Contract With the Devil
Year Published: 2015
Publisher: 8Floor
Developer: AZ-Art Development Studio

It isn't very often that a hidden object game succeeds in annoying me within the first five minutes of playtime, and Contract With the Devil is one of the few to hold that dubious honor. Before you can even begin the game you must wait through a ridiculously lengthy title screen animation: The "Devil" character holds a parchment with unintelligible writing up to the screen. After a few moments the writing burns away to reveal in large print the word "PLAY", but he must wave it at you several times before you can click on it. Look, Devil, you may not be used to people readily agreeing to your proposals, but there is no need for the flair here - I really do want to play the game I paid for.

Not sure what creepy Leprechauns have to do with Lucifer, but oh well.

As the story begins, you discover your adopted daughter Lisa is the last descesdant of a family whose patriarch, John McGraw, sold his soul to the Devil 200 years ago to pay off some gambling debts and live forever. He needs to sacrifice a member of his family line to renew the contract, so he lures you and Lisa to his abode, where he kidnaps her and escapes into a parallel "Mirror World", which I suppose is the game's version of Hell, but if that's the case then the reports of what it's like have been greatly exaggerated.

As if things aren't complicated enough, the Devil also unleashed McGraw's vices, in the form of little impish devils, from a magical box and the only way to stop him is to capture and return them to the box. For some reason, there is also a leprechaun named Browne who is your hint system (and nothing more), and along with leaping in and out of mirrors, you will also travel through time in some rooms to see how the story unfolded in the past. There is no voice acting per se, but the magical creatures talk in mumble-speak, a la, Banjo-Kazooie. This isn't so bad for the imps, but you'll probably be grateful Browne never speaks again after his introduction.

The 7 Deadly, Vices

But the story isn't what annoyed me about Contract, despite my tendency to frown on "Mother Saves Child" plots. It's the game's perplexing approach to its hidden object scenes. The very first one, instead of being a traditional HO item find (though it has those, too), is a "Find Matching Pairs". So you click an object on the screen and then click another object that somehow relates to it, (Example: Horse and Horseshoe), but here's the confounding part: You cannot tell what can be clicked on and what can't, and the game has an extremely annoying misclick penalty that fogs the screen for a few moments if you click "wrong" too many times.

Most HOGs would have your cursor change in some way when it's hovering over an object that can be interacted with. Contract's doesn't, so there is no way of knowing what to do without trying to click everything and everywhere. This problem carries itself over into the traditional HO scenes because some items need an extra step to be revealed and again, there's no way to know what can be manipulated.

If Hell is just living in a creepy but cool treehouse with a pet hedgehog, where do I sign up?

Contract, despite its tantalizing subject matter, is actually a rather run-of-the-mill HOG, and it's perhaps one you wouldn't regret playing. But along with the annoying HO scene problems, there are so many other issues with it that a review threatens to become a list. Well, a list is probably in order, so here goes:

  • Cutscenes often end so quickly, it's nearly impossible to read all the dialogue, which tends to be full of grammatical errors.

  • It's somewhat laggy and the time it takes to complete puzzles is artificially lengthened by how slowly their parts move and react to your input.

  • A swapping tile puzzle glitched on me when two pieces overlapped and couldn't be reverted. I had to reset the puzzle after I had most of it done.

  • That same swapping tile puzzle's instructions do not mention that some pieces need to be rotated, nor how to rotate them.

  • The game crashed twice, but thankfully with little lost progress.

  • The lack of a map means you might have to occasionally use hints to know where you've missed something when you become hopelessly stuck.

    A fossilized living dragon cave.

    There are some good points to Contract With the Devil, mostly in its artwork and ability to keep you busy and your mind active, as it does the "Find Item/Use Item" aspect as well as any other modern HOG. Some might find it odd that John McGraw's purgatory is just a mirror image of his estate with a few notable differences, the most memorable and creative being a cave made from the remains of a partially-fossilized dragon that's...actually still alive somehow. But whether that's a good thing or a bad thing I guess depends on how sensitive you would be to more traditional depictions of Hell in a hidden object game.

    Weirdly, there is no salvation for John. It seems a bonus chapter could've resolved this, but the game doesn't have one or any sequels, and it doesn't seem like AZ-Art Development Studios ever made anything else. Hopefully, once this contract was up, they moved onto better things.

    SCORE: 2.5/5



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