It’s not the usual scenario for a hidden object game: you play as a rescue pilot, Veronica Rivers, stationed at the north pole, who one day receives an S.O.S. distress code from a team of geologists in Alaska. Little do you know that this mission will lead to a life-altering journey, as you stumble upon portals that whisk you away to different parts of the globe, beginning in the jungles of Laos.

As you unravel more of the story behind these missing geologists and what they uncovered, you’ll be asked to find hundreds of objects hidden in many indoor and outdoor locations. Unlike most hidden object games, however, the items are actually relevant to the location or story, so you’re not, say, searching for a pretzel in an underwater cave. Players will see a list of items to find in these busy scenes — such as a flask, journal, blanket, snowmobile, ice axe, first aid kit, knife, and so on — each of which with a description of its use or relevancy.

The game almost hints you’re placing these items in your inventory to use them to solve adventure game-like puzzles, but alas, this is not the case. Unlike most other hidden object games, there is no time limit to solve these puzzles. While they’re called “Hints,” if you’re stuck you can click to find the remaining item(s) buried in the messy scene.

It wont take players long to discover a word-based list is only the first way of telling you what to find. Soon you’ll see a silhouette of an item or be asked to take photos with your camera that match an existing photo or use a flashlight to see objects in a darkened environment or rely on an “evidence analyser” used on items, and so on. We’ve seen this kind of thing in other games, sure, but is very well done here indeed.

Every few levels players will also be asked to solve a puzzle-like mini-game, some involving gem-swapping or aligning GPS signals and such; they’re pretty easy, actually, which might be a good or bad thing depending on your skill level. Personally I was disappointed by these “arch” challenges that open new portals but it certainly didn’t detract from the fun game-play and great presentation.

Oh yes, the production values on this game are fantastic. Instead of a static comic book-like storyboard, the narrative element comes alive with gorgeous hand-drawn atmospheric graphics, animation and clever “camera angles” that resemble a graphic novel. Other nice visual touches are during the object-finding itself, such as a boat that subtly sways from left to right (the entire screen) as you scour the scene for items. The music and sound effects also breathe life into this game.

From the main menu you can go back and play any previously completed puzzle (click on a portal from the world map) and most of the items will be in a different place – this helps add to the all-important replay factor.

Veronica Rivers: Portals to the Unknown might not offer anything outrageously different than other hidden object games but it certainly deserves top marks for doing everything extremely well — from story and presentation to fun game-play and mini-challenges to music and replayability. In this crowded hidden object game it’s certainly one of the better titles in the genre to download and play this fall.