A much-needed reminder that getting trapped in a board game would suck.
As Collector’s Editions dominate the hidden object genre, players have come to expect every game to have a host of extras. But whatever happened to making a good basic game? Although sloppy here and there, Shadows: Price for our Sins, the spooky new adventure by 8 Floor Games, reminds us of the days when developers didn’t pad their products (and their price tags) with pointless extras and focused instead on making great games.
Shadows: Price for our Sins starts with us riding shotgun one rainy night, with a young woman headed towards a Halloween party. After assuring her mother by cell phone that she’s fine, (thumbs down 8 Floor, for showing the heroine using a cell phone while driving) the young lady arrives at a rain-soaked house in the country. Minutes later, what should be a fun-filled evening among friends turns into a nightmare, and not because of a bad batch of seven-layer dip. A sinister mist envelopes everyone but the heroine, who soon discovers the guests have been sucked into an occult board game and it’s up to her to get them out.
This provides an interesting enough start to the game, despite the rainy night/spooky house setup. The presentation differs from that of many hidden object titles, employing graphics that appear to be nearly all 3D. Further, menus and on-screen icons are plainer than those in most of today’s opulent games, but they’re efficient and everything does what it should. Some players might feel that Shadows: Price for our Sins takes a bit of an old-fashioned approach to hidden object gameplay. While it does offer straightforward exploration and somewhat simple list-based hidden object scenes, these are still engaging enough to prove the ongoing appeal of the genre.
What makes Shadows: Price for our Sins worth playing—what it does best—is its unusual item use, as well as its often surprising interactivity. So many hidden object adventures have you do the same things again and again: put hands on clocks, placate mean dogs, open boxes, fix ladders, etc. Here, admittedly, we do some of that, but we also get to do some things a bit outside of the norm.
The most well-made part of the game, though, is the construction of its story. Well, I should clarify; it actually has two parallel stories and while the one you start with is kind of weak, the one you move into and spend the most time with is really pretty good. Although that portion makes use of a fairly hackneyed “free the ghosts” theme, it supports the theme with both interesting gameplay and really nice character art.
My favorite thing about the game, actually, are its mid-game storytelling cinematics. These depart from the fully-rendered 3D methods used in the majority of the game and use instead some very cool monochromatic, 2D animations. These periodically fill us in on the history of the game’s characters and are narrated by a competent actress with a nice voice. Funny—now that we’re on the subject of sound, I don’t remember the game’s music at all. That either means the story really had me by the lapels or the music was totally forgettable. One thing I haven’t forgotten: how annoying the main object interaction sound effect was. It might be absurd to complain about such a small thing, but hearing a sound like someone slapping a leather sofa with a ping-pong paddle every time I pick up an item, well…ugh.
Although Shadows: Price for our Sins did many things well, there were some areas where its edges do start to fray. The first is dialog. Most of it is actually pretty good, but here and there you notice some things that read like they came from a bad online translator. (“Let’s celebrate the holiday of the darkness tonight!” says one character at the start of the game.) The second is incorrect text such as items referred to incorrectly, (“check” for “chalk”) and wrong puzzle info (as in, the directions were meant for a different puzzle). Other things that aren’t that big a deal, but that do detract from having a seamless gameplay experience are the zoom-in windows that don’t always close when you’re done with them, and the occasionally-misleading interactivity. What I mean by the latter is when items remain active after they’ve worn out their usefulness.
These flaws are there, but they’re negligible in the scheme of things. Shadows: Price for our Sins offers an absorbing, unusual adventure that feels plenty long despite its lack of “extras”. It successfully bucks the Collector’s Edition trend by playing like something well-constructed and complete within itself and as such, is worth more than a good number of over-padded CE’s.