Artifacts of the Past: Ancient Mysteries

There’s a mystery brewing. Strange occurrences are taking place. An oddness hangs in the air. Thick-necked men, strong-willed women and even agents of Her Majesty The Queen are trying to get to the bottom of it, but only one man can penetrate this enigmatic fog. Only Dr. Artifact, the scientist who solves mysteries that other people won’t go near!

He (by which of course I mean you) will track down hidden objects, solve puzzles, shoot a few chuckle-worthy zingers at the annoying cast of characters who continually intrude upon his time and research, and ultimately unravel a mystery that, while not particularly novel, is at least kind of fun.

 Ancient Mysteries

That, in fact, is the entire game in a nutshell: It’s entertaining enough, but never moves beyond the well-established borders of the standard hidden object game. The game opens with Dr. Artifact being interrupted by a goonish-looking man in a trench coat and fedora named Simon, who claims to be the Keeper of the British Museum but doesn’t exactly come across as the intellectual type. Could he be trouble? I don’t want to spoil anything, so let’s just say that while Dr. Artifact may be a genius, he’s a lousy judge of character. But he’s also quick on his feet, allowing him to stay ahead of just about everyone (most of the time) as he searches for random items, geometric shapes or groups of similar items, and solves puzzles that involve matching pairs, completing circuits or assembling jigsaws – quite a lot of that, actually – most of which should be quite familiar to most HOGgers.

Production quality is fairly high, with decent visuals and a pleasant soundtrack. Voice acting is absent, but that’s alright because there’s not enough going on here to really justify it anyway. The story is silly and utterly perfunctory, yet as I got into the game I found myself increasingly amused by the dialog, even though I was never able to decide whether it was cleverly tongue-in-cheek or just as completely clueless as it appears. Levels are untimed and the game can be played at either normal difficulty or in an “easy” mode, which shortens the hint recharge times and offers a bit more in the way of step-by-step instructions but is otherwise identical.

 Ancient Mysteries

Artifacts of the Past does manage to come up with a few unusual, albeit minor, twists. The game is divided into three separate adventures which will take players to the Pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge and Teotihuacan, and that must be played sequentially. Along with the standard hint feature, the game also includes a magnifying glass option that gives players an up-close look at hidden object scenes (although I never found any need to use it) and, more interestingly, a “shuffle” option that replaces the current list of hidden objects with a new one. I have absolutely no idea what the point is, since it just switches whatever remains on the list with different items, but I haven’t seen anything like it in any other hidden object game.

The regular hidden object searches are fairly simple, while the searches for geometric shapes – bits of paper, scraps of a photograph and the like – can be much more challenging because the pieces blend in with the background so well. The other puzzles are relatively easy as well, although the closing puzzle segment in the second chapter, “The Ghost of Artifacts Past,” is actually rather clever and one of the more enjoyable and rewarding puzzle sequences I’ve run into in a hidden object game. And unlike most HOGs, the notebook in this one – another very standard part of the formula – actually serves a purpose, offering up very useful and sometimes downright necessary clues.

 Ancient Mysteries

One other nice feature in Artifacts of the Past is the way it makes each individual hidden object scene and puzzle directly accessible from the main menu once the game is complete. There’s actually a bit of replay value to the game since the object search sections are randomized each time through, so being able to hop directly to each scene is a nice touch.

There’s not much more to say about Artifacts of the Past: Ancient Mysteries. It’s a thoroughly decent hidden object game and not a bad way to kill a couple of hours of idle time. Unfortunately, as I’ve said before and will no doubt say again, that’s just not enough to warrant much notice these days. There are so many HOGs that qualify as “decent,” “competent,” “solid” and so forth that any game that can’t push beyond those qualities becomes just one in the crowd.

So it is with Artifacts of the Past. I liked it and I’d be quite happy to see the occasionally sharp-tongued Dr. Artifact given his own full-blown franchise. But in order for it to really succeed, the developers will have to figure out how to raise the gameplay bar considerably. Right now, it’s pretty good, but in the overcrowded world of hidden object games, that’s not really good enough.