Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy Review
Posted by Zach Kaplan
Hint: The heart is beneath the floorboards
What we know about the death of Edgar Allan Poe is as cryptic and tragic as some of his written tales. After a more than imperfect romantic life, he was reunited with his love of long before, Elmira Royster Shelton, and the two were engaged to be married. On a trip that took place soon thereafter, Poe fell off the radar and re-emerged "in great distress" and "in need of immediate assistance." He was said to have been wearing someone else's clothes and in a confused state the entire time, slipping in and out of consciousness in the hospital and repeatedly crying out "Reynolds" on the night before his death. Afterwards, his obituary appeared in the hand of "Ludwig," who stated, "This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it." Ludwig was later revealed to be Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Poe's rival and the man who strangely became his literary executor and attempted to posthumously discredit him.
Many speculate that the author was a victim of cooping, or using free drink to bribe the less fortunate to repeatedly vote on Election Day. Poe was a reputed lightweight, and the doctor's report indicates that alcohol played a part in his demise. However, Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy isn't so quick to reach a conclusion, taking the many figures that surrounded the author as leads toward a more sinister plot. Perhaps, it suggests, the poet's passing had less to do with voting fraud than someone's murderous motive. Could Griswold's rivalry have been diehard in the literal sense? Could the author's skeleton have more to do with Ms. Shelton? Would researching Reynolds wrap this case? You take the role of a struggling author visited by Poe's ghost one night, and it's your task to solve the mystery and unmask the real culprit.
The game will satisfy those looking for a good caper, but not necessarily those looking to figure it out themselves. As with many seek-and-find adventures, it walks you through the storyline and uses it only as a frame for the gameplay, with you locating objects hidden in cluttered environments. About 80% of these are placed in spots where you might realistically find them while the rest are hidden in a more picture-book style, emerging from clouds or stretched along narrow support beams. Around half are cleverly hidden amongst shadows or in other difficult spots while the rest just sit about the room and are only as difficult to spot as they are small or indiscriminate. There are around 30 puzzles, generally containing 20 objects to find, give or take a few, and each stage is about four times the size of the screen, allowing you to scroll around with the stylus or D-Pad.
The story is a bit hard to follow at times but really becomes interesting when Poe takes you inside his manuscripts, letting you solve mysteries within the stories and seeing how they correspond to both real life events and clues to the author's demise. You might be disappointed at the selection, however – only "The Gold Bug" and "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt," one of Poe's C. Auguste Dupin detective stories, are featured here. The latter is based on a factual murder, and you go on to investigate this after delving through the fictional version, but the content is still lacking. Otherwise, there are a few references within the objects that you find, but that's basically it. A more comprehensive adventure including a few of the author's more familiar works would have really improved the experience, as it really is exciting to go through the ones that are here, even if all you really do is seek and find hidden images.
Many games in this genre are flawed by confusing clues that don't adequately describe what you're to look for or encompass more than one object in the scenery. The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy solves this issue by allowing you to click any word to see a visual depiction of it on the screen above. You're also able to press a hint button to reveal an item's exact location, and while there's a limit to these, when you run out, one will automatically replenish after a short time. While things never become too difficult, within this limitation they're only as challenging as you want them to be.
You'll regularly solve puzzles and challenges along the way, none of which are at all difficult. Often these require that you use a tool you've picked up in the seek-and-find section, and though there's only the smallest amount of lateral thinking involved, it makes the gameplay feel more significant and enriches the experience a bit. It would be nice if these parts were harder, however, especially as you're allowed to let Poe solve them for you if you can't figure them out. Another event that achieves this effect is when onlookers react to what you find, as when you uncover a knotted piece of cloth and different people speculate how it might have factored into the murder. This occurs far too rarely, however, and only serves to hint at how much more this Midnight Mystery could have become.
While your lists of objects to find change with every replay, they do so but slightly. The layout within each stage does not alter, and you're only asked to find different things within these pre-designed sets. It would be nice if it used a completely rotating collection like the very similar Real Crimes: Jack the Ripper, and while without utilising the hint button the game can take a fair amount of time to complete, it could have been made indefinitely longer in this way.
The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy presents a very nice ominous atmosphere within each of its scenes, including fog effects and a well-composed, creepy soundtrack. The objects that you find often jut out from their environments as well in lighting and sometimes contrast, and while this will deter those who are reminded too much of a bad Photoshop job, it really doesn't get in the way for the most part. Another downside is that at times you'll find a newspaper or other piece of writing that details a bit of the storyline as these are often hard to read and can make the narrative a bit more confusing than it ought to be.
Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy presents a decent seek-and-find adventure with an enveloping storyline, but it doesn't take you into enough of Poe's stories to provide as enveloping an experience as it could. Its main levels provide a decent challenge but are bracketed by simple puzzles that mostly serve as a waste of time. If you don't use the helpful hint button, the game can take you a fair while to complete, but it's still relatively short overall and could have been made a lot longer by more completely rotating sets of objects. In the end, you won't want to bury this beneath the floorboards, but it won't drive you mad, either.