After the atrocity that was Empress of the Deep, I wasn't particularly excited to take on another Bioshock "inspired" hidden object game (or HOG for short). Nevertheless I descended into Abyss and its city of Eden, cautious but hopeful that it wouldn't be the stodgy adventure I half expected it to be. Color me surprised then when I became completely swept up in the remarkably high production values, enjoyably casual puzzles, and varied mini-games peppered throughout (heck, there's even some squirrel love). Abyss: The Wraiths of Eden isn't only exceptional for its genre, but a polished and entertaining game in its own right. It's elements may be something less than inspired, but Artifex Mundi mixes them together into far more than the sum of its parts, and certainly one of the best HOGs I've yet to find.
The obvious influence of Bioshock on Abyss can be seen everywhere, from the narrative of a lone traveler entering an underwater city intended as a bastion of all of humanity's greatest minds and creations, to the neon art deco environments, and the persistent theme of a city that failed under its own ambition. Abyss doesn't pretend to be more than it is though, and actually uses its limited resources to rework the plot of the game it so heavily borrows from into something more manageable, forgoing the heavy questions of morality for a more simplistic ghost story that while nothing remarkable is enough to hold the game together. The iffy voice acting and horrendous facial animation is another matter, but thankfully you are subjugated to these often enough to make you turn the game off in horror.
I call Abyss a HOG, but often it falls far more along the lines of a basic point and click adventure game. You explore locations, picking up objects along the way to help you solve puzzles, with just the occasional mini-game popping up often enough to remind you that you are still playing a HOG (if only in some respects). Personally I enjoy this combination quite a bit more than straight up Highlights, and found the simplicity of the puzzles oddly satisfying. It doesn't require much thought and there's always a hint button if you should get stuck, but it also doesn't treat you like a complete imbecile, requiring just enough from the player to keep from feeling like an interactive slideshow.
If you have been turned off from HOGs in the past from their lackluster presentations, mind numbing stories, or over reliance on the sole act of finding hidden objects, I'd suggest you take a look at Abyss before writing the genre off entirely. Its visuals are top notch, the gameplay at just the right level of casual friendliness without becoming tediously easy, and the whole experience feels like its operating a far higher budget with a better development team than I've come to expect from this sort of game. Let's just say I'm impressed, Artifex Mundi; here's hoping this is a sign of the quality we can expect going forward from one of my favorite gaming guilty pleasures.