Nov 222011

I, like many other geeks in my generation, fully expected to be a paranormal investigator when I grew up. Back then, that meant you were going to be either the type person who ran around with aluminum foil on your head, or you were the type of person who watched Ghostbusters way too much and have developed an unhealthy obsession with Bill Murray. Today, with all the attempts that have been made to legitimize this controversial field by means of television “reality” shows, being a paranormal investigator is less about how much foil you can put on your head and more about having a lot of fancy technology. Is there a better piece of fancy technology to simulate ghost hunting than the 3DS? Majesco and 1st Playable Productions think there isn’t, so they’ve released The Hidden, which is an augmented reality 3DS game designed to bring the world around you into the game and train a future generation interested in examining ectoplasmic evils.

You start your adventure by completing a small training mission. You are tasked with eliminating all the ghosts (referred to as “shades”) in your immediate vicinity. This is accomplished by moving around your living room, bedroom, etc., and looking through the top screen of the 3DS. The exterior cameras are used to superimpose the game’s images on your environment. You must look in all directions to find the shades, and then blast them back into the afterlife with your weapon. Once the shades have been defeated, they leave behind a substance called ectoplasm that you vacuum up and use to upgrade existing equipment, or buy new items later. This exercise seemed fun and novel at first, but in hindsight it was really little more than a game of Face Raiders with a different look.

The look of the shades (the smiling chap on the right edge of the screenshot) in The Hidden takes on a glowing, cartoonish look.

After the training mission, you are initiated into the group known as G.E.I.S.T. (Ghostly Entitty Investigation and Strike Team) and get to create your I.D. card. Snap a picture of yourself (it’s probably safe to take your foil hat off for this part), fill out a few personal details, pretend to scan your fingerprint on the touchscreen, and then you will be a full-fledged shade assassin. You can then select a mission via the game’s email system, and then head out to bag some more specters. It’s at this point, unfortunately, that the game seems to fall apart.

The developers were really ambitious with what they wanted to accomplish with The Hidden. Their goal was to create an augmented reality experience that would actually require you to travel to new and unique real world locations for missions. The instruction manual makes a rather vague statement by saying the game uses “wireless technology” to ascertain where you are. My best guess is that it scans for WiFi access points in your immediate vicinity to try to figure out your location. Unfortunately, found out the hard way that if you happen to be in a location with no WiFi access points within range, then the game basically becomes unplayable. The game simply says “scanning” and tells you to keep walking, but never actually turns up with any shades to fight. To test this theory, I turned on the wireless hotspot app on my phone when the game was stuck in a scanning loop, and then restarted the mission and everything worked without a hitch.

These blue guys make frequent appearances.

This major problem is only compounded by the fact that this game simply cannot be played with the 3D effect on, unless the player is extremely proficient at keeping their body perfectly centered with the 3DS screen while they’re spinning around in circles looking for shades. Also, the external camera of the system is of such low quality that there is a considerable lag in the rate of movement in the background image the camera is generating. It’s a bit like seeing a slideshow containing images of your surroundings appear behind the action that’s taking place.

The Hidden is one of those games that sounded good in theory, but just doesn’t work in execution. Going to different real world locations in order to vanquish scores of spirits should be a hoot, but the location based function just doesn’t work. Even with the 3D effect turned off, the game is still difficult to look at while being played due to the fact that the poor quality of the images being generated by the 3DS’s camera. On top of that, most adults would be self-conscious about playing a game that requires them to stand up and spin around in a circle in public locations, such as the bank or grocery store. Perhaps it is a title that would be right at home in the hands of a younger member of the family, like someone who has recently put down “Ghostbuster” as one of their career aspirations in elementary school.

The Hidden

Interesting concept, and a new twist on location based gaming.Unfortunately, the ability of this game to determine your location is fickle at best. Very few people over the age of 10 want to spin around like a nutter in public.
VerdictIf you really loved Face Raiders and want a game that tries to build on this experience, then The Hidden is the perfect game for long as you live somewhere with copious amounts of whatever the game's 'wireless technology' uses to figure out where you are.

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