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Review #413

Mystery Trackers: Raincliff Collector’s Edition (PC)
Developer: Elephant Games
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 05/06/2011

You know, I tend to enjoy the short budget adventure games Big Fish Games puts out. In the past year or so, I’ve played enjoyable games like Blood and Ruby down to lackluster titles like Namco Bandai’s Antiques Roadshow: The Game. Where I get a little worried though is with the “Collector’s Editions” of games. Usually these double priced games come with a few extras that make it worth the while, but the “extra gameplay” that is advertised in them tends to actually be the END of the game. Non-Collector’s Editions just kind of…end abruptly leaving the gamer rather pissed. I discuss this in more detail (along with an angry fan) is the last Collector’s Edition I reviewed from BGF, Mystery Case Files: The 13th Skull.

Now here I am with Elephant Games’ Raincliff. The preview video looked great, the reviews of the last Mystery Trackers game, The Void, were pretty stellar and if I purchase this for $13.99, I would get a credit for a free game to boot. All the stars aligned and I decided to give Raincliff a try. So was the game worth the extra cash, or was this another case where you could tell the Collector’s Edition’s is the only version worth getting and those waiting for the normal version will get burned?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Raincliff is a bit of an odd game storywise. If you love mysteries, you’ll really enjoy this game as the cause and solution to what plagues Raincliff won’t be encountered until the last fourth of the game. If you like/prefer hand holding and the crux of the story to be told right away, you might think this game is just a collection of inter-connected puzzles with a veil of a story place over it. In truth Raincliff had a story I enjoyed and I liked slowly putting the pieces together only to have the last bit of the game’s plot put everything together in a climactic fashion. I found it enjoyable but the storytelling won’t win any awards at the end of the year.

Basically Raincliff is a ghost town. All the residents were either mysteriously murdered or got up and left before they were next. The town is believed to be haunted by malevolent ghosts. Five college aged “Ghost Hunters” decide to investigate the town…and then are never heard from again. That’s where you, the numero uno P.I. of the Mystery Trackers comes into play. You decide to enter Raincliff alone and quietly, hoping that stealth will be to your advantage over say…a bus full of drunken college dopes.

Once in the town you do discover something in not natural in Raincliff. Things do move on their own and it truly does appear to be haunted. But what is it? Telekinetic poltergeists? Unholy apparitions? Claude Rains? You’ll have to play the game to find out. I do admit that I was impressed by the twists and turns of the stories and I even jumped once or twice from it, which is a rarity. The game does a great job with the mood and setting and it manages to be creepier (and also cheesier) than several big name horror franchises.

The bonus materials include a short sequel that takes places three months after you beat the game, which thrilled me compared to the bonus material in 13th Skull, which was in fact, the ending of the game. You also get a trivia quiz that if you score 100% on, unlocks the epilogue to both games and tells you what happens to every character in the game, some of which do not get a happy ending.

All in all, the story was well done, especially for an indie budget game, and I was quite pleased with it. I had a good time uncovering the mysteries of Raincliff and for the price, so will most gamers.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

It’s interesting to see how many adventure games are adding FMV, or Full Motion Video, to the experience. Definitely what’s old is new again here and as a fan of FMV when it’s does well, I’m happy to say Raincliff does just that. Cut scenes are done with real video footage interspersed with video game graphics and it’s done nicely. Whether it’s a fencing duel with a sword wielding specter or witnessing the nefarious antics of something in a black body stocking and a white mask, it all looks really good here. I will admit that at first I thought the FMV of the ghosts was a bit cheesy due to the body stockings, but it’s actually explained in-game and what gives you the first impression of b-movie low budget actually makes sense and turns out to be done really well. Color me impressed.

The actual in-game graphics are quite nice too. There is a lot of colour and detail to the visuals and although it’s not high definition and it won’t compete with high end console titles, Raincliff still can be visually stunning in its own right. Again, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth here.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Oddly enough, this is the only FMV game I can think of where there isn’t any voice acting. Even going back to the roots of FMV, it was about sound AND video. However, it’s probably a good thing there isn’t any voice acting as I have a feeling it would have dragged the overall quality of the product down. It also fits the mood of a ghost town to have everything eerily silent. The phantom antagonists never talk, which fits their nature and as you are the only one out and about in Raincliff, it makes sense that you have an inner monologue. Don’t want to be seen talking to yourself in a haunted village. People might get the wrong idea. As such, you’re left with only music and sound effects to convey the feel of the game and both do a wonderful job.

The music of Raincliff is both eerie and intense, again setting the mood of an abandoned village of death better than any words could. When a ghostly figure is sited or something dramatic happens, expect the music to get louder and more frantic. While none of the music is especially catchy, it does frame the game rather well. Collector Edition purchasers do get a copy of the soundtrack in the bonus materials. Sound effects are a mixed bag. They range either from lifelike explosions or the creaking of a door down to generic chimes during puzzles. It’s standard fare there, but the overall auditory experience of Raincliff is an enjoyable one.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Like with any adventure game, the mouse is used for everything. Click on scenery to walk through the town. Click on items to add them to your inventory. Click on an item in your inventory and then click on something on the screen to (hopefully) achieve an effect and click on puzzles to start one up – as long as you have all the right materials to do so. The game follows the trappings of 99.99% of all adventure games which makes the game easy to figure out, but it also does overlay the game with a sense of generic-ness.

There are a wide variety of puzzles in the game. The majority are either hidden object scenes or ones where you take one object and use it on something on-screen to remove a roadblock from your adventure. Other puzzles include sliding blocks, putting together torn up pictures and rotating titles. Every puzzle in the game has been done in numerous other adventure games, so you won’t be seeing anything new or original here, which has its positives and negatives.

The three big negatives in regards to gameplay are as follows: A lot of the puzzles feel forced into the plot rather than being an organic offshoot of your adventure, there are some definite click detection issues with the hidden object scenes as you’ll click on something four or five times before it accepts the object, and there is more backtracking in this game than I’ve seen in a long time. The last one is the most irritating and will no doubt cause some gamers to put their mice down in disgust. You will be going all over the place and then going back to ground zero regularly. I know this annoys me when a game does it, and I see people complain about it all the time to boot, so know that you’ve been warned. At least in this case there is a story reason behind it, but it doesn’t make it any less dull.

The puzzles didn’t really do it for me either, mainly due to having seeing them all before and many of which weren’t puzzle types I care for in the first place. They were well done, but with the story being as weird as it was, I was hoping for equally innovative puzzles. Alas, this didn’t happen.

Overall the gameplay experience is a decent one, but things really could have been tightened up and/or streamlined for a better overall experience.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5.5/10

5. Replayability

Most adventure games are a “one and done” situation, but with the bonus gameplay bits and a few other extras, Raincliff just might be a repeat performer in your collection. First, the game does have achievements, one of which can’t be gained if you get several others, so if you’re into this sort of thing, you’ll have to play the game twice to get them all. As well, one achievement revolves around finding at least fifty hidden frogs in the game, so you can always go back and try to beat your high score if you didn’t find all sixty. Finally, Raincliff isn’t as linear as many other adventure games. It is to a degree, but you don’t have to play the game in an exact straight line every time, which is refreshing.

Raincliff is quite long for a game of this genre, so you might find that you’ve forgotten bits of it, as well as solutions after you’ve finished it. Compared to a lot of other adventure games, there actually are reasons to come back to Raincliff, especially with two extra “sequels” in the Collector’s Edition, but it still pales compared to games in other genres.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

In an adventure game, balance always comes down to the quality and difficulty of the puzzles. As I said earlier, the majority of the puzzles are either object interaction or hidden object based. Those that are not tend to have a reset button to let you start over if you mess up. Every puzzle besides the object interaction ones can be skipped outright, although you’ll lose achievements by doing so. This is actually a nice touch as gamers that are poor with puzzles can try, but they don’t have to feel like they are permanently blocked from seeing how the story plays out. This makes Raincliff accessible to all ages and skill sets. The Collector’s Edition also comes with a full step by step strategy guide which is a great option to skipping puzzles.

Overall, Elephant Games has built in every fail safe possible to allow a gamer to see the game through to its conclusion. Those that skip puzzles are at least rewarded with a story and are given an impetus to try the game again and solve the puzzles themselves. Those that don’t skip get achievements and a sense of self-satisfaction.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

This is the one area where Raincliff falls short. Every puzzle is the game has been done repeatedly by older adventure games and even thought he solutions are slightly different, it’s still the same old stuff. The only thing that’s really new here is the story and even then it’s the twists and conclusions that make the game stand out a bit. After all, I can name dozens of games where “person X goes missing and you have to try and find them.” It’s really all about the style and the experience here which creates an illusion over the fact you’ve done everything in this game before.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

Raincliff is pretty long for an adventure game, especially when you factor in all the bonus content. Between that and all the backtracking, the game did lose my interest several times. I needed to take a break and go do something else simply because a good portion of playing the game is walking up six screens, than walking back nine than walking forward two, with item usage in between. It does add up over time and this is why most adventure games don’t keep you confined to the same town for the entire game. It’s usually spread across three or four different locales, each with their own areas. Raincliff took a chance and it turned out to be one of the few negatives about the game in my opinion. The bonus game uses the SAME LOCATIONS which didn’t curry any favors with me. Even The 13th Skull used all new locations for its CE extra sections.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time with Raincliff, but in a day and age where I can sit through an adventure game in two sessions, this took me several days to get through. No because of the length, but because it could be as dull at points in the same way it could be pretty engrossing. It’s an overall fun experience, but don’t try to marathon it like you would with other point and click titles.

Addictiveness Rating: 6.5/10

9.Appeal Factor

Although adventure games have kind of slipped off the radar of console gamers, they still remain a stalwart industry on the PC. As well, with the rise in casual gamers, the genre has gain a much needed shot in the arm. It’s still a niche genre, but some of these games, like the Mystery Case Files series outsell some big name releases from publishers like EA and Activision. For a gamer that has been playing these things since Maniac Mansion and Shadowquest, it’s a bit of vindication.

Is Raincliff the game that will win over new converts to point and click PC gaming? I don’t know. The mood, theme and structure of the game is akin to a MCF game. I’ve seen Ravenhearst get rave reviews from friends that were primarily console gamers when Big Fish game it away for free around Valentine’s Day and my girlfriend tends to hate adventure games but she loved 13th Skull, so it seems that adventure games + spooky ambience = winning. Just ask The 7th Guest if you don’t believe me. If you have $13.99 or $19.99 to spend (depending on if you want a Big Fish games Membership or not), you’ll definitely get your time and money out of Raincliff. However, at the same time, you could treat yourself to the Black Mirror II and III two pack. The games aren’t as good, but you do get two. Either way, it’s nice to see how affordable adventuring gaming has become!

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

So Raincliff costs twice as much as a normal Big Fish release. What do you get for your extra cash? Video outtakes, a full strategy guide built into the game itself, a soundtrack collection, bonus gameplay and a second bonus epilogue that gives you resolutions for all the characters. That’s pretty good for less than twenty bucks, don’t you think? Factor in that the game is longer than most games in this genre and even some full pricing console release titles, and you have yourselves a nice little budget game looking for a good home.

Whether you’re a long time adventure game fan or relatively new to the genre, the Collector’s Edition of Raincliff is a great buy at only $13.99 (or $19.99 for people who aren’t BFG members). It’s in my top five adventure games of the year so far along with Gray Matter, The Next Big Thing, Stacking and Blood & Ruby. You’re getting a nice budget game chock full of extras and a solid addition to your PC gaming library. What’s not to like about that?

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores
Story: 6.5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 5.5/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 6.5/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10
Total Score: 61
FINAL SCORE: 6.0 (ABOVE AVERAGE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Mystery Trackers: Raincliff is another fine game from the indie development studio, Elephant Games. This adventure game makes excellent use of Full Motion Video, colourful graphics and an almost elegant soundtrack to set the mood of this frozen little ghost town that you’ll be exploring. The puzzles are cliché and even trite to a degree, but the ambience and story make up for it. For less than twenty dollars, you’re getting your money’s worth with this budget game and then some.

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