A master detective’s work is never done, it seems. Even when you’re between cases, having just wrapped up the mystery of Ravenhearst Manor, another adventure falls unexpectedly into your lap in Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, the sixth downloadable game in the Mystery Case Files series. While not as ground-breaking as some of its MCF predecessors, Dire Grove further cements Mystery Case Files as one of the premier hidden object adventure game series’ in town.
The adventure begins when an unexpectedly brutal snowstorm forces your car off the main road and onto a country side-street, where you stumble into Dire Grove, a tiny vacation retreat located in the north of England. Investigating a car that’s been abandoned at the side of the road, you find a video camera and tape that turns out to be the first in a series of recordings that document the journey of four graduate students who are trying to prove that a certain Celtic legend surrounding Dire Grove is true. But why has the car been abandoned so hastily? Where are the four students? Why is it snowing so harshly? And why does the whole place give you the creeps? You’ll hunt down the answers to these questions and more.
In terms of gameplay, Dire Grove borrows a lot from its immediate predecessor, Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst. The game is more or less a point-and-click adventure where you move freely between different areas, pick up items to add to your inventory, and figure out how to use them to solve puzzles and unlock new areas. Clicking on sparkly areas within a scene leads to a close-up view where you must search the cluttered scene for a set of hidden objects on your list. Clear the room, and you’ll be rewarded with one important item that goes into your inventory.
The biggest new twist in Dire Grove is video. You’ll find video tapes scattered throughout the game, which are actual snippets of live-action video featuring real actors, that depict the students documenting their adventure with the camcorder. The plot unfolds largely through these short teasers, and it pays to watch closely because they can also offer hints about what to do next. Although you have to suspend your disbelief at wondering how all four students could be in the frame at the same time (who’s holding the camera?), it’s a very clever and effective way of building suspense and anticipation – especially when the content of the clips starts to go all Blair Witch and creepy. Unfortunately the videos are not subtitled, though, so deaf and hard of hearing gamers will miss out.
Dire Grove seems easier than Return to Ravenhearst in the sense that you once again get unlimited hints, and this time the hint meter doesn’t take as long to reload so you don’t really have to walk around and do other things while waiting for it to fill up to use again. The door and lock puzzles are still quite clever, but rely more often on randomized solutions than figuring out how the mechanisms themselves work. These puzzles can be skipped, too.
That said, don’t expect the game to be a cakewalk either. You’ll still have to figure out all of the inventory puzzles on your own with only the clues recorded in your case book to guide you. You might find an item that you need to solve a puzzle in a completely different area, so be prepared to do a lot of backtracking.
The game boasts the high production values we’ve come to expect from the series. The lonely, snow-swept hamlet is captured in wonderful detail graphically, and by extension the hidden object scenes are interesting and well put together. The kudos for truly establishing the game’s deliciously tense and creepy atmosphere goes to the convincing sound effects, from the crunching of snow under your boots as you trudge through the unrelenting blizzard to the creaks and ghostly whispers that come out of the shadows as you explore the hotel and other deserted buildings of Dire Grove.
I found the music itself a little too overbearing and random at times, though, owing to the fact that it’s not always cued to anything. Sometimes the orchestral backdrop would swell to full volume for no reason as I was simply walking around, creating tension where there really wasn’t any. I preferred the quieter, more plaintive solo piano moments.
Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove isn’t the huge leap forward that Return to Ravenhearst was in terms of depth and gameplay – in fact, those who have played Return to Ravenhearst will find that a lot about Dire Grove feels familiar. But a fresh new story, original puzzles, and the introduction of video shows that the developers aren’t interested in resting on their laurels just yet.
Note: Our download link will take you to the Collector’s Edition, which is currently the only version available. It is selling for $19.95 with no free trial. The regular edition will be available in early December for $6.99. The Collector’s Edition includes extra levels and other bonus content.