I don’t know about you, but I think I’m beginning to get hidden-object-burnout-syndrome. Thankfully, there are enough twists and turns along the usual path to keep me entertained. Hidden Relics, albeit short, definitely kept my interest up unti the very last chapter.

Hidden Relics does quite a few things right: high resolution, clean objects, bright environments, extra things to hunt. It also has a great collection of mini-games that almost rival Azada. Added innovations like a handbook of what objects look like as well as bonus hidden objects to hunt for that can only be found using special gadgets add to the fun.

Let’s start with the environments. Hidden Relics feature clean, crisp backgrounds in layers so things are hidden both in, behind, and on top of the backgrounds. Objects are photo based, so it’s pretty clear what everything is. If you’re unsure what you’re looking for, there is always the handbook – an encyclopedia of exactly what you are looking for. Everything trick in the book is utilized: in plain sight, with a corner showing, with a corner of an unrecognizable piece showing, with the alpha channel set to 10% (ultra transparent pair of scissors you’ve got there!) as well as other ways of hiding objects are all here.

I’m pretty darn good at these games. Now, I can generally go through them with plenty of time left the first time around, but this one had me stressed quite a bit over the last few hard-to-find objects. Namely, the ones that I couldn’t even see after I click on the hint button. This game definitely ranks as one of the hardest but still possible ones out there due to the sheer number of hints you can have.

Speaking of hints, the game starts you off with 5, which is quite generous. When you see a little magnifying glass in each scene, you can pick it up and it’ll add another hint to your count. I’ve had up to 10 at one point, finding one in every scene. There’s another bonus to hunt as well that isn’t as necessary: the gas can. Basically, traveling from one location to the next costs 1 unit of gas (that applies if you’re going to the next town or flying the entire way across Europe) and each location hides 1 gas can to find. It doesn’t add a whole lot to the game play, but it does restrict those who likes to leave a couple in each location and “come back later.”

Hidden Relics has 5 mini-games built in that are quite a lot of fun to do – there are the loads of usual image manipulation ones (jigsaws and sliders) as well as memory and Hanoi’s Tower. They’re not particularly hard, and really just there to unlock another mini-game-like part of the core game. Each time you unlock a “gadget” you can use it in the core game to find special hidden antiques.

These gadgets range from the common ones like a magnifier and x-ray goggles, and mostly you just try to look for things that aren’t there when you don’t have the gadget over a part of the scene. They each have their own graphical filter effects, but the one that really confused the heck out of me was the Sonic Resonator. I don’t know whose idea it is, but this particular gadget twists the image behind it and animates it so you’d get dizzy just looking at it. Its sole purpose is to find special antiques that makes music, but I’m sure it could’ve been better represented than with wiggly lines.

The antique list also tend to “fall off” the screen. There are only so many slots in the “special objects” list, and whatever cannot fit on there is simply not shown until you find some of them. Once you find a special antique, you will be rewarded with a description. That’s it. I don’t see a book full of these objects to look at, and I don’t see a handbook that you can access via the main menu to scroll through at my leisure either. For a mini-game, that doesn’t seem very rewarding. You could skip it and get a lower letter grade, and even if you grades were low you can still play through hard on the next play mode.

Like in other object hunting games, Hidden Relics suffer from the randomization problem. It doesn’t randomize intelligently. If you were presented with two of the same scenes in sucessive chapters, you could see half the list repeated in the same scenes. Certainly makes the game easier, but that’s not exactly its intention.

While Hidden Relics features a higher resolution than other object hunting games (1024 x 768) it is definitely leaps and bounds ahead in terms of its graphics engine. Ravenhearst at 640 x 480 can run pretty sluggishly sometimes, yet Hidden Relics at this high resolution suffers no slow-downs or lag whatsoever on this mid-range computer. Whatever they did to make it so efficient, they did it right.

While I do love the new resolution, I can never understand why the HUD is huge. I mean, it’s huge. Screen real estate is precious; it should be as much hunting screen as possible! The waste of space in this game rivals that of Mortimer Beckett. If you believe I’m being overly critical here, let’s think about it this way. The game screen in this game is 800×600. The entire screen is 1024×768. (800×600)/(1024×768) x 100% = 61%. Let’s look at Hidden Expedition: Everest. (800×510)/(800×600) x 100% = 85%. That’s a whole 24% of screen real estate not being taken up by unnecessary graphical user interface elements.

And by unnecessary, I really mean it. The hint button is huge, the clock is huge, the buttons along the bottom for gadgets all large. Sure, you might argue that pixel by pixel, there’s more object hunting to be had in Hidden Relics, but it’ll all look the same on a 19″ monitor. Not many people play their hidden object games in window mode; the more of the screen used in hiding objects, the better.

Another minor glitch that might annoy some but not others: no alt-tab support. It’s more of a “weird” alt-tab support, since it’d alt-tab to my windows being the native resolution of the game isntead of my usual resolution. No biggie – I can still take notes, but working at the same time is out of the question. Some older gamers prefer their resolution at 800 x 600 at all times, and the 1024 x 768 might pose problems.

Hidden Relics has no “timeless” mode, which could exclude a huge number of gamers. It does save mid-game, but objects will reappear if you exit an area and come back to it (your list will remain the same, but the area will be cluttered again.) When you finish the game once, you can start a new game on “hard” which really just means a more stringent timer. The game isn’t especially long, at 10 chapters, it could easily be finished in an afternoon. The last chapter, however, require you to visit every location, and it can be a bit of a drawn-out affair. Overall, it’s a great game – the pros out-weigh the cons.

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