“A mysterious figure in red… Something’s driven everyone away from Linden Shades. No one’s been back since that time of terror when the kids drew startling images of blood-red ghosts, and the police were no help. Your editor’s sure there’s a story hidden in the Shades. Can you get the truth, off the record?” – Big Fish Games
I am the first to acknowledge the stories that go into hidden object games are not always the best written tales around. They are often derivative, usually originating from folklore or urban legends, and almost always involves the player having to explore some abandoned dirty house. There is sometimes a farm nearby, some old dude who needs to stick his nose in to see what you are up to, some kind of spirit lurking. Off the Record: Linden Shades, the latest effort from Eipix Games has ALL of these elements within its story. For the record, this game is a regurgitated story at best, but saves itself with its puzzles.
In Off the Record, you play a newspaper reporter who is attempting to get the scoop on why the local orphanage, Linden Shades, closed down. The story told by the locals is the building is haunted by a mysterious figure dressed in a hooded red robe, wearing a red scarf over its face. Your editor wants you to get to the bottom of it, so you can get a great byline, sell a ton of newspapers, and be a star reporter. And well, I won’t ruin the story for you, just that it has all the particulars that make for a story akin to the Bloodhound Gang…or Scooby Doo for that matter…
The game is a combo of live action and animation with voice overs, as well as some hand-drawn graphic design mixed in. The live action is weird: it has actors going through the motions in pantomime, but voice overs tell their story. Weird camera angles take over; their mouths are covered by a newspaper as they “talk”, a camera pans to a guy’s fat gut, and often the actors’ backs are turned away from the camera. I suspect this is in an effort to be able to dub the game into another language. The live action was then juxtaposed with the same actors in animation. This was odd, too. There is one character, Ricky, who is supposed to be a young kid, but was played by what appears to be a young adult actor. To add to the weirdness, his voice was that of a grown man trying to be a young boy…yeah, that creeped me out a little, actually.
The scenes looked good – not too stylized. The scenery does well to try and pull you into its mood. You are made to explore the usual dark corners in Off the Record, but the game as a whole was not scary at all. Every once in a while you get a red figure popping out of nowhere, but it’s not like you need to take an aspirin afterwards…
In terms of gameplay, Off the Record isn’t bad if you like to be taken by the hand the whole way through the game; but if you are seeking challenge, you aren’t going to find it here. There were plenty of hidden object puzzles within the game. Many puzzles required you to partner objects to open things or to operate machinery, but the game went out of its way to tell you exactly what you should do and where you should go which got irritating. There were also many side puzzles mixed in, in an attempt to keep the player engaged. The game is about 3 hours long, so you somewhat feel like you get your money’s worth out of it.
I would recommend Off the Record: Linden Shades to those new to the hidden object genre who haven’t experienced the standard HOG fare and like their games to lead them through them. Expert players can safely pass.
Off the Record: Linden Shades
Developer: Eipix / Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: June 2013
Photo credit: 1. fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net / 2. tvtropes / 3. eipix.com /4. rackcdn.com