Explore a quaint Alpine village destroyed by avalanche and discover its deep, dark secrets.
The world “crucible” has two meanings: it refers either to a container used for heating metal to extreme temperatures, or to a severe physical or mental trial. Through its harrowing circumstance and elaborate setting, ERS Studios’ newest hidden object game Phantasmat: Crucible Peak offers us an unsettlingly supernatural adventure that embraces both these meanings.
The game begins on a snowy mountaintop where you’re cast as an avid skier fulfilling a lifelong dream—to ski the Alps. The minute you set off down the mountain however, a gigantic avalanche occurs and sweeps you away. When you come to, you find yourself on the outskirts of the picturesque village of Alpion – a small hamlet nestled among the frigid peaks. You’re thrilled to find the village populated, but that elation turns to fear once you realize things in Alpion are not quite right. The town’s denizens are friendly enough, but what are they hiding?
Crucible Peak is the second in the Phantasmat series and has many things in common with the first game: great graphics, for one thing. The icy environments are beautiful and the cinematics and visual effects are fairly ambitious. The only thing that (to me) isn’t up to par with the first Phantasmat are the character models. The characters in Crucible Peak resemble one another a bit too much, and their faces distort oddly when they speak.
The sound effects are better, being rich and varied, but I could swear I’ve heard the main musical themes before. Perhaps ERS is once again dipping into its collection of stock music files? If so, that’s disappointing. On the upside, the characters are all fully voiced and their performances are good, if a bit caricaturish.
Like the mostly-strong graphics and mostly-strong sound, the game’s puzzles and mini-games are also mostly-strong. Puzzle design in Crucible Peak is pretty interesting overall, (my favorite puzzle entails using the eyes of a couple of super-creepy baby dolls to color-tune a TV) although in a few instances puzzle instructions are fairly vague. That could be seen as a purposeful choice, designed to make the game more challenging – but that reasoning doesn’t hold water as the game’s hints are extremely explicit.
The hidden object scenes fare better, reprising the first game’s alternative match-three mode. For anyone who didn’t play the first game, whenever you encounter a hidden object scene you’re given the choice to play the scene straight or to find items by playing a session of match-three. Although the series here repeats itself, this choice of mode is still a welcome change from the usual hidden object gameplay.
Narratively speaking, Crucible Peak’s main story is admirably constructed, but its overall concept could be more creative. Most of us have lived this story a few times already, so there’s not a lot to be had in the way of surprise. That would be acceptable if only the bonus chapter, which continues right where the main story leaves off, wasn’t so poorly conceived. If you’re anything like me, you’ll finish the bonus chapter and ask yourself, “What was the point of that?” This half-baked epilogue offers little; no significant story or character insights, no narrative progress, and no satisfying wrap-up. It’s pretty clearly an afterthought.
In addition to disappointing bonus gameplay, Crucible Peak collector’s edition offers some (reused?) music tracks, some great concept art, some awful screensavers, some so-so wallpapers, and the option to re-play all the puzzles, hidden object scenes and cinematics you’ve already played/seen.
The first Phantasmat is a hidden object rockstar. Phantasmat: Crucible Peak is more like the rock star’s less attractive, less talented and less charismatic sibling. (Phantasmat = Beyonce. Crucible Peak = Solange.) Even so, thanks to nice graphics, strong voice acting, dynamic cinematics and creative puzzle design, Crucible Peak is a good game that hidden object enthusiasts—especially those without Phantasmat fan baggage—will enjoy.