[edit: BigFishGames has corrected the problem of the unspoken audio in 1.01 that is now available on their site.]

To those who played the last game in this series – Hidden Expedition Titanic – the title for this one is a bit of a misnomer. In HE: Titanic, the entire game takes place in the Titanic. In HE: Everest, you’re chasing this guy who knows the secret way into Everest for most of the game so technically you’re only in the mountains for the beginning and the end of the game. Technicalities with the story aside, this is still a pretty good game.

Let’s lay out the basics of Everest. Each round you will be presented with two to three scenes with 9 objects each to search for, in a limited amount of time that you won’t see unless you’re on the maps screen. This time is represented by arrowheads at the bottom of the screen moving to the right – gray being the player and the rest being the other computer “players” of the game who are racing you to the top. After you’re done the scenes, you will have to either 1) go back to one of the scenes that is cleared of objects, then replaced with a multiple of one thing, say 21 axes to search for; 2) taken to a new scene with a character and multiple objects and symbols, say 6 hearts 5 leaves and 7 clubs; 3) sent to a screen with a jigsaw puzzle. This system works very well together because most of the time, in these “mini-games” you’re still searching for things.

In a hidden objects game, it is very important for the objects to be recognizable. Not for ONCE did I use the hints to find something did I say “you call that a what?” instead my reactions were always “oh my how did I miss that?” The scenes are beautifully constructed, and all strikes a great balance between dead-space and game-space. The objects are never blurry or unrepresentative of the nouns. Very good. Abra Academy, shame on you. 🙂

Again, I must mention that it didn’t take me long to play this game. Some objects are very well hidden, but most are out in the open and in reasonable view. I never had to redo any levels because I ran out of time – I managed to finish first in the race every round. In other words, replay value is key. HE: Everest accomplishes this by doing a few things: one, it randomizes the jewel locations (5 jewels make up a hint), second, randomizing the objects list each time and third, randomizing what object appears in the scene when it asks you for a multiple of an object in a previously visited scene. Additionally, there is a list of secret items you can find for a “reward.” This works with some flaws.

First of all, the randomizing list isn’t very smart. The game doesn’t remember what you had to search for in the last scene, so sometimes you could be presented with the same scene back to back in two rounds, and have 5 out of 9 objects in common with the last scene. Second, in the scenes where you have to look for multiples of a single object, it isn’t particularly hard to find them all within 30 seconds – they’re not very well hidden at all, since they don’t seem to have any drop shadows to help them blend in. Lastly, the secret items list isn’t very motivating. The list is also inaccessible most of the time and only shown when you accidentally click on a “secret” item.

I love the new hints system. LOVE it. Instead of the old random hint where you are given a hint for any of the items in the list of have, you can click in hint, then click on a word in the list. That is absolutely awesome and I wonder why no other game has thought of this before. Although my beef with “hints” in these games is that they aren’t really hints as much as they are a solve. If they’d only show the image of the object in the bottom like Little Shop of Treasures, that would be even better. Another thing about this game I cannot get over is how clean, tidy, small, and efficient the hud area is. It manages to show you the list of objects, how far you have progressed in the game, the time you have remaining (without actually showing the time), as well as access to the options without taking up half the screen. Yes, I’m talking about you, Paparazzi.

HE: Everest is not without its technical quirks. First of all, alt-tab doesn’t work half the time. When playing in windowed mode, the window will stay on top of everything else. The jigsaw puzzles have awkward snap edges that doesn’t feel natural, and the drag-drop feels awkward as well – the puzzle just feels way too big for the screen. On my middle to high end computer (I run Photoshop on it for my real job) the mouse lags a bit, and the objects fly slowly towards the bottom left. Lastly, the dialog of the end of the first mission has audio that doesn’t quite match the words on the screen, while the rest of the end-of-round dialogs are simply not voiced [edit: fixed in 1.01]. I’m guessing that they decided to drop the feature, but it just leaves the game feeling just a little unfinished.

However, when you mix the good and the bad (that really isn’t so bad) together, you still have a great game on your hands. It might be too easy for us object hunting veterans, but definitely a good time to be had nevertheless. The sound and graphics are both top-notch – I even left my music on!