Relying on jumpscares in VR to make a game frightening is fundamentally lazy. There’s no finesse, no building terror that creeps inside you, just the looming possibility that a ghoul can flash in front of your face, thereby activating whatever squishy evolutionary mechanism that regulates fight or flight. Thankfully, the devs over at Robot Invader understand this in their new first-person mystery thriller Dead Secret, which seeps in much deeper than any garden variety jumpscare could.
You, a 1960’s era reporter looking for your next big scoop, walk into a secluded farm house with a hunch that the recently deceased inhabitant was (dun dun dun) murdered. You unraveling the threads of multiple suspects while riffling through drawers in the house to put together clues as to how and why a certain Harris Bullard was found dead in his study.
A scholar of Japanese mythology, Bullard’s study holds many of the game’s first clues, including a mask that lets you see into another realm with a not-so-nice-looking fellow looking back at you, replete with Japanese demon mask. Is it the spirit world you’re looking into? The imprints of the subconscious? Stay alive and you may just find out.
I won’t go any farther into the narrative itself for the sake of keeping the 6-8 hour thriller a secret, but just know that there are multiple endings, most of which end in your untimely demise (again, dun dun dun). Watch your back, and keep an eye out for shadows, because when someone (or something) comes to get you, your only option is to run and hide.
What I can reveal is this: Dead Secret shows the growing maturity of the mobile VR medium by respecting the limitations of comfortable play.
Because it’s a first-person game that navigates via point-and-click, and not the usual gamepad movement scheme, travel between two points can either be animated alla ‘on rails’ movement, or near instant by way of the game’s VR comfort mode. I tended to use comfort mode, because I like the faster pace of gameplay; teleporting in the blink of an eye. But the default travel animations were hardly sickening, as I felt it was at a good pace to not bring on that nasty vection-induced nausea dubbed ‘sim sickness’.
That said, a good swivel chair is a must so that you can keep active in your new creepy environment.
And there’s some reading to do too, which isn’t always a comfortable affair in VR. Dead Secret relies heavily on poring over clues like manuscripts, newspapers, and reviewing your journal so you can easily summarize the events going on in the narrative. The text is crisp and easy to read, making it a natural feeling to leaf through and review if you should find yourself lost. Shifting back and forth between inventory items is as easy as an up-swipe on the Gear VR headset.
Dead Secret is by far one of the longest, and most engaging VR experiences I’ve ever had—mobile or otherwise. The fact that it’s on the Gear VR means that some of the textures and character animations have to be sacrificed for a large and smooth experience on mobile GPUs, not a detractor in the least considering the overall awesomeness of the game. You can bet when it hits the Oculus Rift and PSVR that these things will change.
Dead Secret is out now on the Gear VR store for $9.99, and if you think that’s too much for a ‘mobile game’, you’d be wrong. Dead wrong (sorry). The game gets high marks, and for the lack of an official Road to VR rating system, we give it a ‘must buy’ for fans of murder mysteries.