Hidden Expedition: Dawn of Prosperity (Collector's Edition)
Year Published: 2015
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Eipix Entertainment

When I originally played Hidden Expedition: Dawn of Prosperity, at the time it was the most graphically advanced hidden object game I'd yet played. Although the art style is similar to many others of the era, and developer Eipix's games in particular, it had the highest amount of animation, pans, and zooms when moving between areas and examining items that I'd ever seen. Eipix had already proven with their earlier titles that they are one of the best in the business of HOG art, and here it was on a level that blew me away.

Take, for example, an early scene where your character attempts to sneak into a heavily guarded compound by taking a forested path into a back entrance that's lined with security cameras. After taking out the cameras, you move forward several steps, dodging behind trees to avoid being seen by a guard as branches sway in the breeze and a raccoon skitters around in the background. Scenes like this make 2D environments look and feel 3D and full of life - you feel like part of the action and not just staring at flat two dimensional images from behind your monitor.

Sneaking past security through some lush scenery.

And that is all very important for a game like Dawn of Prosperity where the idea is that you are a secret agent from H.E.L.P., an organization that is usually dedicated to protecting artifacts from ancient civilizations, but occasionally investigates other strange occurrences, such as a series of earthquakes that have recently struck a remote area of Montana near an old weather station. The observatory, as it turns out, has a hidden complex beneath it where several "gifted" teenage students are working on top secret projects that seem to be funded by two extraordinarily wealthy private citizens, one of whom has sinister plans for the experiments while the other is completely unaware of that.

It's the type of story that may seem cheesy if you think about it too hard, but the way the amazing scenery, animations, and use of 3D space make you feel like you really are a spy sneaking around and gathering evidence is what makes Dawn of Prosperity so compelling. Further complicating the mystery is that one of the students has gone missing, so you also have the urgency of finding her before the villains do.

To top it off, the game is scored with a high-quality orchestral soundtrack that heightens the tension during crucial scenes, and you can download it from the extras for free. The voice acting is also impressive, despite not being provided by known professionals. I especially liked the talkative C3PO-like robot and so did my character. It's always nice when we agree.

The villain's own jovial robot naively provides assistance.

For the game itself, Dawn of Prosperity has some of the most varied hidden object scenes, which is a hallmark of Eipix. Some have the traditional lists, others use silhouettes, others have you find items based on clues in the dialogue, and still others have you find and use a succession of items within each scene to ultimately unveil something you need to progress elsewhere.

The puzzles are equally varied and though some are just new twists on old formulas, many are cleverly appropriate for the spy/agent theme (ie, bouncing a signal off satellites to stop a rogue program). There are also sidequests for hidden globes, fact cards, and morphing objects.

The areas where the students grew up evoke a sense of lost innocence amongst all the spy thriller shenanigans.

There are only a few regrets I have for Dawn of Prosperity, and one is that I would have liked to have seen more character development. We learn more about the students by investigating their living quarters than through direct interaction with them. Matt, the one who is most sympathetic to the villain's cause, only has a couple of lines. In fact, the bonus chapter feels like a missed opportunity to have expanded on students Matt and Sean, but instead you end up saving a couple of random characters who weren't even in the main game. (But at least it has the very memorable novelty of being chased down a hallway by an unsettling killer robot.)

Another issue that may or may not affect your overall enjoyment is that there are no Steam achievements, and if you miss any of the in-game achievements, you have to start a whole new profile to try for them again. I am honestly not sure why so many HOG's do not let you replay the game on the same profile. That's a standard that needs to go extinct.

You don't want to be around this robot if you're not Duncan.

When I originally reviewed Dawn of Prosperity for my defunct Capsule Reviews section, I gave it 3.5 stars. I am upping my score to better reflect my actual opinions since I am no longer catering to a crowd that doesn't like casual games. Even for a so-called "casual" game, Dawn of Prosperity has plenty of excitement and innovation. It doesn't have the "world-traveling" aspect of some of the other Hidden Expedition games, but makes up for it with its intriguing "secret underground city" setting, which despite looking futuristic, has a certain amount of antiquated technology lying around (like cassette and VHS tapes, and even a retro-style pinball machine) that generates a strange sense of nostalgia. If someone who doesn't typically play casual games were to play this one and dislike it, I'd say it could mean the genre is just not for them. But for fans of hidden object games and cinematic spy thrillers in general, I highly recommend it.

SCORE: 4.5/5



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