Film Fatale: Lights, Camera, Madness is a fast, fun, and fantastic romp

On the surface, Film Fatale: Lights, Camera, Madness! is entirely unremarkable in just about every way. It’s graphically bland, not very challenging, and almost criminally short. Yet it’s also the most fun I’ve had with a hidden object game in a very long time. It’s a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts – and it’s a blast.

Back in the 1940s, one film director towered above all the rest: M.W. Vernon, a man of unparalleled vision and drive who built a movie studio on his own private island, where he intended to create his magnum opus. But plagued by infighting, financial troubles, injuries and even deaths, the project fell apart, leaving Vernon a broken man, driven to madness by his failure. The world slowly forgot about the mysterious studio, but now retired movie star Rita Ray has been kidnapped, and it’s up to her daughter – that’s you – to follow her to Vernon’s island and bring her home!

 Lights, Camera, Madness

The first thing you’ll notice as you step off the helicopter that quickly abandons you to your fate in Film Fatale is that this isn’t the most visually impressive game ever. The graphics are perfectly decent and serviceable, but they lack the artistry of more visually complex games, and while the effects and animations are plentiful and definitely add some zip, they too tend to be fairly basic.

But looks can be deceiving; a point driven home once you’ve made it past the first simple puzzle and entered the lair of M.W. Vernon. The wonderfully over-the-top greeting delivered by the man himself sets the tone for what’s to come, landing squarely in the sweet spot between creepy menace and bombastic goofiness. From there, the chase is on, and a chase it most definitely is. The action is fast and furious, and you’re unlikely to end up lingering in any one area for very long.

 Lights, Camera, Madness

One of the reasons for that is simply that there’s not a whole lot of challenge to the game, in either the hidden object scenes or the mini-games that break them up. Some of the puzzles are unique and cleverly designed, but nearly all are quite straightforward, and the built-in journal tracks all the clues necessary to get through them with a minimum of fuss and bother. Hidden object scenes are generally uncluttered and easy to pick through, and if you do happen to get stuck the hint option has the unusual but very nice feature of letting you choose which unfound item you wanted revealed.

Rather than a hardcore challenge, Film Fatale is all about the atmosphere. The voice acting is excellent, the villain is wonderfully maniacal, the hidden object scenes look like they’ve been lifted straight out of a long-lost movie set and the whole thing is shot through with just enough slapstick comedy to take the edge off while leaving the spirit of a classic silver screen adventure intact. Even the music is great and very well suited to the material, although in one area of the game the volume level drops almost to the point of being inaudible.

 Lights, Camera, Madness

There are a couple of other minor glitches aside from the sound issue, including at least one hidden object scene with multiple instances of a single hidden item [only one of which registers as correct] and a sequence involving a sink that continues to tell you it needs a stopper even after the stopper has been found and inserted. It doesn’t have any effect on the game aside from momentarily pulling you out of the fiction, but it does feel a little unfortunate given the overall quality otherwise.

The biggest knock against Film Fatale is its length, or, more accurately, the lack thereof. I cruised through it in two hours flat, according to the in-game timer, and that’s with very few HOG hints and not a single puzzle skip. This is easily one of the shortest hidden object games I’ve ever played.

Yet in spite of that, it remains one of my favorites. “Fun” is subjective, but I had a lot of it, and while some people will disagree with me I think there’s something to be said for hidden object adventures that don’t go out of their way to make life difficult. Film Fatale: Lights, Camera, Madness! isn’t going to satisfy serious puzzle fans, but gamers in the mood for a quick, exciting romp through the Golden Age of film will get a big kick out of it.