing nine cases, very well hidden items and high-production values (gorgeous graphics that border on near photorealistic in some scenes, and atmospheric music) all deliver an exciting and memorable game experience.
Along with the adventure game-like puzzle element, which keeps things fresh, the game also houses a number of mini-game conundrums that go above and beyond the usual assortment of jigsaw puzzles, "match 3" or "spot the difference" challenges. Without giving anything away, the ones written into this game will please any discerning player and are related to the story. And if you get stuck, as I did in the third mission, you can skip it if need be. In total there are 20 minigames you can access from the main menu, if desired.
If it weren’t for some nagging issues, Department 42: The Mystery of the Nine would easily be a 4 or 4.5 star review at Gamezebo. It has so much going for it but in the end it loses some points due to its aforementioned shortcomings.