Red Crow Mysteries: Legion review
Genre blending, it’s fair to say, is a tricky beast. Sometimes you can get some truly wonderful hybrids, but other times you end up with ill-advised mutations. Often the reasons for merging genres is to increase the market of possible purchasers – combine two types of game to get both audiences interested. Unfortunately, that also opens you to wider criticism from two different sides if you don’t get it right.
Enter Cateia Games’ Red Crow Mysteries: Legion, the newest release from the developers of The Legend of Crystal Valley. In Legion, Cateia have attempted to give the tried and tested hidden object casual game a point-and-click adventure overhaul. Personally I struggle to enjoy hidden object games – they improve marginally when a decent story is added, but I still can’t understand why finding six gravity-defying fish outside a temple will open its door. But a more integrated approach has definite possibilities, so i was intrigued to see if Legion would do enough to win me over. The answer, much like the gameplay itself, is a bit of a mixed bag.
Red Crow Mysteries makes a decent attempt to justify its hidden object sensibilities within the context of the game. You play as an unnamed protagonist enabled with a special gift to see things others can’t. Discovering this unique ability for the first time, things are suddenly familiar yet different – items suspended in mid-air are revealed to you and logic puzzles materialise on cupboard doors. As you start to collect these objects, you’ll see that they fit nicely into one of the puzzles elsewhere, and so the formula for the game is set. It’s an interesting catch-all device, explaining away some of the less plausible elements of other casual games.
The story also takes a pretty good stab at a mature horror/thriller narrative. Our leading lady finds she’s tasked with ridding the world of the being named Legion, an ancient despot hell-bent on destroying everything. Armed only with your newly discovered talent, you soon grow to realise that your family has been embroiled with Legion for many centuries. You’ll explore your house and garden before moving on to other locations from your family’s past following a series of clues left by your ancestors. There are few characters to interact with, but as the game progresses Legion proves to be a suitably creepy foil to the youthful exuberance of the protagonist.
Some of the best horror can come about from the limitations of budget, and that’s true of one instance in this game. The engine restrictions mean there’s no mouth movement in NPCs, which works brilliantly in the case of Legion, as all we see is a pair of menacing eyes staring at us whilst the character speaks from behind a newspaper. It’s a simple but effective trick that manages to send a shiver up your spine.
In fact, atmosphere is one of the game’s highlights, with bucket loads of eerie noises and visuals to keep things interesting. The contemporary story makes effective use of gothic horror staples right from he start, when our character’s ghostly mother asks us to meet her in a dark foreboding garden. Complementing the action is a first rate spooky soundtrack. For a small production the music really is good, with some memorable hooks that stick with you and bring to life the creepy storyline. The game is also fully voiced with some excellent acting. Unfortunately, you’ll only meet two other characters in your travels, and they suffer a little with the occasional clunky translation and poor audio quality, but for the most part it’s an effective addition.
The game does a few other things right as well. It’s nicely customisable: casual gamers can choose an option with hints and a list of collectable items on each screen, or if you’re more hardcore then you can swing for less help with no list of objects, resulting in an inventory search like any other adventure, albeit with far more items involved. Even on the fly, the game will hold your hand as much or as little as you like. Struggling to find objects? Turn on sparkles to help. Not sure what to do? Click the hint button to see where to go to next.
Sadly, scrape away the fairly engaging story and user-friendliness and you’re left with a pretty slim gaming experience. Legion’s main focus is a protracted scavenger hunt for items to use in order to make devices of varying sizes work – whether a car or an ancient logic puzzle. You’ll find your inventory quickly building up, often well before the plot requires it to, as the volume of items to find is fairly substantial. This leads to a fairly directionless experience; at one point I found myself repairing a car seemingly for no reason simply because it suited the objects I’d found. It was only later, after visiting a different location, that I realised why it was necessary.
Cateia’s attempt to remedy this is to throw in some standalone brainteasers, which do spice things up a bit. You’ll encounter tile-sliding challenges, colour-matching games, code-breaking tasks and dial-rotating puzzles. Some can be tricky, like a dragon-shifting minigame that has you playing a sort of solitaire board, and some are outright fun like the Bejewelled-style gargoyle game, but all are ultimately easy, bog-standard activities that only serve to distract for a couple of minutes and get tiresome when repeated too often.
It doesn’t extend the experience for long, however, as the game is pretty short. Its 2-3 hour length would be acceptable for a budget-priced casual adventure if not for the fact that the story just grinds to a halt with no clue to a sequel. I imagine the title suggests there will be another Red Crow mystery, but there is no teaser or build-up at the end of the game to keep you hooked until the next instalment. Plenty of games have managed a short but complete story that is carried over to the next episode, but the conclusion here is as unsatisfactory as they come.
The visual presentation is likewise lacking, though the art style itself makes for some good looking backdrops. The simple, realistic environments use a fairly muted range of dark colours to complement the atmosphere. However, these scenes are presented as a series of static images with no ambient animation and a simple black screen between transitions, creating a fairly non-dynamic feel. Even the cutscenes are just static pictures being moved across the screen like cardboard cut-outs.
Overall, Legion does a decent job of taking the mechanics of a hidden object game and justifying them within the context of a coherent story. It also offers excellent customisation for varying levels of adventuring aptitude. Unfortunately, it falls down on too many other levels, particularly its straightforward, uninspired gameplay, to make it anything more than just a mildly satisfying distraction for a couple of hours.
As a hidden object adventure hybrid that’s big on atmosphere but light on gameplay, Red Crow Mysteries will prove a mild distraction for a short time but won’t stay with you for long.