Scratching That BioShock Itch While On The Go - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Scratching That BioShock Itch While On The Go

BioShock Infinite is around the corner, but if you need a familiar dystopian fantasy in the meantime, visit the doomed underwater setting of Eden in G5 Entertainment's Abyss: The Wraiths of Eden. At your peril! Mmmwwwhahahaha ... ha ... ha .... Alright, fine. It's about as perilous as smudging your smartphone playing this game, but it's an addicting journey into another failed utopia.

Released this month for iOS, Android, tablet (iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook) and PC, the game is a HOPA or IHOG style adventure. Now, if you read IHOP instead, you and I are in the same boat. I'm not really familiar with Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures or Interactive Hidden Object Games, but I'm learning and, if Abyss is any indication, they appear to offer an entertaining means of immersing oneself in a compelling virtual world.

First, a couple caveats. The app might appear to offer a full game, but it turns out to be a trial version, with the full game unlockable for a small fee. I played the Android trial version and, despite the challenge of scanning a small screen for tiny objects and then selecting or moving them with my monster fingers, the interface otherwise works well, is intuitive and takes advantage of a detailed, prerendered setting enhanced with moving objects.

Speaking of the setting, G5 could do worse than to borrow, quite liberally it would seem, from Irrational Games' seminal BioShock game. Abyss begins with the main character (you) going in search of her missing diver fiance. Her desperate quest begins underwater, exploring the seabed for signs of her spouse. The ocean setting is well realized, with detailed textures, vibrant colors and smooth animation.

Integral to the hidden object gameplay is interactive scenes where you're tasked with collecting certain objects. To G5's credit, they're not always easy to detect and, in fact, might sometimes require a degree of effort such as using tools found in the environment to remove obstacles. Finding all objects will unlock some item; alternately, a minigame on the same screen appears to offer the same benefit.

I don't recall all the minigame options but at least one is dominoes. Using them to reach all icons on the board will unlock said item. However, if you wish to do it the old-fashioned way, various challenges await such as figuring out what parts of the environment might be movable and how, or determining what object names might have double meanings. All in all, this gameplay is well implemented and entertaining. 

All scenes require careful inspection even if not one of the hidden object challenges. Thankfully the interior environments are as compelling as exterior settings if not more so, especially when the deteriorating art deco scenes establish a powerful if now familiar atmosphere. Consider the submersible transport (above) that passes for Eden's own bathysphere. The similarities to BioShock's Rapture only begin here.

Without giving too much away, you discover early on that Eden was an underwater utopia built to provide a just and enlightened society, but clearly something went horribly wrong and this paradise is now in disrepair. Your search is informed by fliers, folders, etc., as well as at least one survivor and threatening beings. There's no question where G5 drew inspiration from, but the gameplay and settings are varied enough to prove worthwhile and entertaining for fans of BioShock.

Besides puzzles of the hidden object variety, there are numerous other minigames that unlock areas or objects. They usually require you to find missing pieces and then reassemble them, or they might involve connecting wires correctly or other items based on color and/or shapes. Of course these, too, are reminiscent of BioShock but they add welcome variety to the gameplay. One caveat is a skip option, which to my chagrin actually solved the puzzle instead of letting me back out gracefully LOL.

A word about difficulty. There are three options: Easy, Advanced and Expert (if I remember). The differences can be subtle but involve how obvious some things are, such as objects that glow or challenges identified with bubbles. It also determines how quickly your hint meter refills, or to what degree you're penalized for too many searches of the environment. But at least in the trial version, hints aren't needed too often and the search penalty is just momentary disorientation.

Despite the familiarity of the underwater setting in general, specific scenes are well conceived and include their share of surprises and disturbing images. The degree of detail and interactivity is impressive, which is key to a successful hidden objects game. Such quality production values are supplemented by solid ambient noises like water effects; well animated objects like water, fish and aquatic plant life; and well-integrated, quality CG cutscenes.

The only caveats are a story that is as yet fairly threadbare and dialog and voice acting this can be grating at times. The main character does not exhibit much range, instead raising her voice for dramatic effect rather than emoting effectively, and the script lacks subtlety in favor of conveying the obvious. Nevermind throaty enemies that snarl ominously. That said, for a budget portable title, in general it makes good use of its resources.

From grand, heroic statues to extravagant art deco flourishes, Eden wears its aspirations on its sleeve. Despite an unoriginal concept and a design that can't help but fall short by comparison, it nonetheless pulls off an interesting take on a popular setting due in no small measure to how the hidden object gameplay is woven into practically every scene. Indeed many are puzzles in and of themselves, creating dynamic scenarios throughout.

More IHOG than HOPA game, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most environmental puzzles are not solved on the same screen. For example, one puzzle might require you to obtain an object elsewhere; that object might be accessible only with a tool found in another location; once you find that tool and free that object, then you can power a device; and said device might grant access to another area. The need to carefully explore every inch therefore becomes paramount.

Some scenes benefit from more than one puzzle in their proximity. A hidden object puzzle might be found in one area of a room, a kind of jigsaw puzzle in another, and a mechanical puzzle nearby. If you enjoy exploration, this is the kind of game that rewards careful investigation with a variety of items or challenges to be discovered. As mentioned, the more complex puzzle will involve searching different areas.

As with some other settings, Eden share this foliage thick environment with Rapture's Arcadia. Here, as elsewhere, however, the area conceals objects necessary to further the main character's progression in Abyss. In fact, rather than detract from the experience of playing G5's game, it's similarities to Irrational Games' unique world are an incentive for me to explore its sometimes derivative environments.

Tweaking its designs enough to feel fresh, and creatively integrating the hidden object gameplay into its settings, G5 takes a known commodity and retools it in a way that exploits the fascination for this theme without wearing out its welcome. Granted, I still have to unlock the rest of this game (I'm considering doing so on a tablet for better interactivity), but the meaty trial version, with several areas to explore and puzzles/challenges to solve, is a promising -- and rewarding -- diversion till BioShock Infinite arrives.

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