Unfortunately about as scary as helping your neighbor clean the shed.
When we were first given a sneak preview of PlataGames’ Suburban Mysteries: The Labyrinth of the Past, we were promised horror hidden object gameplay unlike anything we’d ever seen before in the genre. Those are strong words, considering the multitude of games that have come before it, and ultimately, the promise wasn’t fulfilled. However, Suburban Mysteries: The Labyrinth of the Past does offer some entertaining gameplay in the process.
Labyrinth of the Past follows a young woman named Sara who is called back to her childhood home after a madman takes her brother’s family captive. A stereotypical affair, the game leaves us to search an abandoned home, tunnels and eventually a mental institution, all without the aid of police, in order to track down our family and stop the captor from fulfilling their self-proclaimed “experiment.” Early on, we learn that Sara’s father practiced experiments on the helpless inmates at the game’s mental institution. Could this all be a case of revenge, taken out on Sara’s family since the father went missing long ago? I think we know the answer to that question.
The storyline in Labyrinth of the Past jumps around quite a bit, explaining things through cutscenes rather than letting us experience them for ourselves. This leads the game part of the game to be incredibly short, easily finished in just two hours (or less, if you’re playing on the easiest difficulty setting). Throughout that time, you’ll complete chunks of hidden object scenes and will use a variety of items that you’ll find therein to complete all of the objectives in an isolated set of rooms. Once the items run out, you’ll conveniently be pushed along through the story to a new set of locations where the cycle begins again. Luckily, this eliminates any large amounts of backtracking, and gives you more to do in a single location before moving on again.
Hidden object scenes are large junkpiles with the rare hotspot allowing you to open boxes, pull back curtains and so on, and most items are actually challenging to spot. The junkpiles are usually quite complex and deep, and while items haven’t had their sizes skewed, the game’s dark color palette allows many to blend into their respective backgrounds. What makes these scenes more interesting is the fact that they’ll become regular, interactive locations after you’ve found all of the items on a list, allowing you to pick up more key items from a scene later on in the game, rather than forcing you to play the hidden object scene all over again. This is a fairly unique design choice, but it hurts the experience just as much as it helps, as there’s no rhyme or reason as to why an item would have magically appeared back in one of these scenes, and you’re simply expected to examine them all over again “just in case” something has appeared.
As for the game’s puzzles and mini-games, they’re the standard array of tile-sliding, swapping and rotation puzzles, along with a few unique offerings like a code-breaker game that has you mixing vials of chemicals to form an acid. The puzzle skip meter charges at a decent pace, but most puzzles are more time consuming than brain-bending in difficultly.
While the game’s storyline does offer a (somewhat expected) twist at the end, and leaves room for another game to be released in the series, the overall ending to the game is more than a bit disappointing, feeling anticlimactic at best. The buildup to the end sees you watching a real-life actress portraying Sara through short cutscenes, but these are more cheesy than realistic and are completely unnecessary. Likewise, there are some sound effect issues when playing through puzzles or hidden object scenes, as the music hiccups and skips as the tracks begin to loop over and over again. And over again. And — you get the point.
These issues (specifically the disappointing ending) wouldn’t have been so upsetting had the rest of the game fulfilled on PlataGames’ promises, but without any jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and only the occasional piece of creepy imagery to really add a “scare-factor,” Labyrinth of the Past is left to the scariest fate of all: having fallen short of its lofty promises.