Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull PC CD
Published by Focus Multimedia
Developed by Big Fish Games
After inheriting a house that you've never seen before, would you sell your perfectly good home and take your family off into the unknown? No, neither would I. However, that's exactly what the Lawson family did after inheriting a mansion in Louisiana. A mansion it may be but it's a dilapidated one that's not really in a suitable condition for living in. Things get worse for the Lawsons however, as Mr Lawson becomes obsessed with a Pirate's treasure and disappears; his daughter claims he's been kidnapped by the ghost of a vengeful pirate and now refuses to leave her room and Mrs Lawson simply want her husband found and to get the heck out of there. It's your job to find Mr Lawson and investigate the sinister goings on.
Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull is a hidden object adventure that blends the hidden object and adventure game genre rather nicely. Yes you're still going to have to find a list of items on the screen from time to time but there's much more to the experience than that. There are some genuine adventure game puzzles on offer here and some of them are real head-scratchers. There's a decent storyline on offer too and whilst you'll probably see where it's going once you're about half way through the game, you'll feel compelled to keep playing until you've solved the mystery. It's all too easy for hidden object games to feel a little sterile but 13th Skull definitely has a mysterious ambience about it that's rather pleasing.
As much as I've enjoyed 13th Skull however, and the seven hours or so that the game took to complete were enjoyable, some aspects of the game could have been better. I think having the inventory panel pop-up and overlap the objective panel at the bottom of the screen is a little clumsy to say the least. For a game that puts you in the role of a detective, there are times when you are nothing more than a general dogsbody. Want some information from a character? The chances are that you'll have to do a job for them before they will give you any kind of assistance. This ranges from having to collect cleaning materials to having to cook and deliver a gumbo. The problem with doing all of this dirty work is that it forces you to do an awful lot of backtracking and returning to the same locations over and over again which does become a little tedious, particularly as there is no way to jump from one location to another. Still this does become less of a problem later in the game when new locations are opened up to you and you're not just walking around the same tumbledown mansion again and again.
13th Skull's presentation is pretty much standard for hidden object games with the exception of real actors which are used as the characters for the game. With the exception of a few games (most notably three of the Tex Murphy games), featuring actors in games is something that hasn't really worked too well in the past but thankfully it all works reasonably well here, although you could argue the acting is rather hammy. I particularly like how you can place certain objects in an actor's hand when the need arises. The game allows you to choose from three different styles of comments that are given to you when you get things wrong and these are Normal, Southern and Snarky. It's not a major inclusion but I suppose it adds a little something extra to the experience.
Hidden object games are not the kind of games which usually cause deaf gamers any problems and 13th Skull is no exception. The game is subtitled and you'll be fully aware of the game's dialogue and all of the objectives you need to complete at all times. The only speech I noticed that wasn't subtitled is when you attempted to speak to a character who had no new information to give you. These would offer a comment which essentially tells you to go away and get on with the job at hand. The omission of these few comments doesn't represent any kind of problem however. None of the puzzles in the game are problematic and the game is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.
We've seen a few games now that have more adventure game elements bought into the hidden object experience and 13th Skull continues the trend rather nicely. The adventure game-style puzzles are solid and do require some thought which is certainly appreciated and there's enough hidden object game elements here to satisfy fans of the genre. Having to hunt for items so that characters co-operate with you does become a little tedious, and is something that could have been cut down on, but thankfully it's a small negative in an overall enjoyable game. In essence then, fans of hidden object and adventure games will enjoy what Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull has to offer.