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The Hidden Review


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On 12/09/2011 at 01:16 PM by Travis Hawks

An augmented reality game that turns the player into a real-life creeper. What could go wrong?
RECOMMENDATION:

Only play The Hidden if you are curious about a full-length AR game and find it in the clearance bin.

Picking up my pace, trying not to run, but rushing to get safely back home – I glance over my shoulder to see if anything is behind me.  I am freaked out.  Paranoid.  Skittish.  I’m not looking for otherworldly critters or anything, I’m worried I might get arrested or -- at best -- confronted by a pissed off neighbor.  I’ve been skulking around my neighborhood at odd hours and spending minutes at a time spinning in front of strangers’ homes, occasionally taking pictures.  I should be put in the slammer just based on appearances.  But really, I’ve just been playing The Hidden and hating every minute.

If you haven’t heard of The Hidden (and you probably haven’t), it’s a game that is doing its best to leverage the augmented reality possibilities of the 3DS.  Every 3DS came packaged with those “AR Cards” to show off the potential of augmented reality, and The Hidden tries to make a full length game out of those ideas.  All of the marketing materials for the game make it sound like an interesting concept that would be a fun change of pace – and maybe be the first of a new hit genre of games. 

The set up is this:  You are an agent in the G.E.I.S.T. organization that is out to hunt and capture specters they refer to as shades.  The game treats your 3DS system like a ghost hunting device as well as your interface with the rest of the G.E.I.S.T.  team.  Each time you start a session, the game makes a good attempt to get you into the shade hunting fantasy by scanning your thumbprint in order to grant access. (PixlTip:  You can put most anything in the scan box and get the same positive result!)

Once logged in, you see the “desktop” of the device which is the hub for every activity from here on out.  Just like a computer desktop, you can check e-mail and open files to read.  Those e-mails are important since it’s how the game dishes out missions.  At any given time, one to four e-mails will arrive with missions attached.  Each e-mail does its best throw in story bits, but they are hampered by a limiting max length.  Apparently scrolling is not possible in the G.E.I.S.T. e-mail reading interface even though you can scroll in the inbox.  Checking a box next to a mission e-mail tells the game you have accepted it and are ready for some shade killin’, or data collectin’, or some other poorly executed shade-related mini-game.

In mission mode, the focal point of the game switches from the thrills of e-mail reading and data perusal to the “scanner.”  The scanner is how the game truly tries to “augment” your world by acting as a way to see shades and ecto-goo in your reality and tells you to walk.  The Hidden will not make you shudder at what could be lurking under your own couch because you won’t spend very much time in your own home.  The way it finds locations for shade encounters is by picking up Wi-Fi access points (locked or not) and using them to map out areas for you to explore.  This means you will be outside and walking – a lot – trying to ping new Wi-Fi signatures and find new shade encounters.

Sounds pretty neat, right?  We could all use some more exercise, and why not tie a creepy ghost-hunting game into that?  Well, think about it some more.  You’re using the 3DS outside – on a sunny day, the screen is not going to be visible enough to see what’s going on.  Since Majesco failed to include some sort of head covering that extended over your 3DS to allow you to see the screen, you are going to have to wait and play this on a cloudy day or at night.  My personal area to cleanse of shades is in north Texas, which means we get tons of sun and when it’s cloudy enough to see an LCD screen outside, it is raining.  I did manage to play a little when it was just sprinkling, but I wasn’t up for ruining my $250 piece of kit to play this game.  So, the bulk of my time was spent playing in the dark. 

As I walked around my neighborhood where who-knows-what sort of things were already being whispered about me behind closed doors and cracked blinds, I did my best to get into the shade-hunting experience and have a good time.  It didn’t work. 

First off, the core game mechanic involves shooting at the little critters until you get all of them.  Since they are “in your reality,” this means they will surround you at a location and you have to blast away.  “Surround” is key here, because to line them up in your sights, you have to turn the 3DS to face them.  Just imagine this for a minute: standing on the sidewalk, in the dark, in front of someone else’s house, spinning in a circle.  Not to mention you will most likely be swearing and cursing due to the frustrating aiming and blocking.  Things get a little easier as you power up your gear and can dish out more damage, block more effectively, etc.  The shades get more powerful along with you and even more frustrating requirements to defeat them are frequently introduced. 

Your arsenal starts out like a Ghostbusters knock-off, with a blaster and a tractor beam type of device to pull shades in for further study.  You also get a shield that you can engage for quick blocking of attacks that are barely predictable from the enemies in front of you, but impossible to detect from all of the other baddies behind, next to, above, and below you.  It becomes a game of trying to shoot and turn your whole body around fast enough before your health is drained.

If you have played Face Raiders that comes installed on the 3DS, you’ve already played a version of The Hidden’s main game, minus shields and tractor beams and things. One big difference between the two games is that Face Raiders at least tries to make the enemies interact with the environment, bursting through walls to attack you.  There is no such mingling of real and fake in The Hidden.  The shades are simply layered over top of whatever is visible through the cameras.  This may seem like a minor quibble, but when the point of the game is to help you pretend that these things are in your reality, it really falls short.  There is no difference between one locale and another besides a change in backdrop, making you wish you could spin and shoot like an idiot in the privacy of your own home.  Some encounters are different than the basic spin-n-shoot but all amount to weak mini-games in a spectral wrapper.  There are even activities that don’t use the cameras at all, but require you to trek somewhere to complete a mission that you could just as easily do in the living room.

In addition to those e-mails with some narrative nobody would ever be interested in, the story also unfolds for you while walking around.  An instant-messenger-like presentation is shown on the lower screen while you are walking along and presumably looking through the top screen at what is in front of you.  These IM conversations scroll by and try to get you interested in the intrigue, infighting, and deception going on within G.E.I.S.T., but they don’t work.  For one, you are busy walking and not really able to read.  Even worse, the inane messages are from characters that you have no connection with and are only represented by clip-art avatars.  

There is nothing in this game to keep you wanting to play more and nothing that makes it worth the embarrassment of roaming around looking like a freak.  The game even discourages you from playing with some Wii-esque “Haven’t you been playing a while?” type warnings that always popped up when I was blocks from home.  Why would I stop playing and walk all the way back home?  It is a strange addition.

On those long walks while I was waiting for the game to give me something to do, I had plenty of time to think about how I would rather be walking with the dog instead of the 3DS, or running without anything, or sitting at home playing a real game.  Praise should be given to Majesco for trying to do something different, but someone should have realized that it wasn’t turning into something enjoyable.  The potential is there for a clever game, but in practice it all falls apart thanks to the realities of sunshine, social normalcy, and some pretty terrible design decisions.  Oh, and the game isn’t scary at all – outside of the fact that your neighborhood will soon have stories to tell about the spinning creepy guy with a foul mouth.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Nick DiMola Director

12/09/2011 at 01:44 PM

I laughed out loud on this one. I can see Travis walking around the neighborhood at night, bumping into people taking out their garbage wondering WTF he's doing.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/09/2011 at 02:30 PM

Please tell me you wore a ski mask and a black hoodie while you did this.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

12/09/2011 at 09:18 PM

No ski mask, but I was often wearing a hoodie and I was sporting a full Novembeard for most of my time with the game. Sometimes, I brought my son along when it wasn't too late... you know, to look less creepy. Probably looked worse.

Our Take

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

12/11/2011 at 09:33 PM

Bummer. I was looking forward to a game like this.

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