The children of a legendary film maker work together to stop a dangerous government conspiracy.

A year ago Eipix Entertainment brought us Final Cut: Death on the Silver Screen, one of the most carefully-made, best-looking hidden object adventures of 2012. This month, the company brings us Final Cut: Encore, a sequel that easily equals the first game in creativity and craftsmanship. Encore is fantastically entertaining, and is an object lesson in great adventure game-making.

Encore begins with the surviving children of the late legendary filmmaker Morton Wolf rebuilding their lives. They’ve taken to rebuilding his home and studio, and have sworn to protect the iris, the last remaining piece of Wolf’s insidious mind-control projector. Things are going well for the siblings until they hear that their disturbed half-sister Linda has escaped from a mental ward. Worse yet, an unknown entity is trying to get its shady hands on the iris. Playing as Morton Wolf’s daughter, you brace yourself for the impending whirlwind; but no amount of preparation can prepare you for the strange things to come.

Final Cut: Encore

Right off the bat, it’s obvious that Encore is made in the tradition of quality established by its predecessor. Its menus, journal, and interface are sleek, stylish, and thoroughly art deco. It actually improves on the first game’s character presentation, this time showing animated character portraits low on the screen whenever a character speaks to you. Once again, the characters are live-action actors touched up with a little CG magic, but this time they look miles better. They’ve also improved on the quality of the voice acting, which although still a trifle exaggerated, is a far cry from the cheese-fest of the first game.

These are the most obvious improvements of Encore; it’s not easy to point to others becausein terms of quality, Encore and Silver Screen are neck and neck. Encore has everything its predecessor had: good writing, good flow, and good gameplay. However, Encore does sport a unique layer of surrealism that sets it apart. The focus here is still movie making, but rather than visiting various movie sets, you’re swept up by magical projectors into what can only be termed alternate psychological realities. The camera rolls and a cluttered office becomes a sheik’s tent, or a break room becomes the set of Romeo and Juliet; turn it off and things revert back to normal. It’s a clever concept that allows some locations to do double duty, offering twice the graphics and twice the gameplay.

Final Cut: Encore

The game’s puzzles are expertly woven among these morphing environments and successfully walk the line between being too interactive and not being interactive enough. Also featured is refreshingly logical item collection and usage, whereas on occasion Silver Screen featured item-dependent situations that felt a weensy bit contrived. Encore‘s hidden object scenes are as well done as its puzzles, although they don’t exactly knock any doors down in terms of innovation by giving you the choice to search for items or play a fairly standard match-three game.

Because of all this, Encore looks and plays well, but it also does what so few hidden object games manage to do—tell a good story. For some reason (probably budget concerns), most games in the genre rely on settings that are devoid of people. Encore features a range of characters that, while limited, do a lot to bring the story to life. There are moments when you’re hoping not to be caught by guards, or when you’re not sure who you can trust: moments that make you feel real suspense, and that’s hard to get from inanimate objects.

Final Cut: Encore

Encore is a spectacular game, and is finished up with a fun extra hour of gameplay in a bonus chapter told from the perspective of one of the previous game’s “villains.” This chapter is a lot of fun in its own right (a creepy anatomical puzzle comes to mind), and although it has a bit of a strange, too-quick ending, is still a satisfying extra. Aside from this, Encore offers an extra extra, in the form of a mildly interactive “tour” of Eipix Entertainment’s studio. The tour reveals the Eipix team’s likability and hilarious sense of humor (I gather they’re beset by cats?), and is an unexpected bit of enjoyment. Also included are puzzles, music, movies, hidden object scenes, a strategy guide, and some behind-the-scenes photos of the dev team all wrapped up in a nice, fat extras package.

Final Cut: Encore is a fantastic hidden object title. Despite being a sequel, it’s just as thoughtful, beautiful, and entertaining as the first Final Cut, and thanks to its outstanding characters, adept presentation, and surreal core concept, it holds its own with that excellent game.