Take on the role of crack FBI agent Claire Ellery and pursue a sadistic kidnapper.
As movies like The Silence of the Lambs have melodramatically shown us, being an FBI agent is no picnic; still, we love being party to the danger this singular profession invites. New hidden object game Strange Cases: The Faces of Vengeance gives us the chance to once again join the ranks of the armed-and-trenchcoat-ed as they pursue a vengeful villain. Sadly, due to a game concept and story that feel incomplete, the experience is largely underwhelming.
The Faces of Vengeance begins as FBI agent Claire Ellery is informed of a kidnapping. Someone has taken the young daughter of her late partner and Claire, having sworn to look after the child, is determined to get her back. Villains (at least in the movies) love to toy with law enforcement, and the culprit here starts by sending Claire taunting clues that lead her to an abandoned mall. There, she discovers a creepy, mannequin-strewn ruin festooned with cameras that follow her every move and TV monitors that broadcast the kidnapper’s disturbingly masked visage.
It sounds like a great setup for a thriller and in some ways, it is. It’s hard to deny the creepiness of mannequins, abandoned malls (Dawn of the Dead anyone?), automatons and grinning toy store clowns. The Faces of Vengeance uses all of these to create a tense, threatening atmosphere. Augmenting it are bizarre obstacles—traps set for you by the kidnapper—that buck the hidden object locked door/rock fall/hole in the floor trend. In keeping with the sense of dread are one or two weird hidden object scenes (my favorite uses dolls to trigger it) and some even weirder puzzles (think disembodied mannequin limbs). These elements feel well thought out and purposeful; if only the same could be said of the rest of the game.
The problem with The Faces of Vengeance in a holistic sense, is that it lacks follow-through. Every aspect of the game suffers from it. Although there are a couple of interesting puzzles, most of them are the same color-matching, dial-turning things you’ve seen in a hundred other games. And while the hidden object scenes are fairly well constructed, the game’s a bit too reliant on them. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to maintain the suspense a thriller needs when you’re forced to stop every two minutes and rummage through a collection of junk.
Hidden object scenes also have another issue: in order to trigger the scenes, you first have to find tarot cards left by the kidnapper and these seem to point to something cool happening down the line with them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The cards aren’t collected or used to unravel a clue, they don’t provide additional story info or earn you an achievement—they do nothing. It’s such a disappointment because the idea could have added another layer of gameplay and another layer of complexity to the kidnapper’s evil undertakings. Beyond the gameplay, the 3D graphics exhibit a similar lack of depth. Granted, the modern world is much less romantic than a medieval castle or an 18th century village, but the flat colors and textures found in The Faces of Vengeance come off more than a little “bargain bin.”
Finally, two facets of the game that feel incomplete are its character conception and its story structure. Sulus Games deserves credit for the narrative’s surprise twist, but after the reveal if you think back on the game you’ll probably realize the twist doesn’t make much sense. Scattered newspaper clues seem to point in one direction and then another and in the end, the villain’s motives become fairly muddled. This problem culminates in an awkward, abrupt, anti-climactic ending that most players will come away from feeling dissatisfied.
Strange Cases: The Faces of Vengeance is an imbalanced mixture of revelation and predictability, creativity and cliché. Although it conveys the right tone for a cop show thriller and its modern urban setting is refreshing, it’s too often undermined by under-developed gameplay, bland graphics and an unrefined narrative to be considered a must-play.