Banish demons with the click of a mouse.

The latest entry in the horror-themed hidden object game genre is Exorcist, the tale of a cat and mouse game between Garet, who has devoted his life to cleansing the world, and Mephisto, the elusive entity who may be a man, a demon, or a bit of both. It’s an uneven experience: For everything that the game gets right – which is a lot – it unfortunately seems to get something doubly wrong.

The good stuff starts with the game’s clear understanding of its gothic setting and plotline. There’s hardly a shaft of sunlight to be seen in Exorcist, as each new cursed location you visit is awash in the kind of shadows and fog that make you feel as though you’re being watched. Black cats, spiders, whispers in the background, and even a few screams are thrown in just to make sure you understand that unnatural forces are working against you. Unlike so many HOGs, you’re even given a fairly plausible reason to be searching areas for lists of junk – before you can exorcise the demon inhabiting a particular room or building, you must first remove all the evil objects from the area. Brilliant!

The Exorcist

The searches themselves are beautifully drawn, and deftly constructed. Items are well hidden, and although similar objects will crop up on more than one list, a bow in one room will look nothing like a bow in another. Certain items on your list will be shuttled to your inventory, so that you can use them to get at objects that require a bit of extra work before they can be found. Once you’ve checked everything off your list, you’ll usually have to find several specific objects – such as gears for a lock – in order to complete that area’s final puzzle and move forward. These items are represented by charcoal drawings at the bottom of your screen, a lovely period-appropriate touch that genuinely adds to the ambience of the game.

Each level of Exorcist has several different rooms, which you can visit either by following footstep icons between rooms, or simply clicking on their photos at the bottom of the page. You also need to be on the hunt for the ripped pieces of letters that Mephisto leaves behind; piecing them back together to find your next location is always the final puzzle you must solve before moving on. The jigsaw itself is dead simple and will give you no trouble – it’s actually finding the tiny shreds of the letter amongst the debris of your searches that’s challenging.

The Exorcist

The puzzles of Exorcist are a mixed bag, but offer some true creativity. My favorite by far was one that required you to mix the proper colors of paint in order to restore a portrait, but unfortunately, that one is also a shining example of where the game goes wrong. As you finish object searches, the game will tell you what you need to do next with instructions like “finish the painting” or “assemble Mephisto’s letter.” The advice is helpful, but it’s often misleading. Since I had found the tubes of paint and the artist’s box, I assumed that if the game was telling me to finish the painting, that meant I had everything I needed, and so I jabbed at the portrait in vain. Eventually I gave up, ignored the game’s instruction, and moved on to another room, where I was rewarded with an artist’s palette after checking everything off my search list. Eventually, you come to realize that the instructions you’re given are broader, level-wide goals, but the manner and timing in which they pop up makes them more confusing than helpful.

Exorcist would also have benefited greatly from remaining silent. The writing is actually pretty good, very in keeping with the old world setting, but the voice acting is over-exaggerated and kills the mood instantly. Garet and Mephisto hold their own, but the supporting cast is hamming it up to the extreme, apparently taking their cue from bad high school theater productions of Dracula. If Exorcist were going for a campy vibe, they would be absolutely perfect, but it’s clear that the game is trying to evoke a dark atmosphere.

Exorcist is frustrating, having as much going for it as it has against it, but if you like your HOGs a bit on the dark side, you should at least take the demo for a spin.