Hidden: On the trail of the Ancients is a self published title from tiny studio Lost Spell that falls into the “first person point and click horror adventure” genre. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of games much older than itself and captures the look and feel of vintage titles. So much so that I felt like I was playing a remastered version of an old classic. This game clearly tugs and pulls at my nostalgic heart strings, but was it enough to win me over?
The adventure starts in medias res, with Thomas Farrell, the protagonist, following a lead connected to the titular “Ancients.” Hidden’s story is surprisingly detailed, with a lot to take in at first.
Names and other pieces of information flood us through various means, initially confusing the player as to what’s actually going on. While Thomas provides some monologue and engages in occasional instances of interaction with other characters, the most prominent way of conveying exposition is through journals, books, letters and newspaper clippings that can be found scattered in every nook and cranny of the games world. The tone is dark, often blurring the line between nightmare and reality. Jump scares are present, but kept to a minimum. Instead, tension is built on the atmosphere of Thomas’s surrounding environment, sound cues and the ever growing realization of what Thomas has gotten himself into. Very few games manage to engage me to the point of being somewhat apprehensive about walking down a virtual staircase, but there was a moment when Hidden managed to do just that.
Although graphics look rather dated, environments are fairly detailed. It seems like a lot of care and effort went into crafting believable surroundings, especially in the first chapter. Many items in these surroundings can be further inspected and most drawers and shelves can be opened and rummaged through, though not all of them contain anything useful. The game follows the classic formula of 360 degree field of view frames, transitioning from one frame to the next as we move. This is my first big complaint, as these transitions are unnecessarily slow. An option to move instantly would be more then welcome. We traverse different locations, solving various puzzles to gain access to new areas, items and information. These range from typical “use item X on object Y” puzzles to cracking a combination on a locked case or concocting a potion to ward off evil spirits. None of these are groundbreaking, but their charm lies in the way Hidden tries to immerse us in their solving. Some require clever thinking, some a sharp eye, others a combination of both. An interesting mechanic is the addition of “red herring” items that seem like they could be used to solve a puzzle, but end up being useless inventory clutter. Inevitably, this formula brings with it the age old annoyance known as pixel hunting. I spent several hours with Hidden, but that time was exponentially inflated by periods of tedious clicking.
At this point I’d like to share a little story with you, so bear with me for a moment as I get this off my chest: Immersion is Hidden’s biggest draw, and while the story started off being slightly confusing, I soon found myself eager to uncover its secrets. Making my way through the second act, I successfully escaped from what could best be described as a fume-induced nightmare and made my way to an awaiting kayak, ready to traverse straight into the heart of darkness. The plot thickened, but I was ready to face whatever awaited Thomas in the next act. I boarded the vessel and… credits roll. I mentioned several shortcomings, but this is by far Hidden’s biggest sin, as it simply ends midway through the story, teasing a sequel. Episodic games are hardly new, but this still felt rushed and unfinished (though the split is mentioned on the game’s Steam page, ruling out any foul play).
Hidden’s “On the trail of the Ancients” portion is only comprised of two acts. My initial run did take several hours, but I doubt there’s more than an hour’s worth of actual content once you know what to do. For completionists, Steam achievements are available, as well as several optional “findings” (essentially trophies) that unlock when certain conditions are met, but these hardly make up for the game’s abrupt end.
Even though Hidden suffers from some problems, the final score may have been higher, had the game been complete. As it stands, it’s a decent outing by Lost Spell that fails to amaze due to its shortcomings. I look forward to the sequel, and hope it brings the satisfying conclusion that “On the trail of the Ancients” failed to deliver.