Artifex Mundi has a good thing going. They only do the one kind of game, adventure hidden-object puzzle mashups, and they do them well. They've got a good solid style and a creative team that clearly knows how to put this stuff together, and a subject range - they favor ghosts and things spooky, in exciting locales - that catches the eye. I assume they have a software backbone for these projects, and then they write and paint each one in turn but don't have to code each new release from the ground up.
Anyway, I love these things. I've just finished Abyss: The Wraiths of Eden
, which I played a little too much - I like to get all the achievements, which usually requires two play-throughs, but I made a couple of mistakes along the way and had to go through it a final time again, which was dull but kind of interesting, because on the multipleth time through you start to see the bones of the design, and how most of everything is set in a sort of back-and-forth progression.
You're the capable wife of an undersea explorer by the name of Cousteau (no one ever claimed Artifex Mundi was a source of original ideas). He goes missing, and you go down after him, doing a solo dive at his last known location in the middle of a coming sea storm (um...). The trail leads quickly to a small undersea lab and from there to a sprawling utopian city on the sea bottom called Rapture. Eden! Not Rapture, it's called Eden. Can't imagine how I might have made that mistake.
Eden is largely abandoned, with cryptic and menacing signs here and there, and red-eyed demon creatures policing the empty corridors. This game does a good job of making the player feel pursued, and the level design is complicated and clear. You'll meet a few characters and chase a few rumors, uncovering and assembling and collecting and connecting along the way. The puzzles are good, mostly clear and challenging but not too hard; the voicing is clear, but rather flat after a while, and the art is fun to look at.
If you don't like hidden object games, this isn't likely to win you over, but if you're on the fence, you should really try an Artifex game before you decide - they're so much better than most of the competition. If you do like them to start with, this title will surely please.
Two notes of caution - three, actually. Usually the company gives you silhouettes in the hidden object scenes, and here they do not, which is a problem a couple of times when (as always) they come up with incomprehensible words like "Rusk" to describe simple objects that have better names in real life. "Sea rod"? What the hell is that? Also, the handy "hint" button sneakily transforms into a "Skip" button when you're in a puzzle, so if you're trying to figure out what they're after in one or two of the more elusive manipulation puzzles, clicking for a hint skips you over the whole thing (this happened to me twice).
Achievement hunters should know that the achievement for completing the game on Expert difficulty is slightly balky. Once you get near the end on Expert, you're best off being safe: do not skip any of the final cut-scenes, and keep in mind that you will have to finish the bonus chapter on Expert as well. If you play around with the other features before you go on to the bonus chapter, the game may think that you've started the extra chapter at another difficulty level, and hold back the achievement, and since there are no progressive save files, there isn't anything you can do about this except start the chapter over.
If you're not in a rush, and I like to play these games at a relaxed pace, the basic game will take you five or six hours. Each hidden-object scene can be traded for a game of dominoes, in which you must tag each of the lit areas on the board with a tile. My small list of completed games