It was a dark and stormy night (check that one off the bucket list), and Rachel, our intrepid heroine, has finally broken out of the insane asylum she was tossed in for asking too many questions. She knows her father's disappearance 15 years ago has something to do with a town that has also disappeared, and the only way to get answers is to find that town.
Luckily, she discovered the location shortly before being tossed into the asylum. So now, determined to unravel the mystery and finally at the gates of the abandoned town, Rachel prepares to investigate a place where something has clearly gone seriously wrong. Welcome to Howlville: The Dark Past.
As a biology major taking way too many classes, I’m always on the lookout for a way to de-stress after the last class of the day. In this game, I have found such an escape.
One of the things I liked best about Howlville: the Dark Past was the world design. This game was going for “dark and stormy night,” and they really pulled it off. Everything about the game adds to the haunted house vibe: a dark and rich color palate, overgrown and abandoned houses, and even the occasional strange, creepy noise.
Howlville wants to be spooky, and it is (as much as any hidden object game can be anyway. We’re not talking about 13 Ghosts here). Sadly, there were some places where I got the feeling the creators were trying just a touch too hard, character design being the main one. While the main character appears to be a normal, well designed woman, all the villains look like they came straight out of an episode of Scooby-Doo. Where are those pesky kids when you need them?
For the most part, though, I was pretty delighted by the ambiance. It really helped to immerse me in the world of the game (and two days out from a physics test, I need all the immersion I can get). I was also pleasantly surprised by the vocal talent. Often voice actors struggle when trying to convey emotions like suspense, fear, or intimidation.
In Howlville: The Dark Past, however, the vocal talent was able to give a believable performance, and didn’t leave me clutching my ears or muting the audio (which was awesome, because I would have missed out on all the creepy background noises otherwise).
The good voice acting is even more impressive when you see the lines they’re supposed to be delivering. I know the writers are trying to keep things simple so we game players will be able to follow along, but come on. If you’re going to leave the dialogue that dry and stiff, skip the voice acting. Otherwise, write something a person might actually say. Who talks like that?
But enough about my strange nit-picky ways (why would you make them say it like that??), on to what matters: game play. For the most part, I really enjoyed this hidden object game. Unlike in some games, where the items you’re collecting practically glow, in Howlville: The Dark Past you’re never handed an object. Generally you’re looking for a collection of tiny objects strewn about in a mess of tiny objects (remember I Spy books?).
There were a lot of areas-within-areas, like a chest in your pile of junk you had to find a key for, unlock, and then root around in, looking for that last button or coin. Even in these small spaces, Howlville kept with its haunted theme: the junk piles were mostly filled with old, rusting trinkets, the kind of things you’d expect to find discarded if a house were suddenly abandoned.
While I did love the continuity, I was often annoyed at how much busy-work was involved with finding the items you needed. For example, if I want to find that old watch, I have to shuffle this pile of papers and flip that book and brush away those leaves. And don’t think you can pull that blind clicking business, where you just randomly hit things until you’ve collected your list. This game has a bar that monitors how often and quickly you’re clicking: too much too often and you get frozen in a green haze for several seconds.
That’s how you keep impatient gamers honest. Anyway, finding the hidden objects ate a ton of time, which I found occasionally annoying because it kept me from my favorite part of the game: the puzzles! I don’t think I can fully put into words why I loved these puzzles so much, mostly because I haven’t figured it out myself.
They were interesting and fun, and ranged from finding a code to solving a rubix cube to repairing a tapestry. They were challenging without making me want to Hulk-out, and different enough from one another to avoid being repetitious. I think my favorite part, though, was the “skip” button, which only became available after several minutes. It was like a game of beat the clock, where I was trying to figure out the puzzle before the opportunity to pass became available.
Sitting back and allowing the clock to wind down is also an option, but making the puzzles into timed games added a little more excitement and kept me wondering: will I make it?
To summarize: I loved Howlville: The Dark Past. I loved the atmosphere of the game; I loved the puzzles; I even enjoyed the bizarre bad guys. The cheese factors kept me feeling like I was in the middle of a game of Clue, and the rest of it just kept me playing. If you’re looking for an entertaining game that is reminiscent of the things that make a borderline bad ghost movie really good, then look no further. You’ll find everything you need right here in Howlville: The Dark Past.