Hidden Agenda review
Hidden Agenda is a new Facebook game from popular developer PopCap and prolific publisher EA, this time taking the form of a free-to-play hidden object game featuring anthropomorphized “furry” characters in a distinctly “noir” setting — fans of the comic book series Blacksad will be right at home. PopCap has a considerable amount of experience in downloadable standalone hidden object games, but this is their first foray into releasing one on Facebook.
Hidden Agenda casts the player in the role of faceless, mute protagonist that has come to the town of Green County as a private investigator to solve a series of mysteries, beginning with how a panda town official apparently met a sticky end after working late one night and having his noodles poisoned. The gameplay alternates between some rather straightforward and conventional hidden object scenes, and what is probably the game’s most interesting aspect — small missions that take place around the town.
The hidden object scenes are fairly simplistic. Players are simply given a list of objects to find and a single, non-monetized hint option to help them find a random item left on the list. The faster and more accurately the player finds the objects in the scene, the more points they will score, and the cumulative total score of all their attempts at a single scene helps fill up a multi-stage meter that unlocks content. This includes simple awards of in-game currency to “puzzle pieces,” which are required to solve the game’s various mysteries. Once the player has played a scene in its regular format, they then have the option of playing in either Timed mode, which gives them 45 seconds to find as many objects as possible, and Spot the Difference mode, in which the player must uncover six missing items between two almost-identical images of the scene in question. Each attempt at a scene costs energy to undertake, regardless of game mode, though energy bonuses are given on level up — these even allow the player’s energy to exceed its maximum, so the bonus is never wasted.
Between hidden object scenes, the player is presented with an isometric-perspective map of the game’s setting, initially mostly covered in fog but which expands as the game progresses. Rather than the usual building gameplay seen in a variety of other hidden object titles, the gameplay on the city map has a few interesting twists on the usual hidden object game formula. In order to unlock new hidden object scenes and advance the story, the player is often required to collect various items such as “gadgets” and “secrets.” The main way of acquiring these is by accepting missions from various residents of the town, and these take the form of a list of five items scattered around the map which must be located. Multiple missions may be accepted at the same time, though each costs a small amount of energy to do so. Completing a mission rewards the player with soft currency, experience and the special items required to unlock new scenes, and there is then a “cooldown” period before the same character can provide another mission — though this can be bypassed with hard currency. Each mission-giving character may also have their relevant building upgraded using a combination of soft currency and special items, and this causes their missions to provide better payouts.
The game monetizes through sales of its hard currency gems, which are mostly used to restore energy and purchase the items that would otherwise require the completion of missions to acquire. The latter option allows players who are in a hurry to skip past any “grinding” and advance the story more easily, but it is worth noting that by doing this they are effectively paying not to play part of the game, rather than to simply bypass a wait time. Gems may also be expended on unlocking new hidden object scenes early — including special bonus scenes only accessible through expending hard currency.
Social features for the game are a little limited, but this does at least allow solo players to make continual progress without having to hassle their friends. However, those who do have friends playing enjoy an increased rate of progress on the meter that unlocks the case-solving puzzle pieces — up to a 5x bonus can be acquired by inviting five friends into their investigation team. The game also incorporates the usual leaderboard for each level, allowing friends to compare performance, and regularly invites them to brag about their achievements upon leveling up or completing quests. The game remains mercifully bereft of nag screens if left idle, however.
PopCap’s aim with Hidden Agenda was to focus the whole game on finding hidden objects rather than following the more common template of alternating between grinding hidden object scenes and decorating a space. In adopting this slightly unusual approach, they have created something that is highly playable and fun, with a good sense of progression and plenty of content for players to work their way through. The game is paced well, features some quite good writing — especially compared to some other story-based social games’ atrocious text — and has some excellent artwork throughout. The “furry noir” aesthetic is also unusual and distinctive, and works well with the game’s setting. Overall, Hidden Agenda is an excellent offering from the veteran developer, and another sign that, missteps such as Lucky Gem Casino aside, the company very much knows what it is doing with social games.
Hidden Agenda currently occupies the 100,000+ MAU tier with a ranking of 1,688, and the 10,000+ DAU tier with a ranking of 1,462. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.
PopCap are well and truly back on form with this compelling, well-presented and highly playable “furry noir” tale.