Review: Dead Secret
Review copy provided by developer
The key to a good mystery is to give the audience all the clues they need to solve it themselves. Most mystery-oriented games don’t bother with this, honestly, usually opting to mete out the secrets as part of the main plot. A few take the opposite tack though, and base the gameplay around ultimately having the player solve the mystery themselves. Dead Secret is one such title, stranding you in an ominous homestead full of clues and asking you to pick a murderer out of a motley lineup. If you can work your way through the volumes of reading to piece it all together, and avoid death at the hands of a masked menace, then you’ll likely find this one of the better creepy mysteries out there.
Reclusive professor Harris Bullard has turned up dead in his remote country home, and no one knows quite what to make of it. As a small-town reporter, you see solving the murder as your ticket out of your dead-end beat and head out to the house solo. Bullard had four close acquaintances who all bore their own motives and peculiarities, and the many notes and clippings left around the house will eventually lead you to the killer. But Bullard’s research was of the esoteric type, and it’s possible he unleashed something that led to his doom. You’ll have to contend with more than just the corporeal secrets here, including a killer who may not have killed their fill just yet.
I’m a big fan of Dead Secret’s story, and not just because you have to name the killer by the end of the game. Bullard’s house is a unique setting, even in the modern landscape of haunted Unity horror houses. The place was in the middle of being packed up when Bullard bit it, so some rooms like his study and bedroom are mostly untouched while the living room and kitchen are veritable mazes of boxes and disarranged furniture. It gives the house a more grounded, lived-in feel and lends credence to your finding of dozens of notes scattered all over the place. The story does indeed dip into the supernatural as well, but just enough to entice and leaves plenty of space for curious minds to come to their own conclusions.
There are scares to be had as well, and while they lean heavy on jumpscares they’re mostly well-paced and earned. The game being first-person lends significantly more weight to these moments, and they’re smartly situated to startle even in broad daylight. You’ll find yourself in danger from time to time, forced to hide or escape from the killer before they do what they do best. These sequences can be a little frustrating as they only have one right answer that isn’t immediately obvious, but you don’t lose anything aside from tension from fouling them up. As you progress further into the game the atmosphere grows noticeably more ominous as what feelings of security you cling to slip away.
What weaknesses Dead Secret does suffer from are mostly found in the mechanics. It’s a first-person game but rather than let you wander the house freely, you’re stuck in an on-rails sort of point-and-click version of it. That means everything is done by nodes, including movement and interaction, and sometimes you have to be standing at a specific node to do something otherwise obvious like turn on a light or pick up a note. There’s an absurd number of notes to find if you want the full story, too. I know I said earlier that the transitional state of the house made it more reasonable to expect such things, but the volume can only be explained by someone filling a diary and then tearing the pages out, spreading them like confetti.
I won’t be too much of a pedant about this though. The fact is that Dead Secret pulls together a compelling and creepy mystery in a way that’s only lightly flawed. The graphics won’t win it any awards but they do the work of setting the scene and the lighting is quite effective at raising concerns. There’s not much sound design to comment on either but there doesn’t need to be, as silence is an excellent filler for the remote homestead. It’s just a solid product from start to finish, one fine for horror, adventure, or mystery fans of any stripe.