I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve seen more episodes of Murder, She Wrote than is healthy for someone under age 70. I’d like to think that the hours I’ve spent watching Jessica Fletcher do her thing have made me an expert in being a busybody and in solving crimes. How fortuitous, then, that the spooky thriller Dead Secret, recently released for PlayStation 4, allows me to indulge both of these passions.
The year is 1965 and you’re an aspiring reporter who yearns to write about hot scoops. While the coroner declared the recent death of reclusive scientist Harris Bullard to be a natural one, you’re convinced that it’s not so simple. You head to Bullard’s isolated Kansas farmhouse and before long you’re mired in a conspiracy involving four murder suspects. The story will be a big one guaranteed to move your byline from the gossip column to the front page—if you can survive long enough to tell the tale.
Developer Robot Invader originally envisioned Dead Secret as a mobile game before embracing virtual reality. Since its 2015 debut on Samsung Gear VR, the game has been ported to PC VR formats and now to PlayStation—both VR and not-VR. While this mystery story plays out in first-person, it’s more akin to a point-and-click adventure game of old. Searching the sparse rooms for clues, players are tasked with solving simplistic puzzles to unlock doors and find even more clues. It’s not going to tax your brain much. The solutions are frequently in the vicinity of the problems and easy enough to solve that gameplay never stalls.
Figuring out exactly what happened to Harris Bullard and whodunit, however, takes time. The story largely unwinds through letters, diaries, and newspaper clippings found through the time-honored journalistic practice of snooping around.
While Dead Secret is perhaps a bit too easy for its own good, and the simple graphics look very much like something that was ported from a mobile VR game, it’s got ample atmosphere influenced by eerie Japanese folktales and some well-timed jump scares. If you can play it in VR, you should, as that’s where the game truly shines.
I admit, I’m a wimp when it comes to first-person scares, but Dead Secret has its share of sequences that are sure to get under anyone’s skin. It took me a bit to work up the courage to descend into the pitch-black basement with only a flashlight to guide me—potential front-page story be damned. The moment you realize that you’re not alone in the house is terrifying, and it leads to one of the few pulse-pounding (if brief) chase sequences.
There are five endings in Dead Secret, but unfortunately they don’t afford the game much replay value. Thanks to checkpoints, three of these endings can be achieved in the span of maybe two minutes. In fact, the entire affair is over in about three hours, even with maximum snoopage. I would have liked a little more than I got from Dead Secret, but I was enthralled with what I did get: a hunch to investigate and a creepy, mysterious house to explore. I stayed alive, I solved the puzzle of Harris Bullard’s death, and I’m waiting for my Pulitzer. Not bad for a few hours’ work.