The hidden object game has for some time been one of the most popular casual sub-genres. The basic premise of any game that falls under this banner is fairly simple- you’re given a highly detailed scene, packed with objects, and it’s up to you to find and click on a virtual ‘shopping list’ of items. Dr. Lynch: Grave Secrets takes this hidden object game blueprint, daubs it with a Sherlock Holmes-esque plotline and adds-on a few casual mini-games to the mix.
The Dr. Lynch of the title is our Holmes and indeed the game’s protagonist. England’s most famous skeptic and author of (fictional) classics like Debunking England’s Ghosts, Lynch’s curiosity is piqued when he hears of the sighting of a ghost in Bromley, England. Forever with a beer in his hand whenever he appears in any of the game’s cartoon strip cut scenes, Lynch seems a little more brash and drunken than the drugged-up but sharp Holmes, but the similarity is unmistakable nevertheless.
Dr Lynch: Grave Secrets is split up into 14 separate investigations, each of which develops the ghostly narrative a little. Within an investigation, you’ll have a number of scenes to complete involving finding a number of items, with a 25-minute time limit to work with. You can move freely between scenes, each of which is set in a different location within Brombury, which is a traditional English village complete with pubs, a manor and a church, among other cosy stereotypes.
As as to be expected, not all the items you have to find really relate to the story. In fact, hardly any of them do. In each scene, there will generally be one or two items that incite a story pop-up. These items then go into your clues collection, which you can see at any point via a link at the left hand side of the screen. Next to this link are shortcuts to the location map and your stash of character cards. Much like the clues collection, these are just there to represent encounters with the characters you meet around Brombury, generally after completing each scene.
In truth though, the story doesn’t really have any great impact. Partly this is due to the fact that many of the story strands do not tie together all that well, especially during the earlier investigations. Your movements between locations aren’t given quite enough justification to lend them a sense of purpose. You’re always stumbling on new story elements rather than discovering them as such. This is also down to the very nature of the game, though. It’s quite clearly, and self-consciously, ‘of’ its genre, so as to appeal to a casual audience, to satisfy their certain in-built expectations of the game. So much of your time is actually spent doing the searching and clicking that the story can’t dominate the gameplay. As a device for holding the game’s structure together in an interesting way though, it’s a great success.
Brombury is a great location too. It allows for some classic ‘English’ scenes that are really quite charming. Drawn in a highly detailed, only slightly cartoonified, style, Dr Lynch: Grave Secrets’ look is very polished. Of course, detailed graphics are par for the course in this type of game, but this example is genuinely above average. There are 28 locations in total, and although you do end up re-treading them all in your investigative travels, you don’t to the extent that it becomes an issue. In each location, there are many, many more items than you have to find in a single investigation, so you generally won’t be looking for the same things anyway.
A common pitfall of the hidden object game is in the use of nightmarishly difficult-to-find objects that, even upon finding them, don’t look that much like the thing they’re meant to represent. Thankfully, Dr. Lynch is reasonably forgiving in this sense. A lot of them are most certainly tricky, but items are generally placed in a way that makes some sort of sense within their context. That’s not to say that everything is where it intuitively should be- the game wouldn’t be much fun is they were- but items are generally laid on surfaces where they could theoretically be in the real world. There’s precious little of the trend of randomly having items floating camouflaged within other objects.
In each investigation, you have a handful of hints to use that reveal a random remaining item from the list should a last object prove too elusive. Many of the scenes have extra optional objectives that give you extra hints too. These are generally a little different from finding the standard items. You might have to fill some bird-feeders with feed and then click on humming birds that then fly into the screen, or click on fireflies that crawl across the scene. These animated elements add a slight sense of dynamism to a formula that’s already become very familiar.
At the end of each investigation, there’s also a puzzle mini-game that doesn’t rely on the standard pixel-hunting gameplay. These vary quite widely, but examples include spraying bugs with insecticide- an interlude with a more arcadey feel- and arranging leaves onto a plaque, much like a jigsaw. These not only add some much-needed variety to the gameplay, but they also plug you back into the story. Because you’re not looking for a load of mostly random items, these games can relate much more closely to what’s going on.
Even if the story isn’t something you’re constantly engaged with, Dr Lynch: Grave Secrets still manages to lock you into the town of Brombury with some decent ambient sound effects. Singing birds, the sounds of passing cars or even just the clanking or scratching of nearby objects all make sure that, with the help of the strong visuals, Brombury feels as it should- like a quaint English village. The music is well-judged too, led by a cello or some tinkling piano, like all the best TV detective scores.
Dr Lynch: Grave Secrets works because of an accomplished sense of quality and solid execution of the hidden object gameplay at its core. In spite of the selection of more dynamic elements though- the animated objects and additional mini-games- Dr Lynch: Grave Secrets does little to extend or evolve the genre. However, although it doesn’t mark the next generation of its game type, it’s still a remarkably solid entry to the genre.