Phantom Of The Concert Hall
HIGH Meeting the REAL Paxton Creek Avenger
LOW Maybe the worst sliding block puzzle I’ve ever encountered.
WTF I know, I’ll put my dog onto that toy boat and remote-control him to the other side! How can that go wrong?
Apparently Mystery Trackers: Paxton Creek Avenger is the latest title in long series of HOGs about a mystery-solving organization that battles everything from common thieves to frost giants, and it’s just lush professionalism at its best. This game is clearly the product of people who know exactly what they’re doing — it’s got gorgeous graphics, interesting puzzles, and an engaging story. Hidden Object Games don’t get much better than this. That doesn’t mean the title isn’t exempted from the hidden object game judging criteria, though!
Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?
Barely at all. The game is set in a theater during an attack by a mysterious supernatural force. So, take an area already prone to massive clutter and add a reality-quaking event on top of it – the result is the perfect justification for messes that need to be shuffled through. The game also does a great job of only sticking in items that realistically belong in the locations shown. One notable screen asks the player to look at a packed orchestra pit and then pick out ten particular instruments based on their silhouettes – totally arbitrary, of course, but still refreshing and well-designed.
Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?
It’s mostly 12:1 fare here. For all its successes, Paxton Creek Avenger never does a stellar job of giving the player a reason to paw their way through random items. Whether it’s standard screens or a strange match-game hybrid where the player is asked to look at clutter and find pairs of thematically-linked items, there’s never any real reason to do so other than to pick out the single item that will be useful a little later on. These extra types of HOSs mix things up and keep them fresh, but they don’t make up for the lack of effort required to merge the story and gameplay.
Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?
The theater (and its surrounding environs – no spoilers, though) is a fantastic location, and the developers have done a great job of packing it with puzzles which fit thematically and help build the game’s world. Disarming bombs, repairing machines, defeating security systems – all have been believably transformed into puzzles. In an especially nice nod to the casual gamer, not only are all of these puzzles skippable via a meter that needs filling, but each one comes with both a ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ version that can be switched between with a simple click of the mouse. I hadn’t encountered this mechanic before, and I was happy to have a little help with the sliding block puzzle towards the end. Normally I just brute force my way through those things, but this proved a welcome reprieve.
Mystery Trackers: The Paxton Creek Avenger is as good as a HOG can get without actually fully integrating the hidden object screens with the plot. It so impressed me that it made me want to check out other games in the series, and luckily, delving into the extras menu will reveal ‘casefiles’ of other games in the series. The player can simply click on one of them and get the chance to play a puzzle and HOS selected from that game. It’s great to see developers with enough confidence in their work to put little slices of them out there as samples, and from what I’ve seen, this whole series is worth a closer look.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Elephant Games and published by Big Fish Games. It is currently available on PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was not reviewed by the ESRB, but it contains blood, mild violence. While the game does concern some more frightening elements – supernatural foes, kidnapping, mad science and villainous schemes, there isn’t anything so intense in it that even younger teens should have trouble playing it.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no notable audio cues, so you should be fine.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. All interaction is performed through mouse clicks.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.