Hope Springs Eternal: A Carol Reed Mystery

Review by Toger
January 2006

When we last met Carol, she'd successfully solved the mystery of a strange kidnapping case, the same case on which her friend, Conrad, had been working when he suddenly died. With the excitement of that case at an end and needing a job to continue her stay in Norrköping, Carol decides to take over Conrad's private detective agency. Unfortunately, people aren't beating a path to her door. Not even after she's place an ad in the local paper. Conrad's sister, Katarina, comes to her rescue when she asks Carol to investigate the disappearance of a fellow teacher, Anna.

Thus begins the second installment in the Carol Reed series by MDNA Games, a Swedish husband-and-wife team. Will Carol, once again, prevail? Read on to find out!

As with Remedy before it, Hope Springs Eternal is strictly first-person, point-and-click through slideshow-style environments. Once again using the Adventure Maker engine, movement is confined to the four basic cardinal directions—meaning that access to some locations is only possible from a specific spot and/or direction. Getting in and out of your inventory is a piece of cake: move the interactive cursor to the top of the screen, which opens the inventory bar. From there, it's possible to drag/drop to combine items or use them in the game world. Right-clicking or pressing the "Esc" button will give you the save/load/exit options.

Hope Springs Eternal's puzzles are mainly inventory-based and involve picking up whatever isn't nailed to the floor and using it in the appropriate place. Sometimes, however, you won't be able to actually take an item until some other action has triggered the need for the object—knowing which object you require isn't always obvious, nor is it always clear where you might find the needed item, making backtracking and random wandering around town the order of the day. Some verbal cues from Carol would have helped tremendously in a couple of situations where I wasn't sure what to do next, although there are cues verbally given when attempting to use an object in the wrong place.

There are a handful of standalone puzzles—including a slider and a short quiz—that are necessary to move the game forward; however, the Nyqvists have included a nice little "skip the puzzle" feature for those players who're unsuccessful in solving the puzzle or who just don't want to stop the travelogue feeling of the game by having to muddle through a brain-teaser. With the exception of the "pat on the back" star rating at the end of the game (a star is awarded for each puzzle successfully completed), skipping the puzzles causes no ill effect on the outcome of the game.

As was done for Remedy, the backgrounds for Hope Springs Eternal are photographs of Norrköping digitally enhanced to have the appearance of watercolor paintings. It's a beautiful effect and quite calming as you roam through the various locations—even the junkyard is pretty. When you interact with the other characters, their unenhanced photographs are superimposed on top of the background and will alter slightly as you advance through the subtitled dialogue tree.

Music and sound for Hope Springs Eternal are very nice. The original musical score is especially soothing and Enya-like. For the most part, I didn't really hear it while playing as it faded into the background while I walked around town. Once again, there aren't a lot of ambient sounds in the game, but what there were—birds singing, water flowing in a fountain or through a canal—were nicely done. Personally, I think more ambient sound would go a long way toward total immersion in the environments.

Although the music and sounds are well-done, the voice work, unfortunately, didn't reach the level of the rest of the audio. The majority of the actors simply read their lines or just sounded tired and bored. The below-average voice work wasn't a deal-breaker, but the lack of feeling in some of the characters was odd considering Carol is dealing with an apparent disappearance of a mysterious nature.

I did enjoy looking at Hope Springs Eternal, but for me it was more of a gentle, sedate travelogue showcasing the attractions of a Swedish village more than an actual game. Nor did it help any that the story ended so abruptly. Judging by the ending that was presented, it would appear that the developers already have another story in mind for the series. If that's the case, I hope that they improve their storytelling skills to correspond with the beauty of their game.

Bottom line: if you're looking for a serene, tranquil visit to a quaint village, then definitely pick up Hope Springs Eternal; on the other hand, if you're looking for a challenging adventure, you might want to try something else. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: MDNA Games
Publisher: MDNA Games
Release Date: October 2005

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium 800
8 MB v ideo card
500 MB free hard disk space

Where to Find It

MDNA Games $18 (includes worldwide shipping)

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