Just Can’t Escape the Call
Having recently wrapped up the case of Ravenhearst Manor in the previous entry of the Mystery Case Files series, your vigilant detective gets caught in yet another adventure.
While driving home on the wintry roads, you get caught in a nasty blizzard, and it soon becomes apparent that driving is just not going to be an option for long. As you step out, you locate another car by the wayside, completely empty, with signs of a struggle, and a scrawled message and video tape depicting some disturbing stuff. Ever the inquisitive mind, you eventually find another manor, which appears to be haunted and may have claimed the lives of several other equally curious minds.
It’s up to you to get to the bottom of this case, and hopefully radio in some help in the process. Alas, the life of a detective is never easy, and worse, it doesn’t look like you’re getting paid this time.
That’s the story of Dire Grove. It starts out with a bang, and it gets better from there. You’ll largely be exploring the mansion grounds, picking up video tapes along the way that chronicle the exploits of a group of graduate students looking into the legends of the area known as, you guessed it, Dire Grove.
This is a pretty effective way to reveal the story, and does a good job at ramping up the horror aspects of the game. Doubly so, because there’s not much in the way of other people with whom you can communicate. This time, you’re on your own.
Haunting and Beautiful
As should be expected of the Mystery Case File series, Dire Grove’s production values are nothing short of fantastic. The backgrounds are highly detailed, with just enough animation to increase the authenticity and creepiness, from falling snow, to creaking doors, to the occasional glimpse of a stray phantom.
Sound is put to good use as well for those same instances, and the game even sees fit to throw in a few jump scares to keep you on your toes, even when you’re doing something mundane like sifting through the clutter in a hidden object sequence. As for the music, it covers the ambience well, and surprisingly enough, is actually pretty good on its own merits as well.
Most impressive is the use of live action footage for the videos you uncover along the way. These stitch together Dire Grove’s backstory in an interesting way, and make things all the more intriguing. It works much in the same as The Blair Witch Project or Marble Hornets.
And surprisingly, the acting in these videos isn’t all that bad! Sure, no one’s going to be winning any Oscars anytime soon, but you won’t be plugging your ears and muting your computer listening to these people. No, you’re definitely going to be looking forward to the next tape you discover.
If there is one nitpicking detail, it’s that the videos work poorly in the “found footage” format they’re supposed to be in; somehow, despite being recorded by one of the characters in-universe, everyone gets displayed on the screen simultaneously, and numerous angles are cut together, despite supposedly being shot in one take with a single camera. It really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Still the Same Old Mystery
If you’ve played any of the previous Mystery Case Files, or any casual adventure game for that matter, you’ll find that Dire Grove doesn’t bring a whole lot of new material to the table. You’ll explore the grounds, search for key items, solve puzzles to open various locks, and of course, take part in hidden object games. Most of these are done fairly well, though the puzzles can seem kind of confusing at times, not just in how to solve them, but in figuring out what exactly you’re supposed to do. And worse, the game has a bad habit of overusing the HOG segments, throwing several consecutive ones at you, sometimes on the same screen, before letting you do something else for a change. It can get repetitive.
If there is a silver lining to Dire Grove, though, it’s that it doesn’t quite hold your hand so much. Well, that could be good or bad depending on what kind of a player you are, but it does require you to pay closer to what you find and use your tools to figure out how to advance. The hint button is still there, but it can only be employed during a HOG, and the recharge time is pretty lengthy.
But when you want to figure out where you’re supposed to go next, you have to rely instead on the clues you find. These include things like the aforementioned video tapes, which often provide information on where you can go next. More importantly, you also have your case files on hand, which store whatever clues you find, notes of your discoveries, and indicates how they can be used to further your investigation. Refer to it if you get stuck, it helps a lot.
Strangely, hints for puzzles are even more generous than before. Mainly in that there are no hints; you can skip them entirely, without consequence! It feels kind of like a cheat using it, but there’s otherwise no middle ground to just getting a hint or even basic directions on how to go about it. This is especially egregious if the puzzle isn’t so intuitive, which happens earlier and more often than you would like.
A Joy to Explore
Perhaps what Dire Grove does best is how it requires you to really dive into it to understand it. As you explore the game world, you’ll not only locate the video tapes, but you’ll also find written books and articles detailing even more history of the titular place. If you’re up for a little reading, they can be very interesting and eerie. The same goes for some of the imagery you’ll find; there’s a lot of creepy stuff out there.
Early on, you’ll find a computer running a screen saver that flips through many disturbing images, and in another, you’ll see a body suspended from the ceiling by being frozen in icicles! Dire Grove is a character unto itself, and getting to know “her” is perhaps the most fun part of the game.
Closing the Case
In the end, Mystery Case File: Dire Grove is an interesting experience. It both looks and sounds amazing. It tells an intriguing story in a brilliant way, letting archived videos and the environment itself do more of the talking than the characters, and expects you to discover it all for yourself by refusing to hold your hand, most of the time anyway. It still has all the familiar trappings of the series and genre, for better or worse, but if that’s not a problem for you, well, you’ll find there’s a bit to enjoy here. Sadly, like its predecessors, there’s little reason to return after one play-through.
Still, with its added challenge, Dire Grove can be seen as step to take for those considering on trying out more difficult adventure games in the future.
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
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