Though all my years of smashing heads and hunting demons, I’ve only played one hidden object game aside from Ferrum’s Secrets, and that was easily more than a decade ago. For a long time I brushed off the very idea of hidden object games like a sneering imperialist. But once I got the chance to get ahold of Ferrum’s Secrets and delve into it, I took it gladly. I had hoped to see my original prejudices smashed into the ground like the heads of my enemies as I broadened my horizons and became a more well-rounded gamer. Ferrum’s Secrets was not the game to do that. I like to think I’m more open to the idea of hidden object games now, but all this game did was confirm my worst fears.

The Unity logo I was met with upon starting the game was the first sign of trouble. I brushed it off, but I quickly realized it was an omen of things to come.

Ferrum’s Secrets starts pretty cold. There’s no introduction, no cut-scenes, nothing. It didn’t bother me, but that’s my bias talking. In just about any other situation, I refuse to let openings that cold off the hook; Ferrum’s story is minor but still merits the slightest bit of exposition. Still, for the first few minutes I found the hunt for random objects to be entertaining and quite relaxing even if it lacked context. Sadly it wasn’t long before I ended up mindlessly clicking on my screen just hoping to make it through a puzzle and rejoice in the next story bit before I got stuck finding stuff again.

There are collectibles that you’re supposedly able to find by clicking on and knocking over certain objects, even though I failed to find any but the first. While hunting for collectibles, I was constantly chastised as the game gave messages saying not to waste its time with mindless clicking. Fair enough – I quickly gave up on the practice after getting sick of being told not to look for collectibles I never found anyway.

2015-09-02_00001

I used to think people who got motion sickness from games were silly – now I truly know their pain.

When searching for a bunch of objects, the game shows a list of items you’re supposed to find. In itself, that’s not so bad, but it’s impossible to pick up items not currently in that short and ever-changing list. I remember one specific sequence where I had to find about twenty or so golden miniatures but there were so many that I almost had to pick them out in a specific order just to get them all because the game wouldn’t let me pick up any that weren’t in the list of ten or so objects to be found. To its credit, the game basically gives up on the “find x amount of objects in a small area” style of play after a couple hours and gives way to more traditional puzzle solving.

Unfortunately, the “find x to do y” style makes the game even more obtuse and some of the puzzles are a joke. There’s little to no indication of what exactly needs to be found or even where to look, making the hint button a necessity. After a certain point I just gave up trying to figure things out on my own and relied on the hint button to guide me around. Somehow this was more infuriating to me than butting my head into the wall figuring out what needs to be found as the objects became increasingly random. The solutions themselves were even worse and one was so ridiculous and rage-inducing that I gave up on the game because I got sick of thinking for it.

391340_screenshots_2015-09-10_00001

Feel free to skip this – you probably won’t be able to figure it out anyway.

There are some mini-games to be found here, but like the core gameplay loop they have no context whatsoever. For instance, at one point I picked up some cat food and had to piece together an image of a plant. Why? I have no idea. It doesn’t much matter since the game allows you to skip all of these mini-games without consequence, making me wonder why they’re there in the first place.

When in these mini-games or during normal object hunts, everything takes place in a small window inside of the main screen. It’s really uncomfortable and I can’t imagine any reason these windows couldn’t at least match the game’s resolution.

If you ever get lost or sidetracked and forget what you’re supposed to be doing, there’s a journal available. There’s also a sparsely populated codex that gives some useful but threadbare backstory. Ultimately the whole thing is pointless – the codex isn’t fleshed out enough and neither is the journal. The all-powerful hint button rules the day here.

While actually playing the game is a sorrowful experience, it’s actually pretty nice-looking. Areas are bright and colorful, and they’re certainly quite varied in their setting. Some textures are muddy, but they’re few and far between. The worst part of the game’s visuals are other characters. Though rare, looking at them and their animations is jarring and sometimes outright hilarious.

2015-08-28_00001

For a game that relies on its story as heavily as Ferrum’s Secrets, you’d expect its narrative to be somewhat accessible and at the very least, easy to parse. This isn’t the case. Since there’s no voiceover to be found, all dialog is conveyed through text. Without other people around, it’s easy enough to focus on your character’s thoughts even if they’re poorly translated and disappear too quickly. I quickly discovered proper conversations were an awkward experience – when another character gets involved, I constantly tried to focus on their wonky animations and subtitles at the same time. It’s a fool’s errand, and I realized this as soon as I tried but I just couldn’t stop. Intentional or not, it feels set up for voiceover and the result is truly awkward as disparate parts of the screen clamor for your attention – imagine watching Metal Gear cutscenes on mute. I’d love it if there were a way to review dialog since it generally passed me by. Even if such a thing were available, the dialog is rather insignificant and quite forgettable.

So that’s Ferrum’s Secrets for you. It’s a game I felt had some potential – I wanted to like it, and I tried way harder than I should have to enjoy it and still failed. This game is broken all the way down to its core and what remains is slapdash and uninteresting. At least there’s a cute cat.