By Andrew Webster From Gamezebo
Hidden object games are largely solitary experiences. You sit in front of your computer and (when the game is good) you find yourself absorbed in the story, visuals, and object finding. But the success of Gardens of Time is changing that. In addition to single-player download games, there are now multiplayer social experiences on Facebook. The addition of social elements doesn't always work out that well, but in the case of Hidden Chronicles the combination of competitive social features and a solid and engaging single-player mode make it an excellent way to get your HOG fix while browsing Facebook.
The set-up is typical for the genre. Your uncle's mysterious death is the catalyst for the adventure, but soon enough you'll find yourself drawn into a grand journey that spans time and space. A unique ability that lets your character see into the history of objects provides a simple excuse to travel to distant places in search of clues.
The basic HOG gameplay is fairly typical too. Each scene presents you with a mess of objects and a list of what needs to be found. There's no time limit, but you’re encouraged to go quickly in order to rack up more points, which are then compiled on a leaderboard that you can compare with friends. But while the scenes don't offer much in the way of innovative features -- you have a standard recharging hint feature and certain scenes include simple mini-games -- they are incredibly well done. The art is great, with subtle animations to liven up each scene, but more importantly the item placement is just about perfect. When you can't find something it's rarely because it was hidden in an unfair way.
Playing through the game involves exploring scenes multiple times, which can be annoying, but is made much less so thanks to the sheer number of objects in each scene. The list is always changing and so even after playing a scene multiple times there will be new things for you to find.
As with most social games, there's a virtual space for you to decorate in Hidden Chronicles, and you'll actually need to do so in order to unlock new scenes and chapters to play through. For the most part this serves as a nice distraction, though some buildings force you to find friends to join in on the action. Much like the community buildings in CityVille, certain structures in Hidden Chronicles must be staffed with friends in order to complete them. And the bigger the building, the more staff it requires. There's also a satisfying exploration element, too, just like in CastleVille in which the area surrounding your space can be explored to open up new scenes and content.
You can of course visit your friends' spaces, but the typical "do five things to help out" feature isn't present. Instead, you can hide a gift somewhere on their property and challenge them to a game of Fast Find. This mini-game is arguably the stand-out feature of Hidden Chronicles, letting you challenge friends to fast-paced HOG action. You have just 60 seconds to find as many objects as possible and your friend will do the same. And whoever has the highest total wins. You can challenge friends daily, and the game keeps a running score of your win/loss record, providing a nice incentive to win. It's all of the fun of Bejeweled Blitz but with HOG play in place of match-3.
When coupled with a solid and engaging single-player mode, this asynchronous, competitive social play turns Hidden Chronicles into an almost ideal social HOG. It sill has some of the annoyances associated with Facebook games -- energy restrictions, friend requirements, etc. -- but it still manages to offer an experience to rival that of top tier downloadable HOGs.
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