Review: Adam Wolfe

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On The Hunt

Anyone remember those hidden picture games from their childhood? Hell, maybe even your adulthood? I know my mother still likes to play them on occasion.

The game is a pretty simple one. You are presented with an image, typically a very busy one with objects and details strewn all over the place. Along with this image, you are also given a list of items. The goal is to find each of those items within the image. In many cases, this is much more difficult than it sounds.

I remember playing these a lot as an elementary school kid, back when my parents got me and my siblings a subscription for Highlights children’s magazine. We would also borrow the insanely popular I Spy books from the local library; books filled with nothing but these kind of puzzles.

Of course these games have been translated into the video game medium. The aformentioned I Spy has a surprising number of releases across PC, mobile, and Nintendo consoles. Another popular series, Where’s Waldo, has a few games under its belt as well. For the most part, though, these games are just digital versions of the pen-and-paper classic, presenting you with images on screen for you to search through.

But what if we were to wrap a narrative around these puzzles? Take these little time wasters and create a real story out of them? Perhaps within the trappings of a paranormal detective story?

Developed and published by Serbian studio Mad Head Games, Adam Wolfe is an episodic title that released its final episode on November 4th, 2016. The title was released for iOS and PC via Steam, and we played the Steam release for this review.

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Lost and Found

Adam Wolfe follows the titular Adam, a detective who focuses on cases that involve the supernatural. Working in San Francisco, he takes on the cases that are a bit too…unusual…for the city police to handle, although he does have assistance from a man named Marv, his contact within the police force.

Adam takes on these cases in part to fulfill a personal goal: locating his missing sister. Throughout the four episodes of this game, the cases Adam takes finally put him on the trail to his sister…but also lead him to a cult that calls itself The Timeless, which claims they can let people live eternally.

I have to stay relatively vague in my description of the plot, as this title is a short one that involves a number of twists and turns. Each of the episodes focuses on a different case Adam takes, but also plays into the story of Adam’s sister and The Timeless.

The plot of the first episode, unfortunately, is rather dull. The case here, involving an ancient relic and a pyromaniac, appears intriguing at first but ultimately leads nowhere in the full plot. It serves as little more than an intro to Adam and the game’s setting. Episodes two and three are where things actually begin to get interesting, introducing cases with solid narratives, more engaging characters, and the development of the overarching story.

These two episodes are also much more focused. While the first one features a number of characters who receive little development, episodes two and three really only focus on a couple of people outside of Adam, and these characters return multiple times throughout the plot.

Unfortunately, the story kind of ends with a sputter in episode four. As the game’s climax that promises to reveal the answers to all of the mysteries presented in previous episodes, the finale comes about abruptly without much resolved. It doesn’t even feel like a cliffhanger or sequel-baiting ending; it just sort of ends.

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Of Keen Gaze

Adam Wolfe is presented as a point and click adventure game with, as I mentioned earlier, heavy elements of hidden picture puzzles. During much of the game you’ll be moving between different environments to find items, solve puzzles, and move the narrative forward.

About two or three times per episode, you’ll be presented with a hidden picture puzzle. They’re mostly what you’d expect: a bunch of items strewn everywhere, with a list of certain ones you need to find. However, this game offers a number of different presentation styles for the clues. A few are your standard list of items, others provide pictures or silhouettes of what you need to find, and a few actually work the clues into dialog.

While most of these puzzles are somewhat easy, there are a few that put up a challenge. Some have you search for symbols of concepts rather than specific items, such as “love” and “time,” and they’re not always the symbols that pop into your head immediately upon hearing those words. The one that ended up being my favorite involved having to find items in the image, and then using those found items in the environment to reveal other items on the list.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of these kinds of puzzles nowadays, but luckily, despite being marketed heavily as featuring hidden picture puzzles, the game doesn’t go overkill with them. It does include a number of other puzzle styles, mostly of the “combining items” or “using items in the environment” variety. There are a few classic sliding block and connect-the-line puzzles here and there as well.

As both an adventure and puzzle game, Adam Wolfe does lean a bit on the easy side. A rather forgiving hint system is offered, where clicking on an icon will tell you where to go or what to do next. You can use a hint once every few minutes or so, and they are unlimited. The only times I ever really used them was to point me to where I should go next; figuring out where to be and what to do can be occasionally confusing.

For those who like their games without the inherent fun, the game also offers a full walkthrough, accessable anywhere at the click of a button. I guess there’s nothing really wrong with it, but it’s kind of like including answers at the back of a textbook – it’s too tempting to cheat sometimes.

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Devil in the Details

The artwork of this game is done in a graphic novel style, and is rather impressively detailed. Of course, it would have to be, as hidden picture puzzles usually rely on tons of small details. Even outside of these, though, the various environments you will explore have a lot put into them.

Adam Wolfe is a game that presents a dark atmosphere (which I seem to be reviewing quite often lately), and it manages to be one of the few that doesn’t sacrifice color to get the feel across. The color palette is mostly darker hues, yes, but you’ll be seeing quite a spectrum of them throughout your journey.

The character designs, though…those are a bit more interesting. Yes, they’re nicely detailed as well (especially in some of the comic panel narrative sequences, which are occasionally done in a hand-shaded style), but some things about them are really unsettling. Some shots of Adam’s and his sisters’ faces appear to be incredibly “off” in some way that I can’t quite put a finger on.

Even worse, and sometimes to a comical degree, are character animations. Most of the game is presented with still art scenes and the occasional talking head with an animated mouth. Occasionally though, during narrative moments, you are…treated…to full animation. I’m convinced that the team behind this part of the game isn’t quite sure how human limbs work. A sequence in the first episode is a great example, which shows Adam sprinting to a new area in the most hilariously awkward and unnatural fashion I can imagine.

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Everyone’s on Ambien!

I had to look up this game’s OST on YouTube to try and remember it…as I said in our last review, I never consider this a good sign. I didn’t find an OST, but I loaded up some gameplay videos to listen to, which immediately reminded me why I couldn’t recall a soundtrack. It’s because there really isn’t one.

Aside from some ambient strings and synth here and there, Adam Wolfe doesn’t have much music. Most of the background noise comes from environmental sounds and various sound effects. Music is typically a major point in games for me (hence why I always include a soundtrack section in reviews, no matter how small), but in this game, I didn’t really miss it. Most of the game is spent focusing on puzzles, and going for more of a natural ambiance rather than a full-on musical score assists in keeping focus.

The game includes full voice acting as well…and it is entirely unremarkable. Upon loading up the game, a splash screen recommends using headphones as Adam Wolfe is an “intense narrative experience.” Intense is the last word I’d use to describe Adam’s voice actor. Words I’d be more apt to use are “sleepy,” “dull,” and “half-dead.” He does manage to whip up some good anger in the last episode, but it fades just as quickly as it appears.

The rest of the voice actors don’t fare as well, either. In fact, some of them sound worse. A few of the random side characters feel like random people were pulled off the street and then, after being introduced to a microphone for the first time in their lives, were told to act. The only performance that manages to sound like, well, a performance, comes from the game’s main antagonist. Even then, though, it’s just pulling off “generic bad guy,” which still manages to stand out against the rest of the cast.

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Flawed Fun

Overall, Adam Wolfe is an interesting experience, presenting a narrative that’s really only good it its middle portions. Episodes two and three are pretty strong with some good characters and decent twists. However, the first episode feels almost entirely unnecessary. Really, once you play through the intro portions of it, you could skip to the second without missing much. Episode four starts off as the strongest episode of them all and introduces some intriguing concepts, but the abrupt ending kind of sours the experience.

The graphical presentation is strong, and most of the scenes are damn nice to look at…but some of the character designs, and especially the animations, are very off-putting. Voice acting ended up being a straight dud as well.

Gameplay though, while on the easy side, was quite fun. While the game repeats the same styles of puzzles throughout, most of the interations put different twists on them to keep things interesting. The hidden picture puzzles of the fourth episode are easily the highlight of the experience.

Lastly, a point I always hate making: time vs. cost. I completed all of the episode within about four-and-a-half hours. Currently, every episode is available in a pack for just about $20. At about $4.50 an hour, the pricing for this game seems a bit steep.

I’d say, even with all of this taken into consideration, that Adam Wolfe is a game worth looking at…although I’d say wait until it’s on sale. With a couple of weak episodes and some presentation issues, I’d find it hard to justify paying full price for the experience.

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Review copy provided by Mad Head Games. Screenshots taken by reviewer.