Sunday, April 8, 2012

Elder Sign: Omens Review

Elder Sign: Omens is the digital (iOS, Android, and Mac OS X) adaptation of the similarly named board game from Fantasy Flight Games. In it, a group of investigators attempt to stop the awakening of an Ancient One, a supernatural entity from H. P. Lovecraft’s renowned Cthulhu mythos. Players accomplish their goal by completing adventures in an eerie museum setting, some of which reward players with elder signs, which then can be used to stop the Ancient One from waking. To beat these adventures investigators need to match symbols with the ones they generate randomly. In essence, therefore, Elder Sign: Omens is a bit like Yahtzee or a slot machine, only a lot more complex, mixed with puzzle, role-playing, strategy, and exploration elements.

As a game of great depth, the many rules of Elder Sign: Omens definitely require some time of getting used to. Although, as I mentioned above, at its core the game is essentially a slot machine, the many added mechanics make it into something entirely new, and obviously a lot more complex. In fact, at first glance, the myriad of symbols and elements on the screen can easily become overwhelming. Luckily, both video tutorials and an extensive help library are available, and once players learned the basics, the program really begins to shine.

Because of the added mechanics, Elder Sign: Omens actually requires a lot of strategy and planning. The many different investigator-skills, items, monsters, timing and adventure-effects call for players to plan well-ahead if they do not want to fail miserably. Of course the game still depends on luck, but with calculated decisions the factor of chance can be reduced drastically, which is what makes this game so great. Simply put, Elder Sign is a cleaver game, and it requires its users to be cleaver as well. That being said, once players learn to strategize effectively, the challenge can decrease considerably. Extremely bad luck can still result in failure of course, but a careful player will rarely see the Ancient One awakening, which is the game’s only flaw. Fortunately, the developers listened to the feedback players gave them and released a new expansion that, among other things, adds new mechanics and increased difficulty to the game. Granted the Call of Cthulhu add-on costs an extra 3 dollars, but it is a purchase well worth its price.

As most everything from Fantasy Flight Games, Elder Sign: Omens enjoys very high production values. From the smallest interface elements to the cutscenes, the game captures perfectly the dark atmosphere that characterizes the “Lovecraftian” universe. The iPhone version I tested was also rock solid. During my twenty or so playthroughs, I have not encountered a single bug, let alone crash. Although, to be fair, some Android and iPad users had encountered occasional freezes and crashes, but complaints seem to be a rarity even on the official forums.

For 3.99 dollars, Elder Sign: Omens is a must-have game for any puzzle, horror, or H. P. Lovecraft fan. I cannot recommend it enough. And if you enjoyed the base game, make sure you buy the Call of Cthulhu expansion. It delivers a lot of extra depth and challenge to the base game for an extra 2.99 bucks. Althogether, the game costs less than a movie ticket, and trust me, it will entertain you for a lot longer.

Final verdict:

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