Developed by indie developer E-One Studio, Hoodwink is their very first game. It’s a sci-fi point-and-click adventure game, which is set in a future where the world has gone “belly-up”, and humanity was in constant danger of being killed off by floods, famine and mutation. UniCorp, a large corporation, stepped in and offered to help the frightened masses. Help them, in return for ruling over them, that is. A few generations pass. Now, providing cheap medication that is one of the only things keeping the people alive, UniCorp has essentially taken over the world. The game focuses on Michael Bezzle, an “acquisitions expert” who is trying to get by in a broken and seemingly hopeless world. The game starts with him on the hunt for the perfect way to propose to his girlfriend.
Starting a new game, Hoodwink seems to assume that you’ve played a point-and-click adventure game before, as there’s no tutorial or explanation of the controls whatsoever. You’re simply thrown into the game after a very brief intro, which explains the bare minimum about the story and setting, and then expected to know what to do. That said, the game does at least display a clickable icon in the bottom left corner of the screen, which will load up a page that explains what the various cursor icons mean.
Starting out in a dingy detective’s office, I came across my first issue with the game before I’d even played five minutes of it, not a good sign. I was supposed to take a look at some papers that were lying on a desk, but no matter where I clicked, I couldn’t seem to do anything. After a few minutes of fiddling, I finally figured it out, Michael wasn’t standing in the right spot. It turns out that I was supposed to move the cursor to the very bottom of the screen in order to make Michael walk into a slightly different part of the room, and doing so finally allowed me to interact with the papers and continue the story. I was make some more progress, but elements of the design can be rather confusing. The game kept telling me to go to the Concourse, but I had no idea where that was supposed to be, as there’s no map or any real indication of your current location.
I searched the area for a while, before randomly discovering an entrance to a new area in a spot that I’d already checked a couple of times, which wasn’t marked by a relevant cursor. The game didn’t cause me too much trouble after that, but navigating the world is not as user friendly as it should be. For example, making Michael walk around an area can be tricky. It would be easier if you could direct Michael just by clicking anywhere on the floor, but there seems to be an invisible, set path to follow and you have to find it (causing a particular cursor to appear) and click on it in order to make him move anywhere.
When the game isn’t making your life difficult, it also tends to be very easy. Although you have an inventory screen, there’s very little reason to use it. Unlike many point-and-click adventure games, where you need to try using different items with various objects and characters, Hoodwink does everything almost automatically. Simply clicking on an object will bring up an icon showing the appropriate inventory item, clicking on the icon will make Michael use it. Other than some basic, yet slightly confusing mini-games, that’s about as deep as the gameplay gets.
The game’s story is a bit of a mixed bag, with some interesting ideas, but weak execution. While the idea of a post-apocalyptic world is often an intriguing one, the game’s setting is never quite fleshed out enough. Who exactly are UniCorp, and what is their history? What exactly happened to the world in order for it to become like this? These questions are never really answered, nor is Michael’s past explained. The game often tries to be funny, and succeeds in a couple of places, but these are somewhat counteracted by some truly cringe worthy lines, such as: “This arm should come in handy, no pun intended”, and “Like taking candy from a robot baby”. Unfortunately, the story is made a little less enjoyable by the fact that you can’t skip dialogue. If you accidentally click on someone, or even on an object that can be examined, you have to listen to everything that people have to say – even if you’ve already heard it before.
The graphics section of the title screen menu allows you to change the display resolution, and that’s it. The game supports up to 1080p output, but the Hoodwink doesn’t look much better for it. Simple, low res textures abound, and there’s a few noticeable graphical glitches. Windows are a good example, as they feature a texture that appears and disappears as you move around. Character animation ranges from good to jerky, with Michael himself faring the best. You can’t change any of the game’s options while you’re playing, instead, you have to head back to the title screen. It’s a waste of time, especially since the game’s loading times are on the long side, about 20 seconds for the game to load up an area.
The soundtrack is decent, with an appropriately simple jazz sound to it. Unfortunately, the background tracks are only a minute or two long, and will loop endlessly. This quickly becomes repetitive, especially as you wander about the game’s larger areas which take some time to navigate. The game is fully voiced, and there’s a fair few characters for Michael to meet (one of which is a talking trash can). It’s all pretty competent stuff. There’s a reasonable amount of emotion being conveyed, and it’s clear that the actors took the job seriously. Michael sometimes talks to himself aloud though, which is a little strange.
Length wise, the game is very short, lasting only about two hours. While the game is essentially a budget title, available for $14.99 from EA’s Origin store, that still doesn’t excuse the lack of content. This isn’t helped by the fact that there’s absolutely no incentive to play through the game more than once, as there’s no choices to be made, or any hidden content.
Overall, Hoodwink is a bit of a mess. While the story has some potential (Hoodwink is intended to be an episodic game), it’s never properly realised in this first part, and the game itself simple feels unfinished and insufficiently tested. The game isn’t user-friendly at all, the subtitles need some proofreading, and to top it off, the game has a few graphical and technical glitches. By far my worst experience with Hoodwink was related to my saved data. The first time I started up the game, I put in almost an hour of play, reaching a few different checkpoints as I progressed through the story. Checkpoints are the only way to save, as the game features no manual save system. The game suddenly crashed on me a few minutes after I reached a new checkpoint. When I started it up again and went to load a checkpoint, the list was empty, which meant that all of my progress was lost. This kind of thing simply shouldn’t happen in a finished game. Adventure gamers beware, Hoodwink is not worth your time or money.