Midnight in 18th Century Paris
If you were to wake up in a bar with a strange marking on your arm and little recollection of what happened the night before, what series of events would follow? A long talk with your loved ones regarding your priorities in life? A pledge to never drink again? An appointment at the clinic for laser tattoo removal?
In Golden Trails 3: The Guardian’s Creed, protagonist Jacques awakens to that very same scenario. But in his case it’s 18th century France, and his unfortunate circumstances arise not from a hard day’s night, but a well-placed bludgeon over the head. Confused as to why he was attacked — and what the newly emblazoned symbol on his arm means — he begins to sleuth. Who was the mysterious stranger who attacked him? How’d he wind up in a tavern? Gathering items from nearby scenes, slowly the pieces begin coming together, and before you know it, you’re helping Jacques chase down a Count, court his daring daughter and uncover secrets of an ancient order of Templars.
The third entry in Awem‘s Golden Trails series, this installment has you leading Jacques through various Parisian grounds, sneaking into mansions at opportune times, and rifling through the belongings of the recently deceased. But it’s not all intrigue and adventure for you and Jacques. In order to deduce the meaning behind his attack and the mysterious Templars, you’ll have to help him locate a whole lot of clues.
Progression in the game is pretty straightforward. An overworld map allows you to select regions to investigate, and after selecting an area, you’re given a few static scenes to check out, each of which has a set number of objects for you to collect. While there are a few visual puzzles here and there, the main way you work your way through the game is by completing a series of hidden object scenes. However, at any given time there are only a few areas you’re allowed to visit, causing your adventure to feel a bit linear. A small amount of backtracking is needed throughout, but the limited navigation makes such tasks feel pretty canned, leaving little mystery to the game’s inventory puzzles.
The various scenes that make up the game are presented with vivid hand-drawn graphics, and many contain subtle animations that help bring the environments to life. Once all the goods in a given area are found, you are granted a “conclusion” which serves to advance the story and shed some light on where to head next. The plot is pretty well developed, too, offering an involved narrative that would feel at home within the pages of a Dan Brown novel.
Rather than mix in generous amounts of visual puzzles and brainteasers, Golden Trails 3 focuses its efforts on producing genuinely challenging hidden object puzzles. The objects you are tasked with finding are devilishly disguised, and to make your task even harder, the game tosses in a massive amount of red herrings to throw you off the scent. Well-hidden, out of place objects are littered throughout each scene, and many items you’ll never even be asked to find. A giant pair of glasses may be used to make up a street sign, or you might spot a faded visage vaguely worked into some brickwork. Such subtle imagery fools you into thinking you’ll be asked to locate these items down the line, but many times that isn’t the case. By inundating you with cleverly positioned items not immediately noticeable, the game ensures you never quite know if what you’ve just found is a vital item or merely a distracting decoration.
When you do get stuck — and you will — a hint button offers you clues on where to look next, highlighting important areas of the environment. Once used up, the hint meter will refill over time, and you can earn more hints by “shooting” bandits. These grizzly mongrels appear throughout the game sporadically, and if you click on them fast enough, you’ll earn an extra clue. There is even a shooting gallery mini-game between chapters that has you to taking out bandits while avoiding innocent civilians and animals. It is rather simplistic, but nevertheless helps to break up the gameplay while offering an opportunity to rack up extra points.
Points are earned in a variety of manners throughout the game. Locating items quickly and solving puzzles bolsters your score, while spotting special items hidden throughout the environment garners you even more points. Aside from building high scores, these points allow you to unlock goodies like “Unlimited Mode,” which lets you complete hidden object scenes within a time limit and records your best completion. New locations can also be unlocked by finding fleurs-de-lis scattered around various scenes (you are in France, after all.) You’ll need 150 of them, though, so you’ll likely have to revisit some spots to hunt them all down.
While it may lack in variety, Golden Trails 3: The Guardian’s Creed is one of the more challenging hidden object offerings, with abstruse environments bursting with camouflaged trinkets, many of which you are never even asked to locate. Its layered scenery takes some time to work through, and your reward is a well-developed story and detailed locales that can make you nostalgic for an age in which you never lived. It doesn’t shine too brightly beyond its hidden object scenes, with linear inventory puzzles and visual “brain-teasers” that don’t take much deducing. But, if you’re looking for a challenging HOG with a decent story, this game more than fits the bill.