We’ve had a strange love for Artifex Mundi’s series of hidden object games, noting how each release on Xbox One has been an improvement on the last. And the pulpy horror tale, Nightmares from the Deep: The Siren’s Call continues that trend. Hit the links for our reviews of Artifex Mundi’s Enigmatis and Grim Legends.
The Siren’s Call is the sequel to Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart (These games have extremely long, B-movie style titles), but don’t worry if you haven’t played the original – sure, there are some references, but you won’t be missing out on anything game-changing. Once more you take control of the previous instalment’s heroine, Mrs. Black, who yet again finds herself about to board another sea-faring adventure.
It all starts with one of those all-too-common mysterious parcels that arrives in the middle of the night. The kind that, when you open it, you’re set upon by strange, fish-looking men. That’s precisely what happens to Mrs. Black and her newfound companion, who then introduces you to Collipe, a mermaid siren who’s been taken hostage by an evil mayor. Because of her imprisonment, the whole town has morphed into fish-people (stick with us here), and so long as the mayor keeps her locked up, he’s granted with the power to summon the deadly Kraken.
Your task, then, is to rescue the siren and aid the town.
The Siren’s Call is a puzzle-based point-and-click hidden-object game, and if you’ve played an Artifex Mundi game before, you’ll know precisely what to expect. Move the cursor around the screen, clicking on anything that may be of interest, which usually leads you to a jumble of items – these hidden object rounds are handled in the usual way: a single-screen scavenger hunt that rewards you with items to complete puzzles. The success of any Artifex game hands on its puzzles – guaranteed to either give you the most enjoyment or the most frustration.
Puzzles in The Siren’s Call are varied and plentiful, so you won’t catch yourself doing the same puzzle over and over again. That’s not to say some aren’t similar, but the variation is enough to keep them feeling fresh. The types of puzzles you can expect range from jigsaws to mathematical equations to arranging a picture to create an image, and we enjoyed the challenging, but not overly complex nature of these. There’s a nice difficulty balance – the Goldilocks spot: not too hard, not too easy, but just right – that we felt will test people of all abilities. Having said that, if you’re really struggling and it’s preventing you from moving on, you can simply skip the puzzle entirely with the click of a button. This does raise the question of whether people will just give up and skip forward, but if you’re playing a puzzle game, you probably have intentions to complete them. If you’re anything like us, then you will refuse to be beaten by a puzzle.
One thing that did frustrate us while playing the puzzle-based games was the analogue controls – a factor of this is, of course, the origin as a mobile game which has been ported to PC and consoles. Puzzles that require you to move the analogue stick to select and set pieces suffered from imprecise controls; puzzle pieces didn’t move the way we wanted them to, and we often ended up selecting two or three slots before reaching the one we actually wanted. Ordinarily, this might be considered nit-picking, but when this happens a lot with a puzzle you’re already losing patience with, it can be enough to hit the off button.
Disappointingly, we encountered some serious frame-rate issue during a couple of cut-scenes. This got so bad that the game froze for a solid thirty seconds at one point; later, The Siren’s Call actually crashed, and forced a restart. Luckily save points work very well, and you shouldn’t be forced to replay anything too challenging. And although the puzzles were unaffected, the experience was rather jarring.
The story pushes you to keep investigating, and you aren’t in one area for a ridiculously long period of time, so there’s always something new to see. Hit up on the D-pad and the game will offer up hints on where to go or what item needs to be used – this hint method does have a recharge period, so you can’t just spam it for the easy life. Besides, you do get a sense of satisfaction when you have been collecting items and clues, completing puzzles and putting it all together.
You almost feel like you need Scooby Doo and the gang to accompany you as you start to feel like a supernatural detective. Most of the puzzles really deliver a sense of accomplishment once you complete them – the only exceptions are those hidden object games, simply because it’s possible to complete these quickly and easily by bashing the A-button while moving your cursor across the picture. Maybe Artifex should to limit this style of ‘completion’ by employing a cool-down timer when selecting the wrong object?
The Siren’s Call does enough to keep you intrigued, and encourages you to push through those tougher puzzles to see what happens next. Most of the story is delivered by short cut-scenes or your companion’s dialogue, while our own character’s innermost thoughts also add to the story. You can collect and return fish coins to a fish-like monster guarding a treasure chest, in order to treat yourself to a cut-scene that builds the lore of the world even further. Artifex Mundi fans will be familiar with the cheesy, melodramatic voice-acting, but it still breaks the immersion, making us smirk simply because of how cringe-worthy it could be. Having said that, the more you play, the more accepting you find yourself becoming of it. It almost adds to the game’s charm. Almost.
One of the true highlights of the game is its visuals. The beautifully created locations really capture the tone of the adventure, to the point where you’re looking forward to moving forward, just to see what the next area will look like. They may be 2D and storybook-like, but with some of the 3D elements thrown in, such as raindrops, it all becomes rather stunning. The same is true of the cut-scenes which, when triggered, retain those attractive visuals, but bring the scenery to life. The soundtrack perfectly complements both the visuals and the detective-theme. For example, when searching a location or gathering clues, the music becomes suspenseful, which then crashes into more intense, action-themed music when the cut-scenes kick in. All of this works really well and helps create a great atmosphere.
Nightmares from the Deep: The Siren’s Call a real treat in this genre, with only minor issues letting it down in places. However, the overall experience remains a fun and satisfying one, which players of varying skill levels will be able to pick up and make progress, thanks to its fantastically balanced difficulty – a key area for any puzzle-based game.
Nightmares from the Deep: The Siren’s Call is available now on the Xbox Store, priced £7.99. A free trial is available.
This is one puzzler that you'll want to dive into.
Nightmares from the Deep: The Siren’s Call has minor issues, but despite these it still stands out as one of the best hidden-object puzzlers you can play right now, accompanied by beautiful visuals and a soundtrack to suit. If you’re looking for a game to test the mind, then this could be your calling.