In mythology, Pandora’s Box was a jar that unleashed numerous evils upon mankind. However, in Alawar Entertainment‘s latest hidden object adventure Vampire Saga: Pandora’s Box, Pandora is actually a ship. Yet within the creaking wooden belly of this vessel, true to the name of Pandora, a dark secret and deadly danger lurks. You’ll join Matthew Ward in this haunting tale as he finds himself alone on Pandora, a grim cloud over the ship abandoned out at sea.

Vampire Saga: Pandora’s Box actually begins in a rather peculiar manner, with the story being recalled as a fateful memory by a character named Tyler Ward in Boston in 1950. One night, Tyler’s grandfather proceeds to share with him a series of events that influence and lead up to that night. As a young man, Ty’s grandfather, known as Matthew Ward, found himself stranded at port during the Spanish-American war, having fled. Eager to get home and mysteriously drawn to a certain ship named Pandora, he sneaks aboard only to fall unconscious. When he awakes, he finds himself stranded out at sea, with no captain or crew left alive. With anchor stuck and no one else on the vessel, in addition to numerous violent hallucinations, Matthew desperately tries to find a way off the ship while learning Pandora’s dark secrets.

Pandora’s Box is the classic definition of a hidden object adventure, with a very nice balance introduced. Hidden object levels serve a specific purpose in this title: to allow you to earn key items you’ll need throughout your explorations. Exploration is very typical of a classic point-and-click adventure. Each hidden object area stands out with a bright and uniquely colorful dark fog. A highly interactive and very easy to grasp inventory system is also present in the game, allowing you to store items for later. When an item has lost all use, it conveniently disappears.

Pandora’s Box also introduces a friendly hint system. Without actually using hints, the game will often give a little shine or sparkle here or there, just to let you know where to go or what you should be doing next, without interfering or making it too easy. The actual hint system is comprised of simply pressing the hint button is usable from both inside and outside of hidden object gameplay. Best of all, if you use a hint in an area in which there’s nothing to do, the hint remains while letting you know there’s nothing to do in that area at that time.

Hints also charge fairly quickly, allowing a good amount of time for the player to keep searching but not so long they get impatient waiting. If a player clicks too much too fast, they will temporarily lose control of the mouse as it swirls around the screen.

But of course, Alawar’s latest title wouldn’t be anything without good hidden object play, and Vampire Saga certainly delivers. Every level is very challenging, and hidden object game fans will certainly face a worthy challenge if they tried to get entirely through this game without using a single hint.

There are some quirks, though. Perhaps one of the most disappointing things for me was reading about the animated cutscenes featured in the game, and that’s exactly what I expected. However, playing the actual game, few things are actually animated. Instead of panning, zooming, and introducing fluid movement, most every cutscene consists of a very slight frame change every several seconds. Even the opening scene felt long and burdening,since the game apparently oly supported fluid animation on one minor character.

Another unfortunate thing to point out is that some of the items in the game’s hidden object levels were poorly labelled, and sometimes outright wrong. Most embarrassing was one item, seemingly a comb, which showed up as "???" at the bottom of the screen. Good luck finding that without using a hint!

But despite the drawbacks, Pandora’s Box is a very neat hidden object adventure. Not only is the gameplay challenging, but the hidden object levels are among some of the more challenging I’ve played, despite the occasional repetitive objects. The story isn’t bad, either.

Vampire Saga: Pandora’s Box is among the few games where you think you know what’s going to happen before the game pitches you a very sharp twist, and one of the few that pulls off an ending that really leaves you speechless and wondering what’s going to happen next. Combine that with unique environments and suspense, and you’ve got your money’s worth.