Mystery Case Files:
Return to Ravenhearst
Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst has arrived! The latest installment in the enormously Mystery Case Files series treads new ground by crafting a hidden object game around an adventure-style core. You plod around the dark and mysterious Ravenhearst Manor searching for secrets and solving puzzles using inventory items you earn from hidden object sequences. It's a massive game with stunning art design and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack that delivers an experience you won't be able to put down until you've seen all it has to offer.
The Return to Ravenhearst storyline continues where Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst and then Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate leave off, though you don't need to be familiar with either of those games to know what's going on. Emma Ravenhearst's soul has been freed, but her ghost delivers a haunting message to you as the game begins. Evil still lurks in Ravenhearst Manor, hidden deep within undiscovered passageways. Dig deep beneath the mansion's foundation to discover places (and things!) you never would have imagined.
Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst is built around exploration and puzzle solving. The spine of the game is a point-and-click style adventure mode similar to the classic Myst set-up where you navigate the landscape by clicking the sides of the screen. Certain points of interest will change the cursor to a magnifying glass, while others will shine with a single white sparkle. Click everything, read the clues you find, and try using your inventory items everywhere it makes sense. The worst that can happen is the game will call you a "clicky-pants".
Hidden object scenes can be found around every turn and are shown as great masses of white sparkling stars. Clicking these takes you back to familiar MCF territory with a crowded room and a list of items to find. Once the list is complete you'll unlock a new inventory item that can be used in the adventure portion of the game. There's no timer, so you can kick back and scrutinize at your leisure, and the only punishment for frequent mis-clicks is the cursor spins out of control for a brief second.
A casebook keeps track of major points of your journey and automatically jots down bits of important information you receive. It also clues you in to things you may not have noticed on your own, so whenever the icon changes to an open book, be sure to crack it open and give it a read.
Analysis: A new Mystery Case Files game always stirs up some excitement, but Return to Ravenhearst really deserves the hype. First of all, the game is beautiful. The setting is rich with atmosphere and every scene is painted with dark and spooky undertones. Small animations add to the liveliness of it all, such as bugs crawling on the walls or leaves fluttering to the ground, and there are even bits of scenery in adventure mode you can interact with just for fun. And the orchestral soundtrack is a masterpiece unto itself!
The hidden-object-adventure game mechanic does wonders for the series and strikes a compelling balance between the genres with style. You won't feel overwhelmed with item hunting, and inventory puzzles are rather straightforward. The game tends to hold your hand quite a bit and serves you clues on a silver platter, but I found there was enough challenge to keep me interested.
I did find one small gameplay decision that kept bothering me: backtracking. I don't mind revisiting old scenes to find new items, but the game throws them at you with very little time in-between. Spacing out the backtracking would make a lot more sense and eliminate the "Didn't I just stare at this room?" feeling.
This is a no-brainer: Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst is a fantastic game from top to bottom. You would be hard-pressed to find a title so well-polished and enjoyable on so many different levels.