Brink of Consciousness: Dorian Gray Syndrome is one of the most effective horror Hidden Object Games I've ever come across. The plot opens when the main character's girlfriend is kidnapped by the twisted serial killer who has been preying on the city's beautiful young people. The main character is a reporter chronicling the case, and this has drawn the madman's attention – the only hope he has of saving his girlfriend's life is to travel to the villain's mansion and play the madman's game.
It's a solid premise for any horror story, and BoC:DGS' developers do it justice with truly solid scripting. The villain contacts the main character through the game via loudspeakers he's set up in every room of his house, pontificating about the nature of love and sacrifice, and valiantly attempting to justify all of the murders he's committed. It's all incredibly solid stuff, and along with diary pages scattered about the house informing the killer's backstory, and surprisingly a well-written journal that tracks the player's trek through the mansion, it offers one of the genre's high points, from a storytelling standpoint.
Now for the HOG criteria!
Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?
BoC does a great job of making its HOS fit within the world of the game. The whole thing is set in the dilapidated mansion of a maniac, so a certain degree of clutter is to be expected, but it never gets so stacked with random nonsense that it seems preposterous. An especially nice note is that the game is set in the 1950s, and the developers were very careful to only use period items in the hidden object screens. There aren't any digital watches lain across phonographs, or anything along those lines. Okay, there's a colour television at one point, but that's really the only anachronistic lapse.
Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?
Only in the barest sense. Conforming quite neatly to the industry standard, BoC has screens where the player is asked to pick up one item they actually need, along with a dozen that don't matter, for no particular reason. The screens are fair and entertaining to play, but it would have been nice to see the developers go that extra mile to ensure that they made sense within the story.
Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?
BoC does a great job of creating a world where this kind of searching a puzzle-solving make sense. Oscar, the game's masked villain, is a baroque psychopath who enjoys toying with his prey – of course he'd construct elaborate puzzles for them to solve in his huge mansion. Even the puzzles are generally more practical than is normal for the genre. They tend to feel more like minigames and activities than actual brain-teasers – for the most part, whenever a lock needs to be picked or a chest opened, players are simply assigned a complex task to perform and then expected to follow the clear instructions on how to complete it. While it may not end up as challenging as some games, this certainly puts BoC among the most user-friendly HOGs I've encountered.
With its great setting and exceptional writing, Dorian Gray Syndrome stands apart from the HOG crowd as a title that even players unfamiliar with the genre can find extremely accessible. It's just too bad that it doesn't push the envelope in gameplay design as well, satisfying itself with utterly traditional hidden object screens. While it may not be reaching for the stars, BoC still manages to stand well above most of its contemporaries, providing a chilling adventure along with some merely solid puzzles.