Showing posts with label Raincliff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Raincliff. Show all posts

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Game Review: Mystery Trackers: Raincliff (replay)

Developer: Elephant Games
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Original Release Date: 5 May 2011
Platform: PC

I’ve played a few Mystery Trackers games. It’s not a bad series, but it’s always felt a little bit like the poor cousin of Mystery Case Files. I’ve enjoyed some of the titles, including Raincliff (the first one I played). Generally, though, Mystery Trackers titles tend to have a lot of potential story-wise, but never quite develop it fully. That said, I randomly felt like replaying Raincliff the other night – I think this was the third or fourth time I’ve played it.

In all the Mystery Trackers games I’ve got, you play as a detective (very similar to Mystery Case Files in that respect). Raincliff begins with a report of some missing people and a brief intro scene linking them to the eponymous town. The game itself begins in an abandoned snowy town street, with the usual locked shop doors and junk-filled car to be examined.

As you search for clues, you discover hints about the town’s fate, but also quickly encounter one of the missing students. Although most of the people in the town have fled, there’s something stalking the streets, and it’s this unseen foe who is (probably) responsible for the disappearance of the students (who are actually paranormal investigators). There are a few jump scares and animated cut scenes that impede your progress, revealing that the unseen foe really is ‘unseen’ – something invisible is trying to stop you from finding the students.

As I say, the Mystery Trackers games always have real potential, and the story that begins to unfold in Raincliff is certainly intriguing. There’s the invisible foe, of course, and also the discovery of a soporific flower that has been used to incapacitate the students. Later on – much later on – in the game, you start to find information that reveals some backstory to the invisible enemy, and another invisible person with a different agenda makes their presence known. However, the storyline never quite comes together, and you’re left with quite a few unanswered questions and logic leaps that are hard to overcome. (There is a sequel, Raincliff’s Phantoms, that expands a little on the background.) I’ve played the game a few times now, and I’m still not exactly sure why the students were abducted or why everything is frozen.

I will say that Raincliff definitely looks great, and there are some good music loops that add to the atmosphere in places (though there are only a couple of these and so there’s no variation in the music when you reach different parts of the game). Some of the details are really nicely done, and the animation is smooth – which is always a plus when gameplay is going to be abruptly interrupted by cutscenes! It is a stylishly designed game – certainly rivalling some of the Mystery Case Files titles in that respect – and the setting is certainly atmospheric.

In terms of gameplay, Raincliff is pretty standard HOPA stuff. You move between a number of scenes, gradually unlocking more and more landscape as you go. There are HOGs and mini-games throughout, and lots of collecting multiple puzzle parts to open locks. There are three difficulty modes (but no Custom option), and Hint and Skip. However, the gameplay is rather frustrating, and it gets a little tedious towards the end. There’s a lot of back-and-forth in this one – you never really ‘finish’ with a scene, so even towards the endgame you still have to go back to where you started at times. There’s no jump map, so you really do have to click back-and-forth through the same screens many times.

A couple of reviewers have commented on the fact that you sometimes add items to your inventory that won’t be needed until you reach a much later screen. I don’t mind that so much – though you do run the risk of forgetting what’s in your inventory at times. What does grate on me is the illogical and counter-intuitive use some inventory items are put to. Using a stick of butter to grease a rusty wheel or a mobile phone to light a dark space is pretty annoying, but the worst example is undoubtedly the use to which you put a can of petrol. You’re standing right next to an abandoned car, but it turns out you’re supposed to pour the petrol on some ice, then set it alight, in order to get an item that’s frozen underneath. I had to use Hint way more times than I like, despite having played before.

Your player-character in this one is the generic detective – again, pretty standard stuff. In some of the other games, there’s a little bit more detail as to what Mystery Trackers actually are, but that’s absent here (it is, after all, only the second instalment of the series). You are also flying solo in this game – in the next Mystery Trackers title, you acquire an animal helper, namely a dog called Elf. Animal helpers are rather divisive for HOPA fans (and I have really mixed feelings about them), so I’m not going to talk about Elf unless I play another Mystery Trackers game this year.

When it comes to non-player characters, Raincliff does one thing really well, and one thing really weirdly. The thing it does well: Because the foes in this game are invisible, and the victims are unconscious, there is no direct interaction with any NPCs. So, there’s no animated dialogue and no odd scenes where an NPC tells you to do something and then just stands around in the background (which I hate – I’m looking at you, Gregory Logain). Later in the game, you do get helpful notes from an NPC, but this sort of makes sense in context. But then… the thing it does weirdly: The whole point of the game is to rescue a group of NPCs. As you approach the endgame, you are finally able to free the students and get them ready to escape. Thing is, they’re still unconscious. So… you just pick them up and add them one-by-one to your inventory with the other items! I mean, what does that imply? That you’re just wandering around an abandoned with a flare gun, a chainsaw and a young man strapped to your back?? This is definitely one of the stranger bits of gameplay here.

I have the Standard Edition of this game, so there’s no bonus content. I believe the Collector’s Edition has some extra gameplay, but there are no collectibles or morphing objects in either edition. The game doesn’t have achievements, and there are no replays on HOGs or mini-games after you’ve finished. There is a sequel though, which I might replay later in the year (just for comparison).

Overall, I like the potential of Raincliff, but it doesn’t quite live up to its promise. Illogical and counter-intuitive gameplay makes it a bit of slog towards the end. Still, it’s a game I’ve come back to a few times so it must be doing something right!