Mystery Trackers: Black Isle is a fantastic third entry in the series

A couple of years ago when I first heard of the Mystery Trackers series, I admit I was skeptical. As a big and loyal fan of Big Fish Studios’ Mystery Case Files series, Mystery Trackers sounded like a pretty shameless knockoff. Then I played Mystery Trackers: Into the Void, and became a believer. This month, developer Elephant Games brings us the third title in this high-quality series, a stunning hidden object game called Mystery Trackers: Black Isle that once picked up, is hard to put down.

Black Isle starts when your organization, the Mystery Trackers Detectives Club, is called in to investigate the disappearance of a reporter and her cameraman. The two were last seen filming a story near a hotel located on the spooky and remote Black Isle, when they inexplicably vanished. You arrive on the island and are surprised to find the camera man sitting on the beach; you’re even more surprised when you go to talk to him and he’s zapped into the ether by a masked figure in an ankle-length velvet robe. It’s then that you realize…this is no ordinary investigation. But then, are they ever?

A series of bizarre clues leads you through the east and west sides of the island, which in addition to an abandoned hotel, contain an abandoned cafe, theater and curiosity shop. Within these locations you collect pieces of a tragic story; a story of children and inhuman experiments. In short order, you also come across your missing reporter, who, it appears, isn’t exactly missing. Here’s where Black Isle does some surprising things, narratively speaking. Normally when you run into a robe-wearing masked figure, he’s an unmitigated villain bent on the destruction of one or more innocent victims. In this case, the situation is decidedly more complex. I won’t go any further than that, since doing so might reveal too much. Let’s just say the story’s a good one and more than keeps your interest until the credits roll.

The only down side to the story in fact, is the weird way it ends, using an annoyingly contrived cliffhanger designed to aid the transition into the bonus chapter. (Maybe it’s just me, but even when a sequel or bonus chapter is meant to expand upon a narrative, I prefer the main story to stand on its own.) Anyway, that’s all down to personal preference, and all things considered, is a minor point.

 Black Isle

The first of many thumbs up goes to the game’s fast travel system. Mystery Trackers: Black Isle is an extensive game with a lot of locations, and it was a good move on Elephant Games’ part to give you a detailed map that lets you teleport easily from place to place. Even better, your main objectives are marked on this map with big, yellow exclamation points. Granted, where the map could be even more helpful is if it also marked locations that yet had objective-related things to find or do within them. As it is, you’ll do a lot of teleporting back and forth in order searching for the pieces that lead to your next objective.

Fortunately, each location is interesting since there’s a ton of stuff to do everywhere. Much attention has been paid to adding descriptive text to things and each location has at least four interactive items. For me this is huge, since nothing’s more boring than looking at room after room full of beautiful stuff that doesn’t do anything. Even better than this however, are the creative changes the developers have made to the game’s hidden object elements. Generally, hidden object scenes and puzzles are two separate things, but here you can use inventory items within hidden object scenes and also solve puzzles within them. Additionally, solving puzzles can lead to unexpected hidden object set-ups. I imagine with the many games that exist in this genre, it gets harder and harder to come up with creative assemblages of random stuff, but Elephant Games has done it here, and beautifully.

 Black Isle

What I love most though, about Mystery Trackers: Black Isle (aside from the adorable chihuahua sidekick they gave me) is that every inch of it has been lovingly attended to. It’s not just that the main game looks spectacular; it’s that in addition to the main game, so much care has gone into peripheral things like achievements and extras. Throughout the game you’re asked to hunt down 50 hidden owls, and at the end, you can see your collection in a beautiful woodland vignette. And if you want to admire your achievements, you can open up a Disney’s Haunted Mansion-like room hung with creepy portraits that trigger spooky animations when you click on them. There’s even an odd twist on the usual “extras” in the form of a bunch of goofy out-takes from the live-action filming sessions.

Except for a couple of minor flubs, Mystery Trackers: Black Isle has it all: a complex narrative, a fresh take on hidden object/puzzle gameplay, beautiful graphics and convenient navigation. On top of that, it’s one of the most highly-polished games I’ve seen in some time. After burning through Black Isle in one obsessive four-hour session, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Mystery Trackers franchise is legit. Anyone else who still has doubts definitely needs to play it—they’re bound to be convinced.