Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Artifex Mundi Games Xbox One Overview and Buyer's Guide

You’ve probably seen Artifex Mundi games before while browsing the Xbox Store or seeing a list of weekly new releases and thinking to yourself “What the hell is this and why does it look exactly like a bunch of other games on Xbox One?” and quickly passed them over, but are they actually worth playing?  Depending on how much you like puzzles, yeah, they might be worth a look.  For the right price, anyway.  Rather than reviewing them all separately, which would be a pain, I present to you the official all encompassing PSXBoxIndies Artifex Mundi Xbox One Buyer's Guide!  Can one general guide really accurately cover several different games?  In this case, absolutely yes.  Read on!

What Are Artifex Mundi Games?

Artifex Mundi games are known as hidden object games where you have to solve puzzles by finding objects scattered around a game world.  They were popularized on mobile platforms and as free web browser games people would use to pass the time, but now they’ve come to game consoles – at a higher price – so everyone can get in on the fun.  There are currently seven Artifex Mundi games on Xbox One with stories ranging from a small-town string of murders, an ancient pirate captain come back to life, a bear that kidnaps a would-be bride, and much more.  The stories are only mostly OK, though, not great. 

What is the Gameplay Like?

What does “hidden object game” actually mean in real gameplay, though?  In terms of actual moment-to-moment gameplay, they are essentially point-and-click adventures where you progress through static environments by clicking on various parts of the screen with a cursor.  Each screen has interactive objects to use or items to pick up and puzzles to solve which, in typical videogame form, open up new objects and puzzles that open up new ones that open up new ones until you eventually reach the end of the story. 

At several points in each game there will be the true hidden object puzzles where you have a list of items you have to find scattered around on a screen full of junk.  These are generally pretty mindless, though.  They aren’t the only puzzles you’ll find in Artifex Mundi games, however, and it is the other puzzles that make the games actually interesting to play.  There are multi-part puzzles where you have to collect a bunch of items from around the game world and put them together into what you need.  There are sliding block picture puzzles.  There are puzzles where you remake a picture from torn up scraps of paper.  Puzzles where you re-arrange the faces of angels on a picture so they line up with the correct bodies.  Puzzles where you crack computer passwords or the combination to a wall safe.  The sheer variety of puzzles, and the level of challenge some of them offer, is the real appeal of Artifex Mundi games.  And if the puzzles are too challenging or you just need a hint on where to go next, the games also have a great hint system to point you in the right direction.

Artifex Mundi games can be surprisingly fun and satisfying to play through, except when things go off the rails into the realm of the arbitrary and annoying which, unfortunately, seem to happen a lot.  Remember puzzles in Resident Evil or Silent Hill games where the necessary items are spread all over the place or the other puzzles where the solution is obvious and easy but the game requires a specific item to solve it?  That is Artifex Mundi game design to a “T”.  Every puzzle has one item that solves it even if in real life you would innovate and come up with something smarter and faster.  Examples are breaking open boxes or other items, reaching through narrow areas, climbing up and over stuff, etc. where you have to have a specific item but a real person would just brute force it.  Also, most items can only be used once so say goodbye to that handy screwdriver or hammer that would be a real problem solver because you used it on one stupid thing and now it’s gone forever. 

A frequent puzzle design also has you solving just one part of a puzzle and then making you backtrack all the way back through a pirate ship or forest or entire town to go find the next piece.  In real game time it is just a matter of seconds since everything is a static screen and the game loads pretty much instantly, but thinking about solving puzzles like this in the real world and imagining the character running back and forth for miles and miles and miles to fetch the one item that breaks open something or moves something, even though a real person would just find another way, really annoys me.  And just like Resident Evil puzzles, you have to wonder who in the heck would design a place, in the case of Artifex Mundi games entire towns sometimes, with so many different types of locks and puzzles with the solutions and keys spread all over the damn place.  It’s dumb.  It’s super videogame-y and I guess that’s fine, but the rational and logical part of me is just screaming inside  about how dumb everything is.

So, Should You Play Them?

I know this all sounds pretty negative, but there are still plenty of good reasons to play Artifex Mundi games on Xbox One.  Some of the puzzles are really genuinely fantastic and very satisfying to solve.  Being clever and seeing the solution to a puzzle long before the game goes through its long drawn out process of making you run all over the place to find the necessary pieces is also very satisfying and compels you to keep playing.  The games also have generally easy achievements, too, as long as you can figure out the puzzles, so gamerscore hunters can do a lot worse than spending a couple hours playing an Artifex Mundi game.  The games are also quite nice looking.  They are mostly just static screens, so of course they’re crazy detailed and sharp and good looking, but that doesn’t mean you can dismiss how great they really do look. 

If you find satisfaction in solving puzzles, Artifex Mundi games might be worth a look.  They’re like if The Witness had 100x more variety to the puzzles and wasn’t a mess of pretentious garbage.  Yeah, I said it.  Artifex Mundi games, any of them, are better than The Witness.  My only concern is that the $10 price tag for each game is asking far too much for what they are, especially when you consider they are $5 (or free) on mobile platforms or web browsers.  It doesn’t make sense to pay a premium for a console version that has worse controls.  With that in mind I recommend that if you are interested in playing Artifex Mundi games, wait for a sale.  Thankfully, they seem to go on sale pretty regularly so if you can buy them for $5 or less, go for it.