Make sure you play this one in the dark!
Note: This review is based on the Oculus Rift version of Dead Secret.
I find myself standing in the vestibule of a house, a piano and boxes blocking the living room to the right, a few shut doors to the left. In front of me is a large mirror and beneath it a table with a few shut drawers. In the mirror I see that one of my arms is in a cast, held up by a sling. So much for defending myself from whatever lies ahead.
The physical properties of this introduction are very much like how I feel right now, even though I'm standing in my familiar living room — I'm closed off to the world by means of the Rift's head-mounted display, and I'm helpless to whatever is lurking nearby. Believe me when I say that horror games are an entirely different animal when injected into VR.
You're initially restricted to this vestibule until you start snooping around, finding keys and the like, but I very much wish I could have just immediately turned around and left the house. What kept me there? A small-town reporter's dream of making it big, and her duty to find out the truth behind a suspicious murder.
One hell of a backstory
The story goes like this: Harris Bullard was murdered in his remote farmhouse in rural Kansas. He was not, however, a farmer. As the story progresses, you become privy to his life's work; discovering the effects of the subconscious on the real world.
The first room you enter — Bullard's study where he was murdered — is full of nooks and crannies to snoop through. There is a ton of detail, and you'll find yourself visiting every corner of not only Bullard's study, but of every room in the house.
You soon become aware that you might not be as alone as you think you are in this old place. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about those first few minutes. Who knew Kansas in 1965 was so creepy? I don't want to talk too much about what you find and what you do with what you find, because that's really what makes these types of games so fun.
Hope you like reading
There is a ton of content to read through, from notes written by ex-lovers, servants, and children to excerpts from scholarly publications and newspapers, which all contribute to the overall story. The writing doesn't feel like it was shoehorned into the game, but rather that the game was built around the writing. Needless to say, it kept my attention from start to finish. The only downside is that reading in VR can be a bit uncomfortable — edges are sometimes blurry, and you really have to sit forward to see what's going on.
The quality of the writing really makes up for any VR downsides, and it wasn't until later when I went back through the story, re-reading things, that I noticed the blurriness. Yes, you're going to want to replay this game again and again. There are five different endings, which I discovered the first time I was murdered in an untimely manner. I was just about to crack the case wide open, I swear!
Simple mechanics make for fluid gameplay
This is a point-and-click adventure. Your head's motion is tracked, and when you look at objects, either a magnifying glass or a hand icon pops to let you know that you can interact. To move, you look at a spot on the ground or a spot near the ground, and hit a button on your controller when a shoes icon appears.
There are two locomotion choices: comfort-mode and normal-mode. You can either float across the floor to your destination, or you can arrive immediately ala teleportation to lessen motion sickness for those susceptible. I used the normal locomotion and didn't feel an ounce of sickness — it moves smoothly and not very fast.
The controller is mapped well — there isn't a need for combos or special moves — and those even a little familiar with the Xbox controller included with Rift won't have to think twice about which buttons do what, even though your vision is obstructed.
For you Vive owners out there, a recent update lets you use one of your Wands to navigate the game. I tried it out, and game navigates just as well with the Wand as is does with the Xbox controller.
Sure, horror games that rely on jump-scares are fun for awhile, but horror games that really infest your psyche using sounds, art, location, and story are the ones that stick around in gamers' minds as ultimate classics — just look at 2010's Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I'm not saying Dead Secret is the new Amnesia, but it definitely took on a lot of its best properties.
From crows flying by windows, to rain pattering on the glass, to thin trees waving in the wind, the game really does a great job of making you feel like you're safe inside; however, you probably already know that this isn't the case.
There is not really any music that suddenly gets louder and spoils a good scare; the game instead relies on the aforementioned outside noises and the creaking floorboards and hinges of the old farmhouse. Opening a door and surveying a new room is quite a terrifying experience. You don't know what awaits you in those shut armoires, and why is that mask askew on the wall?
I wish I could go on about how the story plays out, but I really don't want to spoil anything for you. Just know that you'll go from top to bottom of the house (and maybe even beneath) in your search for the truth.
My only gripes
The game might feel a little bit too on-rails for some. When I first entered the vestibule at the start of the game, I wanted to push a box out of the way and enter the big living room. A bit of text popped up to inform me that I couldn't. Let's be fair; this isn't a huge deal, especially for a game that was originally released for Gear VR and only costs about $10, but I've been spoiled by many modern games and their open formats.
In that same vein, the graphics might not appeal to some. They are pretty basic, but at least the game has a ton of detail. As time went on, I stopped noticing the inability to enter some rooms or push some boxes out of the way, and stopped noticing the quality of the graphics — the immersive powers of VR took over, and I was more than happy to take this horrifying ride to wherever it wanted to go. For some of you, however, not being able to get over a stack of low-res boxes that even a kid could get over might drive you nuts.
Dead Secret is truly a must-try for all VR heads out there, regardless of whether or not you enjoy the horror genre. For the price you're paying — about $10 — you're getting a fully-fleshed mystery novel that you get to star in. Whether or not you make it to the end of the story is still to be seen, but you'll want to go back and try again and again.
This game really shows off the immersive properties of VR even though there isn't full motion tracking or free movement, which I think in itself demonstrates what a good job the developers did creating this thing. We look forward to what comes next.
- Atmosphere is truly horrifying
- Well-written story
- You'll want to replay immediately
- Might be a bit too on-rails for some
- Graphics might deter some people