The game kicks off on the mysterious Malgrave Island - a spooky, dilapidated isle whose last inhabitants abandoned it long ago. Playing as a detective hired by the island's owner and last inhabitant, the mysterious Winston Malgrave, you're tasked with scouring the island to collect mysterious vials of even more mysterious purple dust, needed for bringing his beloved Sarah back from the dead. While Winston isn't willing to share exactly how he's planning on breaking the laws of, well, everything in order to bring poor old Sarah back, it's up to you to do as your employer asks, whilst keeping your eyes open, and looking for clues to unravel the mysteries of this island.
In order to do this, you'll have to navigate your way around the fully 3D island, in a way that would make the Wombles proud by making good use of the things that you find, the stuff that the everyday folk leave behind. Whether you're using a hacksaw to chop a lock off a door, fixing a broken ladder with a piece of wood, or repelling a swarm of bees with a bug zapper, you'll have to keep your eyes open for objects that may come in useful later, and use your logic to put them to good use.
Every so often, you'll come across an object in the scenery that's covered in the aforementioned purple dust, and by clicking on it, you'll trigger a hidden object scene, which you can complete in order to harvest the dust. Presenting you with a very detailed picture of a shed, butcher's shop or whatever, with a list of twelve objects at the bottom, it's up to you to hunt down everything on the list, taking as much time as you want - there's no time limit rushing you along, and no pressure at all. More detailed than the vast majority of hidden object scenes, in The Malgrave Incident, each scene is divided into layers, a sort of front, middle, and back tier, a bit like on a 3D pop-up Christmas card, meaning that by panning the screen, you'll actually be able to look behind objects. It's a really funky effect - and one that creates even more places for that last item to hide - as if they needed any more help. Blending in with their surrounding objects perfectly, there's no obvious giveaway to let you know what can be clicked on here, so you'll need to use your observational skills to the max. As a nice extra, each of the scenes also has a couple of 'interactive' objects, with buttons you can press to shift racks around, drawers to open and the like - so you'll need to have a properly good look around to find everything. Luckily, should you struggle to find the last item, there's a handy hint button, which at least shows you the general area that item's in - but as soon as you use it, you'll be kicking yourself for not having seen it yourself. Complete the puzzle, and you'll harvest the dust, as well as being awarded an extra item, that may come in useful somewhere else. Once you've collected a certain amount of dust, you'll need to empty the collecting device (which looks suspiciously like a Wii Remote) by finding a dust receptacle, and then arranging a load of spinning disks to make a path to the centre kind of like a standard maze puzzle, but where you need to rotate sections to find the way through, they get steadily more complicated as time goes on.
But the hidden object sections aren't even half of the fun in Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident, as a large part of the appeal comes from being able to explore this fully 3D, ruined island, as you hunt for clues. The more you snoop around the dilapidated shacks and buildings, the more things you'll begin to notice out of place, as you start to uncover a far more sinister mystery than you initially thought... When you first start the game, most of the island will be blocked off by a number of puzzles that you'll need to complete in order to bypass the various obstacles. But along with it's fair share of point-and-click standard puzzles, where you're using the random items you pick up on your travels to get past locked gates, whip across water Indiana Jones style or pruning back a hedge to clear a path, The Malgrave Incident also has it's fair share of puzzles that'll engage your grey matter a bit more, some of which have an almost Professor Layton feel to them. Whether you're working out a continuous path around a board of lightbulbs so you can light every single one up, figuring out how sets of objects are linked and in what order in a diorama, or placing tiles on the correct places on boards, luckily, these are easier to understand in the game than they are to explain with words alone, even if they will leave you scratching your head for a while. But there's no need to worry - even if you find the brain teasers a bit too teasing, if you've already got the puzzle wrong a few times, the game will offer you the chance to skip the puzzle, to make sure everyone has the chance to see the story through to the end.
But one of our favourite features on Mystery Case Files is that the game lets you bring some friends along with you for the journey, as the game has full support for four player co-op. While the other players will have to take something of a back seat while you're exploring the island/solving puzzles (they don't have any direct input - but there's nothing stopping them helping to solve the puzzles, or simply enjoying the story), but when it comes to the hidden object stages, everyone's free to help out as much as they can - and as you'll soon find out, having an extra pair of eyes can be a great help when you're hunting down that last remaining object.
On top of this, there's also the opportunity to play the various hidden object scenes on their own, in four player competitive multiplayer, with three different takes on the formula on offer. First up is Classic Pick, which is a standard whoever-locates-the-most-items-wins mode, while Swift Pick adds a timed element, where whoever spots the listed object first gets the points. Bringing up the rear is Tick Tock Pick, which sees one player being given a ticking bomb, and tasked with finding one of the objects before it explodes. As if their job wasn't hard enough, you can find the objects before they do, meaning they have to not only find the objects themselves, but they've got to beat you to it, too. Should they succeed, the bomb passes across to the next player - this time with a shorter fuse.
When it comes to problems with Mystery Case Files, though, it's kind of hard to really talk about them without giving too much away, as most of our problems are actually with the story. After feeling like it's just found its feet, the ending seems a bit sudden, at around seven or eight hours in and it's a bit of an anti-climax that doesn't seem to make all that much sense at all. Colour us a tad disappointed. Over a period of several days, we'd been working our way through it together at a reasonable pace, spurred on by where the story was going and then, suddenly, we were left with a 'what the heck just happened' feeling when we got to the end. AND we'd missed some of the collectible postcards along the way disaster!
But while it is a bit on the short side, and the ending leaves something to be desired, they don't detract too much from the game on the whole. Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident is a solid point-and-click, puzzley, hidden object game that'll keep you playing until you've finished it and considering it can be found for less than £20, it's decent value too.