A famous detective from the Champagne region comes out of retirement to investigate a series of Parisian murders.

As far as hidden object games go, European Mystery: Scent of Desire is something of a mixed bag. All told, it’s a confounding blend of tired narrative ideas and innovative puzzles and its developers play fast and loose with period references (in it you’ll see Medieval plague doctor outfits, 18th century tri-corn hats and early 20th century Gibson girls). Despite its cavalier attitude toward historical accuracy however, it remains an impressive and worthwhile hidden object game.

Scent of Desire is set in what looks like the 18th century and starts with a famous detective being called to Paris to look into a series of bizarre murders. Young women have been vanishing, and their bodies have later been found dried out like mummies. To make matters worse, Paris is suffering a terrible outbreak of cholera, and this prevents the authorities from finding the culprit behind these terrible crimes. You (the detective) arrive to find the city of lights completely shut down, its citizens trapped in their homes. You’re greeted by the king’s royal steward—a man who’s also lost his daughter to the madman stalking the streets. He begs you to find her. Strangely, he also asks that you keep to yourself, whatever information you might find about her disappearance.

European Mystery: Scent of Desire

The gamehas much in common with other hidden object adventures, and that’s a thing both good and bad. Its historic setting, pretty graphics, core mystery and familiar approach to gameplay are all things that will immediately appeal to the hidden object fan. On the other hand, much of it feels like something we’ve experienced before. The development team  apparently felt compelled to make use of the ubiquitous cloaked villain (Though in this case, they’ve buttoned the cloak over the lower half of his face, in order to avoid having to animate his mouth), a baddie I for one, would enjoy never seeing again.

Other than this, the game’s also guilty of using what sounds like a single actor to voice almost all the characters, and it makes a hash of the storyline. Game writing gets a bad rap and unfortunately, it’s fairly well-deserved. Scent of Desire’s narrative isn’t terrible, but it revolves around a villain whose motives appear to be as multitudinous as they are vague. Half way through the game, I realized I didn’t remember why I was doing what I was doing, and even when I had reminded myself, I didn’t much care. Fortunately, the game kept my interest anyway thanks to some interesting puzzles, cleverly-triggered hidden object scenes and the inclusion of an unusual core mechanic.

European Mystery: Scent of Desire

A detective isn’t a detective without his (or her) cool gadgets, and here your main investigative tool is something called a “scent catcher”. The scent catcher’s an item that looks like a cross between a glass wine carafe and a bicycle horn. Its icon remains on screen at all times, and when you encounter a strong scent, you use it to capture the scent and bottle it. Multiple scents can then be combined with a portable alchemist’s set into useful things like solvents, medicines and poisons. That was the most fun of the game for me: searching every location for new scents, watching the special effects as those scents were collected, and playing the alchemy mini-game once I’d gathered enough scents to make a potion.

Aside from the scent catcher stuff, the best thing about Scent of Desire is its bonus chapter. I actually enjoyed the bonus chapter more than the main game, at least from a story point of view. In it, you move on to London where someone has contaminated the Thames and infected the citizenry with a strange mist. Although the chapter’s only an hour long, it’s tighter and better-conceived than all the chapters preceding it.

European Mystery: Scent of Desire

In addition to this more than respectable bonus chapter, the Collector’s Edition includes some lackluster black and white concept art, a strategy guide and eleven musical themes you can save to your PC. The music’s inoffensive, although not really the kind of thing most of us would listen to outside of the game. Still it’s better than the other extras which consist of access to mini-games you’ve already played and cinematics you’ve already seen. I continue to be baffled that developers consider such things”extras”.

The hidden object genre’s in a bit of a rut, and European Mystery: Scent of Desire does nothing to steer around it. Still, it’s a handsome game and thanks to some well-designed puzzles and cool-looking hidden object scenes, it manages to keeps its head—if not its shoulders—above the majority of adventure titles.