Hidden City: Mystery of Shadows is a solid hidden object game yolked to a punitive freemium game model. If you're a gamer with no money to spend and a lot of time on your hands, Hidden City is a good value. For the rest of us... Not so much.
Hidden City features classic hidden object gameplay; Visit a location, find hidden objects, rinse, repeat. It's a tried and true model, and for most casual gamers, it never gets old. Hidden City also features a pleasantly spooky (without being creepy) storyline, and its mission-based formu-la keeps the game moving, and works hard to keep things from getting repetitive. Unfortunate-ly, many of the locations I visited in the early game repeatedly asked me with finding exactly the same objects, in exactly the same locations. This was not multiple games, mind you, but within just a few minutes of each other in the same game. Obviously, this has the opposite ef-fect, although, it didn't happen very often. Typically, gameplay starts off pretty easy, with large, well-lit, easily identifiable objects. The difficulty ramps up quickly, however, with deviously hid-den objects, and a relentless timer ticking toward zero. Unlike other offerings, it is not possible to disable this timer as it is tied inextricably to the game's freemium business model (more on this later), so those looking to curl up with a cup of tea and relaxing evening of gaming need not apply. Another missing feature is the ability to zoom the screen to facilitate your searching; Conspicuously absent, and sorely missed. Each mission consumes power (25 for successful mis-sions, and 30 for unsuccessful ones). when this is depleted it must be replenished either by waiting for a period of time or by spending real money. You will find in-game food along the way, but not enough to support continuous play.
Whenever I receive games to review, I always launch them cold, without reading any reviews, or even the iTunes description. I mostly do this out of fairness because I tend to be suspicious of in-app purchases, in general, and if I hit a paywall (a point in the game where it stops being fun unless real money is spent) I want to be able to evaluate its reasonableness without preconcep-tions. As most games these days contain in-app purchases, its more important than ever to separate the good from the less good, the less good from the bad, and the bad from the preda-tory. Hidden City is a solid hidden object game from a reputable company, and easily stays well out of the low end of the spectrum. However, for those of us who have a few dollars to spend and don't want to wait for recharge timers, etc., paying up-front for a game is almost always a better value. Further, in light of recent market research identifying that 0.5% (that's 1/2 of 1%) of gamers are responsible for 50% of all in-app purchases, those with compulsive or addictive personalities should probably stay away from freemium titles altogether.
Even when you remove the pay model from the equation however, Hidden City never quite hits the sweet spot. Instead, it seems to vacillate between too easy and too hard, and for this rea-son I never really felt that it completely drew me in. Even the game's leveling system fell prey to this, with early levels being granted ridiculously often, but coming few and far between once you have invested significant amounts of time.
Hidden City is a beautiful game, particularly the map. Everything is hand-drawn, unlike some games that look like they are using scanned images of real-world objects. In particularly, the map downright sparkles with light, and looks super crisp. Animation is minimal, but that doesn't really detract from gameplay, and is pretty standard for these types of games. One missing fea-ture as previously noted, however, is the inability to zoom the search screens. I can't think of any good reason to leave this out, and it is sorely missed.
The soundtrack is typically eerie and unobtrusive. It enhances the atmosphere of the game nicely, and I never felt compelled to turn it off or even down. The sound effects are unremarka-ble, but functional and unobtrusive, which is really what I prefer in a game like this.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
Hidden City offers a variety of IAPs, mostly for crystals, which is the currency that will keep you playing continuously. You can also purchase coins, but I never felt myself running short of those.
Free-to-play gamers will enjoy being able to complete the entire game without spending a pen-ny. Be prepared to play in short bursts, though, as continuous play will require an outlay of real cash. Although it is likely possible to play Hidden City just as you would other premium titles (whenever you want, for as long as you want) with only a reasonable outlay of cash for con-sumables, it is important to remember that you will have to pay again for each successive play-through, so keep that in mind when you are browsing the App Store.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 3 - No ability to zoom the screen while searching is a big negative.
Sound: - 3 - Pleasant soundtrack, and serviceable sound effects.
Controls: - 5 - A well-organized, and accurate interface (no mistaps).
Gameplay: - 3 - Doesn't stand out enough to justify the higher cost of freemi-um games for those who want to play on their own schedule. However, free-to-player aficionados will enjoy being able to play the full game without spending a dime..
Playing Hints and Tips:
The tutorial is long and tedious, but will reward you generously with power-ups so stick with it. Short bursts of gameplay will cost you less money than long sessions because the energy bar will slowly recharge on its own. Some items are awkwardly labeled so be creative as you search (for example, to G5, a flashlight is also called a lantern).
Developer: G5 Entertain-ment
Release Date: February 20, 2014
Price: Free with IAPs
Buy App: Hidden City: Mys-tery of Shadows
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
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