From Dracula to Edward, vampires have changed over the years but in many ways have also remained the same: Dark, sensual, aloof creatures, existing on the periphery of our consciousness, forever struggling with their ambivalence toward humans who, for their part, tend to be somewhat sharper in their feelings toward the sanguinary undead, hunting and destroying them whenever and wherever possible. That complex, predatory relationship permeates Blood Oath, an exciting new hidden object game that twists and turns its way through challenging searches and a shadowy, labyrinthine plot.
The game opens with the player, a newly-turned vampire, narrowly escaping a band of hunters with the help of Kali Jayde, a raven-haired, brooding beauty with a strong but unexplained interest in the situation. Tristan Ariel, the leader of the world’s most powerful clan of vampires, soon comes into the picture, offering shelter but demanding servitude in return. A war is raging between vampires and hunters, he explains, and the player will be his newest soldier, helping him lead the undead nation to victory. Don’t let the silly, stereotypical vampire names fool you; Blood Oath tells a surprisingly dark tale, with an end-game twist that’s a little shocking but also very satisfying.
Unlike most hidden object games, Blood Oath throws the player into the mix with no helpful lead-in or exposition whatsoever. Instead, the mystery slowly reveals itself over the course of the game, and while it’s certainly no “Dracula” – or even “Twilight” – it’s entertaining enough to be worth paying attention to. But while the plot follows a twisted path, the actual gameplay is made very straightforward by way of a thorough tutorial in the opening scenes that fully explains its various features and mechanics.
It’s a good thing, too, because this isn’t your run-of-the-mill hidden object game. Instead of searching for a laundry list of a dozen or more objects per level and then moving on, Blood Oath hides only a few objects at a time, which must be found and assembled into more significant plot-related items that will move the story ahead. Searches are confined to single rooms in the early stages but before long they’ll start to be spread out across numerous locations. Indicators show which objects are hidden in the current location, drastically cutting back on time wasted searching for something that isn’t there.
Further complicating things is the fact that most searches won’t even begin until the player discovers “hotspots” in each level which glow red when the cursor is close. In the opening scene, for instance, the discovery of a weakened section of wall triggers a search for items, like dynamite and a detonator, that can blow it open.
Each location also contains one to three hidden “cards” which are used in a separate, parallel mini-game that grants players bonuses like faster hint recharging and shorter penalties for wild, aimless clicking. Scores are kept and there are also achievements to be collected, 20 in all, some of which will be awarded automatically over the course of the game while others, such as one for finding all the hidden cards, must be earned.
Blood Oath is all hidden objects, all the time, with no Towers of Hanoi or Spot the Differences puzzles anywhere to be found. Silhouettes of each object provide a hint as to what’s on order and this is handier that it might sound, since much of the searching will be for appropriately-otherworldly items like “crystallized wind,” “moonlight extract” or “octopus ink.” (Do you know what moonlight extract looks like?) The hint system is fairly typical, pointing out a single object at random and then recharging, quite slowly at first but faster as the mini-game bonuses accumulate.
Levels are untimed so players can move at whatever pace they like, although if you want to collect all the achievements you’d better get it done in less than three hours – a time limit that shouldn’t be an issue for any but the most leisurely of players.
The production values in Blood Oath are top notch. The object scenes are a cleanly rendered, attractive montage of decaying, supernatural elegance, while the subtle, moody soundtrack is a perfect fit for the material. The game eschews animated video sequences in favor of static character images to move the action along, but it doesn’t suffer noticeably for their absence. Gameplay, on the other hand, is definitely more complex than that of many other hidden object games but the controls are smartly streamlined and the inclusion of a “living book” that provides a map and a quest log helps keep things from becoming overwhelming.
Of course, like any good vampire story, there are one or two bumps in the road. The game doesn’t provide any information about the hotspots that trigger new object searches, such as when they’ve become available or where they might be, leaving players to wander through the map until they stumble across them. This can lead to occasional bouts of confusion about what to do next and while most of these quest triggers are fairly large and can be found fairly easily with some quick-and-dirty pixel hunting, a little more guidance would have been welcome.
Similarly, the object list indicates when an item is in the current location but doesn’t give any hint as to where the other objects may be and in the later parts of the game this can add up to a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth between areas, trying to find the one room that has the one object needed to progress. Most of the objects are located in relatively close proximity to one another, but at least once I found myself trekking to an entirely different part of the game to find one single item.
These are relatively minor frustrations, though, and overall, Blood Oath is easily one of the most enjoyable hidden object games I’ve played in recent months. It’s engaging, intriguing, challenging and a lot of fun. Love vampires or hate them, it’s a winning combination adds up to a game that definitely does not suck. (Your blood!)