You wake up in a seedy hotel room, the noise and smells of the sultry Chicago night seeping through the open window like secrets pouring out of a squealing stool pigeon. You can’t remember your name, or how you got there, or why. The only thing you do remember is that you must remember. The streets are unforgiving, and second chances are hard-earned and rarely given.

So begins Hidden Identity: Chicago Blackout and your quest to restore your memory, and your very identity, which was taken from you under the most suspicious of circumstances. You’ll work your way through 25 unique locations in the Windy City, including a run-down warehouse, an old fishing boat, a pizza parlor and even a police station, all while searching for the mysterious stranger who holds your fate in his hands. Will he help you? Or is he the reason you’re trapped in this amnesiac fog?

Hidden Identity is a very straightforward hidden object game that only rarely strays into other types of gameplay. The game can be played in either the default story mode or the bonus endless mode, which remains locked and unplayable until the story mode is completed. The game focuses almost exclusively on hidden object searches, and while mini-games do pop up from time to time, they’re short, simple and, best of all, a little bit different than the between-level diversions that come with most HOGs. The game features 25 attractive hand-drawn levels and a catchy soundtrack that’s a perfect backbeat for the aspiring… well, whatever you are. You have amnesia, remember?

 Chicago Blackout

The hidden object searches are reasonably challenging, although not unfairly so, and only once was I stumped by an item that would have troubled even by very persistent players. Hidden Identity makes things a little trickier than many other games through a pair of added twists: Using clues to describe the hidden items rather than naming them outright, and requiring one item in every level to be combined with another to complete a sort of two-for-one hidden object. For instance, the hint “Place the D” means you must first find the hidden letter “D” and then put it into an unspecified hidden word that’s missing that same letter. The game further mixes things up by playing occasional word games; a search for three clubs, for instance, unearthed two of the card suit and one golf club. These homonymic searches add an extra dimension of challenge but more importantly, they’re fun rather than frustrating.

Unlike many hidden object games, points are awarded for just about everything that happens in the game. As you’d expect from PopCap, scores tend to run high. Each object found is worth points, and locating them in rapid succession earns increasing “speed bonuses” with each new object found. Time bonuses are earned for completing levels quickly and each mini-game adds a big pile of points too. Penalties, meanwhile, are assessed for using the help feature, which like most games highlights a single hard-to-find object and is then unavailable for a few seconds while it recharges. My final score in story mode was over 2.7 million points which, I must admit, sounds a lot more impressive than it really is.

The mini-games, as mentioned, are short, sweet and a pleasant departure from the usual variety of puzzles that fill time in so many hidden object games. In one, a man in a trench coat and fedora stands silhouetted in a phone booth, illuminated only by brief flashes of lightning; after three or four short bursts of light, the player must identify him by selecting his features and clothing from a multiple-choice list. Other interludes feature letters that have been shredded or shot full of bullet holes that must be reassembled, and a Bejeweled-style puzzle in which every square on the board must be placed in a three-way match at least once.

The story unfolds by way of notes posted throughout the game, two in each level, seemingly written by the player herself as she struggles to regain her memory. There are two in each level and while finding them isn’t necessary to advance through the game, they do tie the whole thing together and help the progression from one location to another make a little more sense. Most of them are quite easy to track down, so there’s little reason not to find them. But regardless of whether or not you care about the story, you’ll need to find them if you want to unlock the endless mode.

 Chicago Blackout

That, in fact, is perhaps the game’s most surprising flaw: If you want to play in endless mode, you’ll have to find the notes. All of them. Making it worse, if you finish the game and happened to miss one along the way, the only route back to the level you left incomplete is to start another game and play all the way through a second time. The gameplay is fun and fortunately the hidden objects are switched up with each new game, but the fact that individual levels can’t be accessed directly once the story mode has been completed is still a surprising oversight.

There are a few other bumps in the road as well. Each level is timed, so players who enjoy casual, languidly-paced searches may feel a bit more pressured than they like, although the timing is so generous that it hardly matters: Players are given 30 minutes per level, and with typically less than a dozen objects per level to find there’s no real worry about close shaves. There’s also no option to skip the mini-games, although again, they’re so quick and simple that it shouldn’t be a bother for anyone but the most fanatical hidden object purists.

Most of the object hints and descriptions are very clear, but a few are a bit on the vague side. I enjoyed the slight brain-teaser element of looking for five stamps and finding that only four were the kind that get stuck on envelopes, but as with the mini-games, those who prefer their object searches straight up may find it distracting. And finally, the game is quite short; dedicated HOGgers should have no trouble putting this one away in a couple of hours.

In spite of those shortcomings, however, Hidden Identity is still very good. PopCap has a well-earned reputation for publishing quality games and this one lives up to that standard quite nicely. Highly polished and easy to play yet challenging and rewarding, Hidden Identity: Chicago Blackout is a solid addition to any HOG fan’s collection.