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Clockwork Tales / 29th of January 2016

Polish studio, Artifex Mundi, return to the Xbox One with another port of one of their much loved adventure game/hidden object hybrid releases, and much like their earlier effort, Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart, it also proves to be a bit of a successful transition. Utilising the same, user friendly control scheme, the team’s trademark visual style and a loose, steampunk storyline, Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink will obviously not be to everyone’s taste, but there can simply be no denying that it is a very good example of the genre that may yet prove that console gamers are always on the lookout for something a little bit different from the norm.

In this latest effort, players are pitched into the role of Evangeline Glass, a spy who has travelled to the snowy mountain town of Hochwald in order to meet her mentor and father figure, Dr Ambrose Ink. Ink had travelled here to investigate seismic disturbances in the area, where a whopping six earthquakes have been recorded in a very short amount of time, so naturally he feels that something untoward is going on. Upon meeting up in the town’s inn, however, the building is attacked by a giant robot, and the good doctor is kidnapped, leaving only vague and scattered clues behind as to the reasoning behind this seemingly unprovoked assault. The player then, is tasked with rescuing Ink from the clutches of a corrupt despot intent on using his advanced, steam based technology to take over the country. It’s a relatively nice set up that the team could have done much more with, leaving the story to serve little purpose within the game, yet this is not really much of negative comment, it’s a short adventure that would have likely had to be spun out over multiple episodes to incorporate a more intricate narrative, though this would perhaps be an idea worth investigating at a later date.

It’s worth pointing out that the aesthetic charm of the game is as strong as one would now expect from Artifex Mundi, the keen painterly style is awash with colour and details that breathe life into every scene, injecting personality into each one of its varied locations and cast of characters. Though when playing on expert difficulty it can be difficult to make out what objects can be interacted with, but then, perhaps that’s the point. Audio wise, the game is also fairly strong throughout, though the voice acting is more than a tad patchy, the music fits well and it all sounds pretty good on the whole.

Naturally, much like Nightmares from the Deep, Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink features quite varied gameplay elements, though it doesn’t offer the option to replace the standard puzzles and mini-games with a single style of play, in The Cursed Heart the player could go through the whole game playing only mah-jong. What has carried over, however, is the ability to receive clues as to item locations, a map that highlights areas where actions can be carried out and the ability to skip past puzzles, though goodness knows why anyone would do that. The mini-games utilised here vary from sliding puzzles to manipulating an electric current into illuminating a darkened storeroom. Some of the game’s conundrums also task the player with tracing a line around a marked area without ever going over the same part twice, very similar to the astrarium puzzles of Dragon Age: Inquisition, so those already familiar with this style of problem will know that these can prove to be real head scratchers.

Puzzles include fractured hidden object scenes (apparently known as FROGs) wherein the player must find hidden objects based on the outline of items that they have shown to them on the bottom of the screen. In these sections, discovered items are usually then used to interact with another element in order to discover something else, there’s a nice fluidity to these, a sense of natural progression that makes them feel quite rewarding despite their relative simplicity. There are also standard hidden object puzzles wherein a scene populated with a vast array of objects are presented to the player, and they must scour through it selecting the various items that match a list that has been given to them, nice and straightforward stuff.

Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink is an enjoyable and relaxing experience, and as a bonus, this Xbox One release not only features the original’s optional, hidden collectibles and concept artwork gallery, but it also comes bundled with an extra episode, a prequel that sees Dr. Ink make his way to the town in question to begin his investigation (this, I believe, was only previously available in the Collector’s Edition). Sure, it can all be bested in a single day, but whilst it lasts, it certainly proves to have enough about it to more than justify its paltry price tag, and there’s simply no hiding that. Recommended.
James Paton
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