By: Armaan Khan
Total Eclipse’s first Clockwork Man title was a decent game that did some innovative things with the hidden-object sub-genre, but was ultimately forgettable because of its tepid story. The sequel, creatively titled The Clockwork Man 2: The Hidden World, improves everything good about the first game, throws a compelling story on top, and is a product I can confidently call one of the best adventures games I’ve played this year.
Intense Appreciation Of The Drama Of An Adventure
The Hidden World takes place two years after the first game. Series protagonist, Miranda Calomy, is in the middle of her university studies when she discovers there’s something strange about the stone she found at the end of the first game. This triggers a series of events that sends her on an adventure straight out of the minds of classic writers, like Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne.
The actual plot is nothing special — you can probably figure out what happens just from the game’s subtitle alone — but the writing is among the strongest I’ve ever seen in any game. I was hooked from the very beginning and stayed hooked all the way to the end. In fact, there was an event that left my jaw hanging. Not just because I was emotionally invested in the story, but also because I was so emotionally invested in the story, I didn’t see it coming even though I should have. A game’s story has never cut through my jaded exterior like that before, and the fact that it did speaks volumes about the quality of the writing.
The rest of the production is similarly well done. The art, music, and sound effects are all excellent and make the experience extremely compelling to the point that you’ll forget you’re being taken through a very standard and predictable plot and be immersed in the experience from start to finish.
Tomorrow We Disappear Into The Unknown
The gameplay exists to support that immersion. This is where many adventure games fail, because they inevitably feature situations that yank you out of the experience, usually with extremely tough or illogical puzzles. The Hidden World does not fail in that way… as long as you like hunting for hidden objects. Roughly 50% of the game involves doing that, while the other 50% consists of traditional adventuring.
If you’ve never played a hidden object game, here’s a brief rundown: you’re given a list of seemingly random items, and you have to pick them out of a cluttered scene. It’s kind of simplistic and a lot of hardcore gamers find it boring, but it can be fun if executed properly, which The Hidden World does. First off, the game makes sure there’s a good reason for you to be involved in a hidden object scene. The first Clockwork Man game had many contrived sequences where people would ask you to find stuff just because, but The Hidden World makes sure that if you’re asked to participate in a hidden object sequence, it’s because the story needs you to.
Unlike other hidden-object games, there are no time limits here to pressure you nor are there any penalties for clicking on the wrong object. These two design decisions take what would normally be a frustratingly tedious affair and make it enjoyable. Most objects are extremely easy to find as well, so you’ll be too caught up in a success-fueled endorphin rush to care that you’ve been asked to pick up some strange things during the course of the game.
There are a few other innovations as well. Some scenes can be scrolled vertically or horizontally, and some can be zoomed to another area. This might not seem like much, but other hidden object games get stale when you can’t find what you’re looking for and have nothing else to do but stare at every pixel of the same static screen the entire time. Being able to pan and zoom adds a level of dynamism to The Hidden World’s proceedings that’s more psychological than practical, but does make it more interesting.
We Are Really On The Eve Of Some Most Remarkable Experiences
When you’re not hunting for hidden objects, you’ll be exploring around, talking to people, picking up items, and solving puzzles in a more traditional adventure game format. The puzzles you’ll encounter are the standard tropes, consisting of either using inventory items on the environment to overcome obstacles or doing more “puzzle-like” things, like adjusting the flow of water to produce the appropriate pressure levels in a series of tubes, for example.
What makes the adventure sequences special is that all the solutions are logical. Here’s an example: there’s a point mid-game where you need to get something out of a stream. To do this, you need to use… wait for it… a fishing rod! A normal fishing rod with a hook at the end. A more traditional adventure would make you build the required tool out of paperclips, a plunger, and a femur, but not here, which is a refreshing change of pace.
More puzzling problems, like one where you have to figure out the combination for a safe, are similarly logical, although they may require some consultation with Miranda’s journal in which she makes note of anything interesting she learns as time goes by. It might also take a few seconds to learn the “rules” of a given puzzle, but you’ll never find yourself staring blankly at the screen trying to figure out what the designers were thinking. I’ll admit, however, that this reliance on real-world logic makes the puzzles easier than in other games, but it also keeps you immersed in the experience because you’re never left thinking, “WTF??”
A Wonderful Companion At Such Hours
So, yes, the game is pretty easy, but if you do somehow manage to find yourself stuck, Miranda’s faithful clockwork companion, Sprocket, is there to help. He starts off with only an item locator and a hint generator, but gains two more gadgets over time.
The item locator is used during hidden object sequences. When you click it, it picks a random object from the list of items that you are supposed to find and shows you the exact location of it. The hint generator, at first, gives you a vague suggestion on what to do during puzzle sequences. If that doesn’t help you, you can keep clicking it, receiving more detailed advice each time right up until it offers simply solve the puzzle for you.
As the story proceeds, Sprocket will get upgraded with an item database, which is used in hidden object sequences to show what an item of your choice looks like, but not where it is. Then even later, he’ll get his final gadget, a sonar that highlights all useful objects in a scene for a few seconds, which is especially helpful during adventure sequences, but you can also use it to locate hidden objects.
There’s no penalty for using Sprocket’s features, although you do have to wait for any given skill to recharge before you can use it again. Sprocket is a godsend for the hidden object sequences. There were several times where I could not, for the life of me, find a couple items and having Sprocket there to help allowed me to stay engrossed in the game’s fiction instead of becoming frustrated and walking away.
There Is A Chill In The Air After Dark
There aren’t really a whole lot of downsides to The Hidden World. My only major complaint would be that clicking hidden objects requires pixel-perfect accuracy, and I mean pixel-perfect. If the tip of the cursor is not exactly on an object, it won’t register. Moreover, if you click on an open space inside an object, like inside the wrist-hole of a bracelet, or between the prongs of a fork, it’ll won’t register either. It’s not an issue that comes up often, but it happened enough to make me notice.
Another concern is the size of some of the hidden objects you need to find, specifically some things are too small to see very easily. This was a big problem in the first game, no ironic pun intended, and the developers made an effort to avoid it here, but there are still times when you have to hunt for items like acorns or metal nuts which tend to be tiny little things. Sprocket’s painless and penalty-free gadgets most often came in handy for finding these, which helped mitigate this issue a lot.
Finally, some people might be put off by how easy the game is. I personally didn’t find it to be a problem, because the simplicity of the gameplay helps keep you immersed in the story, and the story is the reason for any adventure game to exist. Your opinion might differ, though, which is why it’s listed here.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
You can buy Clockwork Man 2 for $20 on the Total Eclipse site, but it is available for less at other digital distributors. I enjoyed the game immensely, and I love adventure games in general, so I would say it’s worth every penny of a $20 bill. But, $20 is also quite steep in today’s pricing landscape, so you personally might not be able to justify it. Luckily, you can find the game for $15 on Steam which is a more reasonable price, and one I definitely recommend it at.
Your money will get you 4 hours of excellent adventuring, and once you beat the game, you’ll unlock a Free Play mode that puts you through an unending sequence of hidden object challenges. For the record, I’m actually going through the story a second time right now — because it’s that good — so my playtime will be over 8 hours when all is said and done, which is great value for the asking price of such a wonderful game.
The Clockwork Man 2 Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 4.5 hours
- Widescreen Support – No
- 5.1 Audio – No
- Bugs – There’s a doozy of a typo in the intro movie, right at the very start of the game. It’s not really a bug, but it’ll throw you off for a second.
- DRM – None
- Control Scheme – Mouse only
- System Specs – Athlon X2 @ 2 GHz, 4MB RAM, Radeon HD3200
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Steam, Total Eclipse
- Demo – Yes
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