By John Walker on November 2nd, 2010 at 1:24 am.
The phenomenon of the Antiques Roadshow cannot be ignored. What was once the obscurity of Sunday evening BBC 1, watched by old ladies and those waiting for Lovejoy to start, has now become one of the hottest properties on Earth. With primetime viewing figures outstripping both the X Factor and American Idol, and a movie franchise about to release its third blockbuster film, it was inevitable that a tie-in videogame would be coming along…
I’m not being entirely fair, as the little programme that could is increasingly popular. It’s thanks to its being picked up by PBS in the States, and forming quite the most strange cult following. For some reason, in between endless repeats of Are You Being Served and Sesame Street, American public television viewers fell in love with seeing old stuff get appraised. And then made their own version.
It’s not surprising. Even as a child I found I was compelled to sit through the unutterable tedium of a man in half-moon glasses explaining why a china doll was so exquisite, just to see the owner wriggling in their chair, barely able to contain their urge to tell him to shut the hell up and just give them a price. And then pretend they couldn’t possibly bring themselves to sell it. Or to see someone crumple as they find out their classic Edwardian desk is worth 52p because their nephew once chipped one of its legs with his trike.
The US incarnation, existing since 1997, but not really getting going properly until 2007 (compared to the UK’s beginning in 1979 – old enough to appear on itself now), is now in game form. And it is, of course, a hidden object game.
And a truly terrible one. Having played through the hour-long demo, I’m really quite impressed by how spectacularly it misses the point of the genre. The scenes you search are crowded, but they’re not inventive jumbles of cunningly concealed items. Everything is the right size, in the right place. And as if that didn’t make it obvious enough, the objects to be recovered from a screen (either in the current turn, or on a return visit) are distinct from the background. Like those 1970s cartoons where you knew which door the Scooby gang would go through because it was the only one bright monotone red, knowing what to click on barely requires looking at the list. It’s more of an “Objects” game. Unless, of course, you’re looking for one of the objects that’s barely visible, literally hidden, only revealed by using the Hint feature, and clicking blindly in the offered circle.
In between the pixel hunts are some of the most atrocious minigames I’ve encountered, including some where your job is to polish the fingerprints from an object. Woo! Thanks! It’s all the fun of household chores, but with none of the realism! Finger prints mysteriously hang over the edges of things, which is a fine trick. The difficulty level of these appears to be pitched at five year olds. There was a 12 piece puzzle to solve at one point.
But then of course it’s time for a visit to the Roadshow itself! What will they have thought of to do there? What manner of game will we take part in? Oh, it’s the clicking to read the text game, as we’re informed that everything we bring on is worth thousands and thousands of dollars. You stalk the Roadshow around the US, apparently not troubling anyone by appearing on every single edition, each thousands of miles apart. (More weirdly, it’s explained that you get onto your first episode because you know someone on the production crew! I’m not sure whether the real Antiques Roadshow will be too pleased at the implication.)
All the while you’re finding clues for some larger puzzle, helping an elderly antiques shop owner to retrieve all the various objects in a photograph, each containing clues solved by a word-wheel cypher. Which is of course what everyone does when they get home from a Roadshow taping. Fiona Bruce is famed for it. It feels so lazy – a game ostensibly about dating and valuing objects should perhaps know you don’t put an apostrophe in “1890’s”, etc. But does it every single time.
What a spectacularly dreadful game (well, the first hour at least). Which possibly isn’t an enormous surprise, but I was hardly likely to click past the news that there’s a game of such a programme.