Dead Secret Review – Mobile Tension (PS4/PSVR)
Dead Secret originally released back in 2015. It was in development as a mobile title before the studio decided to switch it over to virtual reality development. Launched for the mobile VR platforms first, it was eventually ported to PC VR headsets Oculus and Vive before finally releasing on PSVR this week. In the year and a half since PSVR hit the market, we’ve seen myriad advancements in the games and tech that are making their way to the system. I was skeptical that an old mobile-VR port could keep up.
There are a lot of great ideas stowed away in Dead Secret’s lonely little farmhouse. Instead of a horror game, Dead Secret builds suspense throughout. It generates the same feeling one might have when going into a dark basement alone, letting the mystery of the unknown and what might be just around the corner carry the player’s fear. Occasional moments of true terror keep the suspense engaged just when it starts to falter. A glimpse of a figure standing behind you in a mirror, someone slowly creeping up the stairs towards, or having limited vision in a dark cellar maintain the intense feelings that something could be lurking around every corner. Clearly, somebody or something doesn’t want you investigating Harris Bullard’s murder.
Virtual reality has the added benefit of immersing players. Even when the graphics aren’t all that great, poking your head into a doorway or glancing at a mirror as you walk past can create feelings of anxiety. Remove the virtual reality aspect, and a game has to rely on other factors to keep players engaged. Dead Secret can be played on a flat screen TV, but as an experience designed for VR (and mobile VR at that), it’s a rather unimpressive performance. Gone are the moments of tension as you open doors and trawl for secrets from room to room. If you have the option to play on VR, do so. If you don’t, Dead Secret’s not worth getting as a standard PS4 game.
Limited Player Control
As a point-and-click mystery, controls are quite limited. You cannot freely walk from place to place. Movement is handled by looking at a specific location in the room that you want to walk to, and if the feet icon appears, you can click X to slowly walk there. It takes much of the mystery out of exploring and solving puzzles, as many of the solutions can be found through trial and error, simply walking where the game will allow and clicking on all of the nearby interactable objects. This control scheme feels like a relic of its mobile birthplace, with no real updates or optimizations in the nearly three years since it first launched, for either VR or TV screens.
Given the sequel, Dead Secret Circle, that is currently in development appears to have full mobility, I’m rather surprised the feature was not patched into the original game for the ports. Perhaps there are certain scares that rely on the programming of limited places you can actually navigate to. There’s certainly a tension in entering a room or rounding a corner at a pace that you can’t control on your own.
Classic horror game fans will be familiar with Dead Secret‘s puzzle design, clearly a callback to Resident Evil and similar titles. The first room alone is full of objects to be interacted with that open up secret compartments which contain clues towards solving other puzzles. The ever present threat of knowing that a killer is stalking your movements makes puzzle solving a rather tense affair, even if the puzzles are ultimately easy to figure out.
An Intriguing Whodunnit
The true driving factor to Dead Secret is the mystery that surrounds Harris Bullard’s murder. As a journalist, you enter the empty farmhouse alone looking for a story. You’ll find a lot more than you bargained for, including Bullard’s own dark secrets, and the haunted pasts of those around him. You’ll be stalked by a creepy figure, but is the killer human, or something else entirely? Coming in at two to three hours for the main campaign (plus five total endings that aren’t all that complicated or intensive to get), the pacing never felt off. I was always satisfied by the next reveal or the next story beat. The only time the game went on too long was a part where I failed to get everything I needed to solve a puzzle and wandered around aimlessly looking for what ended up being right in front of my face.
Reading each and every document the game procures is just as exciting as the tension that staying in the house brings (and often increases that tension as the mystery deepens), but horrible voice acting brings the story down. The only voice in the game is from your main character at a few narration points, and at first I honestly thought it was computer generated. My Google Home responds with more emotion and intent in her voice than Dead Secret’s journalist does. It was yet another reminder of where the game originally came from, periodically highlighting some of the lower production values that the game first had. In terms of graphics and interface, I can understand the limitations of the original mobile hardware, but quality voice acting doesn’t get that same waiver.
Dead Secret works as a mobile VR game, but its simplistic roots are painfully obvious on the PlayStation. The ability to play the game on a TV without a headset feels like a tacked on addition that wasn’t optimized. Using PSVR, Dead Secret certainly has its frightful moments, and the story is intriguing enough to drive a player through to the end, but with all the great PSVR games out now, Dead Secret feels like a dud on the platform. It takes more than an intriguing story to make a great VR experience. While I had a fun rifling through Dead Secret’s mysteries and more than once found myself spooked, it’s not an experience I have a desire to play again or showcase on my headset.
Dead Secret PSVR review code provided by the developer. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.