This summer Big Fish Games’ joined the fight for social game dominance with Dark Manor, its spooky, free-to-play hidden object game. Although it demonstrates all the skill and professionalism of the Big Fish name, Dark Manor doesn’t completely succeed due to making gamers endure the quintessential irritations of playing “free” to play games.
Dark Manor has a lot going for it. It’s set in the 1920s in the Lousiana bayou and casts you as the lucky inheritor of a plantation-style mansion. It’s atmospheric and beautiful, with great graphics and audio. Best of all, it employs what Big Fish is calling “Hi-Depth” which makes its hidden object scenes look like they’re made with Walt Disney’s revolutionary multi-plane camera. This gives scenes with names like Gypsy in a Picture and Papa Legba’s Voodoo Shop a dynamism rarely seen in hidden object games.
On top of that, the game has two other fun modes: a fun, slot-machine-like mechanic that lets you spin for prizes like money, gold bars or bonus experience and a build mode that lets you customize your mansion and grounds. The game has a day/night cycle that changes the look of the grounds and transforms already bizarre decorative items into incarnations of the supernatural.
Seemingly in direct competition with Disney’s Ghosts of Mistwood, Dark Manor is definitely the superior game. It gives you control of the entities found on your grounds, enabling you to direct their movement by the placement of paths. It also features consistently more spooky things to build like creepy statues, occult vehicles and haunted swings. The game looks fantastic on iPad and plays just as easily with a touch screen as with a mouse.
All this is the best of Dark Manor. The worst of it is its use the typical annoying social game crutches: energy usage and pointless repetition. The point of the game is to play hidden object scenes to earn money and xp, use the money to build up your mansion grounds, build “ju-ju” as your mansion grounds expand, and unlock items and more hidden object scenes. It’s a repetitive circle that offers little reward beyond allowing you to do the same thing again and again; worse, even if you enjoy this repetition, it prevents you from playing longer than five minutes without spending real-world money.
As most people know by now, free-to-play is a bit of a misnomer. Games like these should really be called “free to wait around for your energy to rebuild”. Since you’re only allowed a limited amount of free energy at one time and playing each hidden object scene costs a good chunk of it, play times are painfully short. Of course, the strategy is to get players to open up their wallets and goodness knows many of them do. Others however, simply stop playing once demands are made upon their bank accounts. After all, there are many, many other social games available out there.
Depending on your attitude toward not-actually-free-to-play games, your enjoyment of Dark Manor will vary greatly. If endlessly pouring money into one game is alright with you, you’ll likely have fun with it. If, however, that idea sounds foolish you’re perhaps better off spending a few dollars up front for a game whose features unlock all at once.
For more information about Big Fish Games’ Dark Manor, visit Big Fish’s official website.