By: Armaan Khan
Alawar’s hidden-object game, House of a Thousand Doors: Family Secrets, puts you in the role of Kate Reed, a washed up writer of ghost stories who can’t seem to get her life on track. Things take a turn for the supernatural, though, when she meets her dead grandmother and is sent on a mission to clear the family name. How? By visiting the House of a Thousand Doors and solving the mysteries within. For the most part, doing so requires you to explore the eponymous House and help a number of ghosts resolve the dilemmas that keep them trapped on Earth, thereby allowing them to move on to the afterlife. As is usual for the hidden-object genre, you’ll spend roughly half your time looking for hidden objects, while the other half will be spent solving inventory and logic puzzles.
The hidden object sequences are incredibly solid and well crafted. You’ll be asked to find dozens of items each sequence, so they’re meaty bits of gameplay, and exhibit none of the cheap tricks other HOGs usually pull, like putting a black item on a black background for example. You’ll visit each hidden-object scene multiple times during the course of the game, which could be viewed as a negative, but I actually liked it because the items you have to find are different every time and having those “oh, I remember seeing that last time, but where exactly…” moments add to the immersion of the experience.
When you’re not finding hidden objects, you’ll be solving puzzles. The inventory based ones aren’t particularly taxing and mostly logical, although you do have to tolerate the standard adventure trope of losing useful items once you’ve used them the one time you’re supposed to. The logic puzzles are really good too. Normally I don’t enjoy these, but the ones here are very nicely balanced, providing enough difficulty to challenge your brain without being so hard that it pulls you out of the experience of the story.
That story is a mixed bag. You’re supposedly in the House to clear Kate’s family name, but the bulk of your time is spent helping four spirits move on to the afterlife. These little subplots are interesting and well-done when taken individually, but as a whole they don’t tie into each other in any way, which is kind of bothersome if you’re into cohesive experiences. In addition, you won’t even get to resolve the primary impetus for going to the house in the first place unless you own the collector’s edition.
Overall, I enjoyed the story, though. The four tales of wayward spirits are interesting, and I honestly felt good about helping them move on with their afterlives. Everything is fully voiced as well and CG cutscenes play at key moments. The voice acting isn’t the best, but gets the job done, and the animated sequences are quite nice. They look like Poser work, but it’s good Poser work with actual effort put into it, which is nice to see.
Since Family Secrets is developed by one of Alawar’s internal studio, you’ll get access to the absolutely wonderful map feature that is in their other HOGs. This handy tool shows you where you need to be at any given time and lets you fast travel between locations, which saves a lot of time and frustration when you’re stuck and don’t know what to do next. You’ll also get a solid journal system that does a great job at providing directions and recording clues you need to solve the puzzles that you encounter. Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with Alawar’s usual installer/launcher issues as well: you can’t specify the install directory, be asked to install the Ask toolbar and Alawar “Game Box,” then live with a launcher that’s just a big ad for their other games and provides no other useful function. I mention this in every review I write of an Alawar game, and I’ll keep mentioning it until it changes.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
Overall, House of a Thousand Doors: Family Secrets took me two and a half hours to play, with the collector’s edition content adding another hour on top of that. I enjoyed my time with it, and highly recommend it for any hidden object fans out there. My only issue with it is the price. At twenty bucks for the collector’s edition, it’s pretty expensive but, ultimately, I have to say it’s worth it.
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