Platform: PC (Origin)
Developer: E-One Studio
Hoodwink looks the business. As a fan of point & click adventure games, I was inexorably drawn to E-One Studio's offering like a moth to a flame, marvelling at the expressive facial animations and detail packed into the delightful cell-shaded visuals. Attractively caricatured characters crackle with raw emotion, while the backgrounds resemble a gorgeous hand-painted masterpiece brought to subtle life.
The setting and storyline are more impressive still. As 'acquisition expert' Michael Bezzle (geddit?), you'll explore a darkly humorous dystopia full of anthropomorphic detectives, likeable support characters, corporate conspiracies and talking dustbins. From the slums to gumshoe offices, everyone you meet has something witty to say, and the experience is packed full of dry dialogue and tongue-in-cheek film noir references. Even the license code input screen acts as a hilarious advert for Hoodwink's evil corporate monopoly! It's the perfect foundation for a truly exceptional adventure game, a unique and compelling world that you'll want to explore.
So it's with a genuinely heavy heart that I'm forced to report that Hoodwink is a depressing wasted opportunity. Rarely will you see such crushing mediocrity snatched from the jaws of brilliance.
On a basic level, Hoodwink's mechanics are unfit for task. Moving Bezzle around the 3D environments is painfully clunky and imprecise, exacerbated by a laggy mouse cursor that makes navigation a chore. Preset camera angles can only be changed by clicking on an obnoxiously small, finicky and unknown area on the floor rather than simply moving the cursor to the door or sides of the screen, indeed, hunting for these important transition zones becomes more important than actually working out puzzle solutions. You can't save your game at will, and neither can you Alt-Tab with any guarantee that the game will still be running when you return. A recent patch has worked out a few crippling GFX and audio issues, but depending on your hardware, you may well discover that Hoodwink runs rather slowly.
Worse, all dialogue, narration and descriptions are unskippable. It's well-acted, witty and engaging, sure, but clicking on a non-essential object will lock your cursor for ten to twenty seconds, which becomes unbelievably aggravating when you're hunting for a particular item and end up accidentally clicking on a scenery element more than once. You'll spend more time either sitting idle, painfully hobbling around the environments or grubbing around for screen transition zones than actually using your brain; a weak position for any adventure game to be in.
That said, I frequently cut indie and boutique games some serious slack when it comes to ropey mechanics; sometimes a game can be worthwhile and life-affirming enough to overcome any teething problems. I would have been prepared to do the same for Hoodwink, had its puzzle design not choked the last of the life out of what could have been an outstanding debut.
Hoodwink's puzzles are a bizarre and unsatisfying blend of the ridiculously easy and the stupidly obtuse. Apart from a couple of hilariously poor environmental 'puzzles' (turning a crank four times is not a puzzle, dammit!), almost all of the solutions involve locating the correct item... by painstakingly finding the correct camera angle... and then simply clicking on the scenery object/obstacle you need to interact with. The item you need is then automatically selected, leaving you to 'solve' the puzzle simply by clicking on the icon - even if you don't understand exactly how the two items will actually interact in the following cutscene! There's no brainpower required, no deduction necessary, no logic and no point to the vast majority of Hoodwink's puzzles, which cripples the adventure beyond all reason. It's pointing and clicking for the sheer merry hell of it all.
I suppose that Hoodwink can be enjoyed as an interactive comic, but even then, the mechanics still aren't strong or streamlined enough to provide a consistently enjoyable experience.
Length and value is sometimes difficult to judge when it comes to adventure games, after all, they usually rely on quality over quantity and replay value. But it's dead easy in this case. Hoodwink can be completed in two short hours, ends on an exasperating cliffhanger, yet carries a £9.99 price tag. Without relying on cliched metaphors involving camels, straws and backs (or nails and coffins), this is absolutely unacceptable. Suckering players into what's obviously an episodic series without telling them that they'll need to buy more games down the line is not okay.
After all that, however, I don't want to dwell on the negative. See: I actually want more. Hoodwink's characters and world deserve a longer, more fully-formed game that does justice to the setting with solid mechanics and a meaty storyline to sink our teeth into. I truly hope that E-One Studios will go back to the drawing board and return with a truly superior adventure game, or retool the experience as an interactive graphic novel. It's just sad that I can't give Hoodwink more than the most tentative of recommendations.
- Gorgeous visuals
- Engaging and humorous story and setting
- Solid voice acting
- Painful mechanics
- Horrendous puzzles are both embarrassingly easy and obtuse
- Cripplingly short, cliffhanger ending
The Short Version: Hoodwink could have been a truly superior adventure game, and it still could be. The emotive characters, superbly-designed world and engaging storyline consistently delight... but they're shoehorned into two miserable hours of weak mechanics and awful puzzle design.
I genuinely hope that E-One studios will refine the concept into something worthwhile, but for now, Hoodwink simply isn't worth your time or money.