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Gaming Events 2019 - Game Review: Mystery Case Files: The Countess Collector’s Edition (first play) - infogaming7.blogspot.com

Developer: Eipix Entertainment
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Original Release Date: 21st November 2018
Platform: PC


Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am a big fan of the Mystery Case Files series. Or rather, I’m a big fan of the Ravenhearst arc within the MCF series – though I enjoyed the two Dire Grove games, and I like going back to Huntsville occasionally for something lighter. I’m not quite at the stage of writing Charles Dalimar fan fic, but I will admit to getting really quite invested in the Ravenhearst story. My favourite Mystery Case Files games are Fate’s Carnival (for the mind-boggling detail and complexity of the gameplay) and Escape from Ravenhearst (which is a truly bizarre and disturbing experience, even if it does have some problems when it comes to gameplay). It’s fair to say that no HOPAs have come close to those two games for me, though I live in hope.

Nevertheless, Mystery Case Files has been something of a disappointment for me since Dire Grove, Sacred Grove – and since Eipix took over the development. I’m still hoping that we can just do a Highlander 2 on Key to Ravenhearst and Ravenhearst Unlocked, because these were just terrible (and inconsistent) instalments of the story. Broken Hour and The Black Veil (non-Ravenhearst games) were okay, but they lacked the magic of the earlier games. I decided to give Mystery Case Files: The Countess a try, since I can’t quite let go of my Master Detective badge yet. I knew it wasn’t going to be another Fate’s Carnival, but I thought it might at least be better than Ravenhearst Unlocked! And I was right… The Countess is somewhere in between.


You play – once again – as a Master Detective, though it’s not clear whether you’re the same detective who had the run-ins with Charles Dalimar and his dad. The game begins with a short intro scene, setting up a story about a creepy mirror and the thing that lives inside it. You then hear a message from the queen (on a tape recorder this time, not the phone) giving you your mission. Lady Eleanor Coddington has disappeared while renovating her ancestral estate, once the home of children’s author Gloria Coddington (Eleanor’s grandmother, you’re told). When you arrive at the estate, it’s closed off, crumbling and massively creepy (as with most of the Mystery Case Files games, this one goes for the Gothic aesthetic).

Early on in the game (and highlighted in the intro scene), you discover that a large black mirror has some significance, and that there is a supernatural creature residing within it who is most likely responsible for the dark goings-on. Your main objective is to find and rescue Eleanor, but this is wrapped up in a quest to uncover the truth about Gloria, the mirror and the sinister force at work in the manor. To be honest, it’s not the most original storyline for a HOPA, and there are few twists or surprises as things unfold. Rescue the girl, defeat the demon, leave the house.

This is a haunted house game, and it’s very much in the expected style. The colour palette is dark, though I didn’t find scenes too dark to identify objects. As with the other Eipix MCF games, there are some great bits of illustration here – the creature in the mirror is particularly well-done – but there are some fairly bland elements too. NPCs are illustrated but not always fully animated, though they are a big step up from the cartoonish characters in Key to Ravenhearst and Ravenhearst Unlocked. The cutscenes are well done and integrated into the gameplay without being too jarring. There’s also a nice scene in a ballroom that reminded me a bit of Escape from Ravenhearst – though it’s much less unsettling (obvs).

In terms of design though, there were a couple of things that frustrated me as a Mystery Case Files fan. I missed the visual nods to other games in the series (unless I didn’t spot them first time round) – a Madame Fate bobblehead here, a 13th Skull decoration there. The music also annoyed me. It’s almost the Mystery Case Files theme (I was going to say ‘iconic’ theme, but I’m not sure the games are well-enough known for me to make that claim), but the refrain is never quite finished. Key to Ravenhearst/Ravenhearst Unlocked played the same trick – the first few notes are played, but it’s not quite the full theme. If I wasn’t expecting my beloved MCF theme, I would’ve said that the music was good – it’s atmospheric and evocative, and it doesn’t loop too much. In a way, the music is illustrative of the game as a whole… it’s almost recognizable as Mystery Case Files, but stops just short of being satisfying.


This is a fairly straightforward HOPA – you move from room to room, putting stuff in your inventory, using stuff from your inventory, and finding mini-games and HOGs as you go. There are some ‘plus items’ (where you have to do something or add something to an item in your inventory), which some people like but I find a bit irritating to be honest. There’s also an interactive jump map in the game. I try and avoid using jump maps – it draws you out of the story if you start teleporting between rooms – but this means that I end up having a bit of back and forth at times. However, The Countess does have another feature that I do like, and that’s the closing off of rooms after you’ve finished a chapter. That’s done reasonably seamlessly here – something happens within the story that makes it plausibly impossible for you to return to your previous location.

There’s a range of mini-games here, some of which are really tricky. I played on Custom difficulty mode (and I do like games where you can customize difficulty), so I had a slow recharge on Hint and Skip. I did still have to use both though, as some of the mini-games were really hard (and some needed lots of fiddly clicking, which I don’t enjoy). There are some almost ‘Super Puzzles’ here – where you have to complete a series of small puzzles in order – but they’re a shadow of Fate’s Carnival’s Rube Goldberg games.

Puzzles aside, I found the gameplay a bit frustrating. The progression from one task to the next wasn’t always logical – I felt like I was mostly wandering in and out of rooms checking them out, rather than consistently searching for Eleanor (who I occasionally forgot all about). Items from the inventory weren’t always used in a logical way either. Often, the what, why and where were unclear, and I had to resort to guesswork and random tries. Towards the end of the game – and I don’t know if this was just because I was tired – I found it less and less obvious what I had to do next, and so I reluctantly resorted to Hint (I even used the jump map a couple of times – shock, horror!).

Obviously, I’m tempted to say that the characters are also a shadow of former instalments. That probably wouldn’t be fair though, as the Ravenhearst arc is a bit of an outlier when it comes to HOPA characters – no game is ever going to come close to creating a character like Charles Dalimar. The Countess gives us some standard fare: the first-person PC is an undifferentiated Master Detective, and the adversary is a demonic creature that we see, but don’t really interact with. There are a couple of other NPCs, with whom you have a little bit of interaction, but most of the characters’ backstory is revealed through cutscenes. An interesting storyline emerges about one of the characters (which isn’t too difficult to guess, but apparently comes as a surprise within the game), which does add a little bit of depth to the story. However, I found it difficult to get really invested in the characters.


I played the CE for this one, and there were a few extras with it. There’s a bonus chapter – which, to be honest, left me a little confused by its ending (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve played it). The CE also has collectibles – the now-ubiquitous but totally pointless morphing objects, and mirror shards – but there’s no endgame with these collectibles, so sadly nothing happens if you get all the pieces of the mirror. There are, however, achievements – and the CE has replays on the HOGs and mini-games, so you can make sure you’ve achieved all you want from a single play-through.

Overall, this is a decent game. On Custom difficulty (no sparkle-indicators, slow recharge on Hint and Skip, minimal black bar instructions), it took me just over six hours to play through. I did find the illogical progression frustrating towards the end, and the story didn’t massively enthuse me, but I probably will play this one again at some point. The big problem is that, while the game is alright if you treat it as a standalone, it is a Mystery Case Files game. But it’s just not Ravenhearst.

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