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“HIDDEN: ON THE TRAIL OF THE ANCIENTS” (Video Game Review)

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Growing up, this writer was always a fan of point-and-click games within the genre, as they always happened to effectively mix horror aesthetics, suspenseful atmosphere and mystery gameplay all in one neat package. Therefore, when a contemporary point-and-click game like HIDDEN: ON THE TRAIL OF THE ANCIENTS comes along, it’s always a fun experience to relive that immersive horror gaming experience, especially when it requires as much interaction and puzzle-solving skills as it does a basic threshold for more unsettling horror moments. Factor in HIDDEN’s fantastic use of the Lovecraft mythos- even capturing cadence of the writer’s voice in their own clues- and horror fans might just find a new favorite genre gaming property here.

For those unfamiliar, HIDDEN: ON THE TRAIL OF THE ANCIENTS (now available on Steam) follows a man named Thomas Farrell, an anthropologist who finds himself in Buenos Aires as he searches for evidence behind The Ancients, mythological figures responsible for some of the world’s most mysterious iconography. In service of his Uncle Eneko, Thomas finds himself overcoming practical obstacles, terrifying rituals, bloody crime scenes and terrifying hallucinations throughout his journey. As dread sets in and the danger looms closer, will you be able to control your nerves long enough to figure out the mystery?

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned veteran of point-and-click games, HIDDEN should please any and all comers as players can either choose the path of self-reliance or follow the clues offered by the game itself. Lostspell Studio, adapting from the creepy and acclaimed Gameshed offering of the same name, doesn’t make the game merely a simple adventure: NPC interaction, clue-hunting, object collection and environmental exploration all come into play, making the player have to earn the next step in solving the mystery. And for horror buffs, the clues hold extra weight than merely progressing to the next stage of gameplay as Lostspell works in plenty of references- visual and contextual- to classic literary horror, with the most recognizable being H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu stories.

Even in design alone, HIDDEN: ON THE TRAIL OF THE ANCIENTS is fairly impressive, with the environments holding fantastic details and designs that feel accurate to the times and means of the story. While independent games could skimp on the aesthetics in order to save time and money, Lostspell seems to really invest in the areas, clues and items on display, allowing the point-and-click experience to be as rewarding to the player as it is to the character. And when the game goes into full horror territory, HIDDEN does a fantastic job at visually creating an immersive and dread-inducing experience; those with more impressive home theater set-ups might just give themselves nightmares based on the terrifying hallucinations created for the game.

While the HIDDEN sports easy and impressive functionality, that doesn’t quite make it a walk-in-the-park in terms of gameplay. While the first few puzzles might be easier to solve, especially once the character interaction portion is passed, Lostspell really makes the player have to think and earn their progression through the nightmarish story, which is one of the brilliant aspects of the game: one must remain level-headed and comprehensive, even in the face of intimidating and scary atmospheric elements. Furthermore, HIDDEN is quite great and unpredictable when it comes to conventional genre gaming logic; while some horror games will have ghosts and ghouls remaining around every corner, your more organic discoveries are more likely to inspire fear than any playful jump scare, which HIDDEN largely eschews.

Overall, HIDDEN: ON THE TRAIL OF THE ANCIENTS is quite an eerie endeavor, one that deserves your attention and will make players yearn for the eventual follow-up sooner rather than later. While nostalgia may have a bit to factor into this judgement, considering the point-and-click game format is near-and-dear to this horror-hound’s heart, the game cleverly interweaves Lovecraftian dread, unnerving atmosphere and intricate POV gameplay into something quite special. And while the next HIDDEN game is on the horizon, one can check out it’s prequel (and some other truly frightening offerings) from Gameshed’s horror games collection in the meantime.

3.5_skull

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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