The secret is that Downtown is a pretty dull place to hang out.
If the ex-lover who left you without any explanation three years ago suddenly called you begging for help, would you go? Apparently Downtown Secrets‘ Alex is a more charitable soul than I, because rather than telling Marie where she can stick it, he rushes to fulfill her request that he find some documents hidden in her apartment before the cops do. She’d do it herself, but she’s in jail for murder, you see. So inconvenient.
The plot that puts a corpse on Marie’s floor eventually involves a Private Investigator, a nefarious corporation called Chimera, a femme fatale, and a ring that can let the wearer see backwards in time. It’s a muddled mess that hops from one dull location to the next, never quite connecting the dots. Characters are brought up as though we’ve known them all along, and the police never seem to catch on to the fact that Alex is poking around their evidence lockers. Alex is a particularly unsympathetic drip of a main character, so busy mooning after the girl who dumped him that he never really stops to wonder why she’s jerking him around after all these years.
You won’t get much satisfaction from following the clues of Downtown Secrets, but the object searches are still good. A list of items will appear on Alex’s cell phone, a nice nod to keeping you in the story, as opposed to reminding you that you’re playing a game. Your cursor will change to let you know you can interact with certain areas of the scene, either by moving something out of the way, or by zooming in on a location like a drawer.
You’ll visit most scenes more than once, and the hand-drawn art is nicely detailed, but the urban locales will have you wishing for more exotic fare. You’ll search several apartments, two bars, a restaurant, an office, and a vacation home – all places that have pretty much the same, mundane kinds of items in them. I appreciate that the developers didn’t want to get too wacky by having things like llamas in a lawyer’s office, but one can only find so many coffee mugs and newspapers before one is willing to sacrifice a bit of realism.
The item searches get broken up a bit when Alex has to use the ring to see that location in a previous time frame, eavesdropping on whatever might have happened in the past. To trigger the event, you must use the ring to find all of the hidden – invisible, actually – items in the scene. After clicking on the ring, your cursor will change into a pulsing circle; when you pass over a hidden item, it becomes visible and you can click on it. It’s a creative twist on the usual object searches, but once you’ve done it a few times, the novelty wears off and it has little to offer.
Brief puzzles are sprinkled throughout the hidden object levels, and though none of them are particularly difficult, they are all quite inventive. Lining up GPS satellites to narrow down your location, fiddling with alarm circuits to avoid getting caught and matching keys to keyholes won’t take much brainpower, but the tasks are woven into the context of the story pretty well and provide an enjoyable break.
The worst part about Downtown Secrets is that it’s shockingly short – you’ll easily be done in under two hours. There are three magical objects mentioned in the game – the ring, and a companion necklace and earring – yet we never find those other pieces, so perhaps Downtown Secrets is meant to be the first part of a trilogy. Just when the story feels like it’s really getting started, it’s over and the credits are rolling. It’s an unsatisfying ending to an unsatisfying story.
Everything Downtown Secrets does has been done better by a recent hidden object game, and is super-short, too. Play the demo, that should give you all you really need.