When I was a kid, I borrowed a PC game I, Spy PC game from an uncle of mine and thought it was an absolute killer. It had a whole castle for you to explore, and in some rooms you’d get caught in one of those classic puzzles you were familiar with from the books. But when you solved the puzzles, you’d also find other things that turned the castle itself into an another puzzle, with you manipulating and adding things as you went through the rooms to solve environmental puzzles and open more areas. It fascinated the young Rom, and I wound up beating it multiple times before I had to give it back. Over the years, I still think about it and consider hunting it down, but of course it probably won’t run on any modern hardware anyway.
I don’t play too many hidden object games these days for two reasons; they are generally maligned in the same vein as visual novels, that too have a lot of innovation and interesting things going on in it that just... don’t get much coverage, so I wind up (unfairly!) ignoring them. Secondly, there’s just an assload of these things, and even on the Switch, there’s already a bunch of them out there, so even when you’re looking at them, how do you know which is going to be one that’s really worth your time?
So, I haven’t really touched hidden object games much in the 15 years since I, Spy, so I’m not exactly equipped to talk about what exemplifies them, where their main innovations lie, or even if True Fear: Forsaken Souls is an amazing example of the genre. All I know is this: the game brought back all the great memories I had of I, Spy, really making me interested in checking out more similar games. But this one has an added bonus of spookies!
Ah, them spookies. I’m a horror sucker in general, so I’ll say that a lot of the scares in the game aren’t particularly amazing, kind of focusing up as a sort of “spooky long-haired girl appears, disappears, THEN SHE’S RIGHT IN YOUR FACE” thing. The actual level designs do a great job of delivering a pretty consistent mood, though, with enough surprising things discovered along the way to make each new unlocked room pretty exciting. The two areas in the game are mostly two kinds of creepy, dilapidated house, but the developers manage to make them different kinds of creepy, with the first being a sort of “something BAD happened here and something bad could happen to me at any moment!” and the second being a little more “wow, there’s some messed up family secrets being discovered” kind of creepy. A bonus chapter takes place in an asylum, and that’s where the next game in the series is going to take place too.
I’ll say that the mood of the levels and the discoveries in each room tended to be a lot more successful at being unnerving than the cutscenes, which were short and when they were done, tended to dump you back one screen before like nothing had happened. So, even though that room was just shown to have a spooky girl and a dead body, you can now walk in and both are gone and instead there’s PUZZLES TO SOLVE and INTRIGUE TO UNCOVER.
The intrigue comes down mostly to questions about what’s going on with your family, and despite the big “Part One” in this game’s title, I think it did a good job of driving a plot that felt pretty satisfying, and so I’m looking forward to the next part delving in further to it. I was worried it would be a little too in-line with the recent trend of horror movies that are about “turns out there’s just a person living in the walls in a secret room!” but it gets supernatural and culty in a way that shows there’s more going on here. Letters and hidden models add extra story and flavor to it, explaining the events and background further.
Unfortunately with that moodiness comes the fact that sometimes it’s difficult to tell what can be interacted with – certain puzzles don’t highlight what’s selectable, and it resulted in me tapping randomly until something happened that pointed me in the right direction. It happened only a few times, but it was still enough to make me wish those areas had highlighted what I was looking for a little more. But even if I’d been stuck there, the hint system pointed me in the right way as well.
True Fear: Forsaken Souls was just really enjoyable to me, and even more so for how accessible it was. On most screens (aside from the ones mentioned above), I could hold down on the screen and it would highlight selectable areas. If I took too long to solve the next step, hints became available. If there was something to do in a room, the map screen would have an exclamation point showing you needed to go there. If a puzzle was too difficult (like the damn TRAIN PUZZLE almost was!), you could just skip it with no consequences. The game keeps you from being stuck too much, and if something’s logic just didn’t make much sense to you, you’ve got ways to figure it out without having to turn outside for a walkthrough.
True Fear: Forsaken Souls was not only an entertaining game in its own right, but also woke me up to the fact that this might be a genre I should be paying a little more attention to in the future. The cutscenes come off a little simple and not as effective as the developers may have wanted, but the consistent tone in the levels and the fun puzzles help push past that and make the game enjoyable throughout. And hey, maybe it might make you more interested in checking out more from the genre as well!