Encore is a technically solid game that, as the title suggests, feels like a repeat performance.
Historical landmarks are vanishing across the globe: everything from the pyramids in Egypt to the Statue of Liberty in New York… all in a maverick magician’s attempt to reign supreme. You’re employed in Shattered Minds: Encore to save the monuments and unmask the magician. And allthough the magician may be able to hide behind a magical mask, the gameplay can’t. As the plot points and cinematics are revealed, you’ll wonder if you’re playing a remake of a variety of other popular hidden-object puzzle-adventure games.
In this second installment in the series, we’ve left New Orleans for Paris. But dark magic threatens the City of Light and Damian LeStrange has left a calling card behind, hinting that his next “victim” will be Paris’s beloved Eiffel Tower. You arrive at the fair city’s fair on the heels of LeStrange, and a game of cat and mouse ensues for the rest of the adventure. The plot unfolds at a steady clip, and yet we’re gratuitously rewarded with story tidbits and in-game cinematics for our hard work. Even still, this would not be something to complain about if you hadn’t seen it all before, from the spider puppet so-obviously inspired by the Puppet Show franchise to carnival setting inspired by—well, name the hidden object series really.
And yet, if this were a sporting competition, the judges would award Vast Studios near perfect marks on gameplay execution. Each of the four chapters is a self-contained area of locations that focuses a player’s efforts on 8-10 well-constructed scenes. This design minimizes the chance of getting lost, which you’ll appreciate since you can’t travel by map, and lessens back and forth movement between scenes to find and use objects. If not completely unique, the puzzles are at least a fresh take on the familiar, and some, especially toward the end of the game, are quite uniquely challenging. The hidden-object scenes were well-lit and featured two levels of interactivity: yellow items are nested and green items are compounds.
For a casual game, Encore offers fairly robust options. There are three difficulty settings from which to choose: Casual, Advanced, and Extreme. The game supports windowed, regular, and widescreen mode, and features three cursors: the system cursor, a custom cursor, and an extra-large cursor! In fact, if you were to read Gamezebo’s review for the first game in the series, Shattered Minds: Masquerade, you would see that the developers’ made a conscientious effort to improve the series based on player feedback, as all of these pros were once cons… kudos Vast.
But there’s always room for improvement, and Encore is no exception. The cursor hotspots prove inconsistent. It’s far too easy to accidentally back out of scenes, while at the same time some objects have to be applied to a scene with surgeon-like precision before they activate. This can make for a very frustrating experience, considering the hint system is barebones at best. It may highlight an area, but often not the associated inventory item, sometimes opting instead to provide a vague line of text instead. My modus operandi was to apply an object three to four times to an area to ensure that I didn’t waste my time wandering around in frustration.
The production values on the voice over are terrific—perhaps because there are only two living characters you interact with. Unfortunately, the art can’t quite maintain the same quality throughout. Certainly the characters themselves look great, but many of the scenes look like unfinished layers in Photoshop. And I’m not entirely convinced that the garish colors of Mardi Gras fit the elegance and nostalgia of Paris’s cityscapes.
Shatter Minds: Encore won’t shatter your mind with originality, but it will definitely challenge your mind with well-crafted puzzles and hidden-object scenes. Even if it’s on the short side, coming in at around 4-5 hours, the design ensures those will be 4-5 enjoyable hours and not 6-8 frustrating ones. With some improvements in mind, I’d definitely say encore to this solid series.