Dead Secret Circle (PC – Steam) Review

Last week I reviewed Dead Secret, from Robot Invader, on the PS4 + PSVR – a murder mystery point-and-click adventure game set in the 1960’s within an isolated house in the country. Upon finishing the review, I was offered a code for Dead Secret Circle, the sequel to the aforementioned game, only this time I’ll be playing it on PC as the game isn’t set for a PS4 release yet. I instantly jumped at this opportunity as I thoroughly enjoyed the first game, although I don’t own a VR headset for the PC so I’ll just be playing it on my monitor with my PS4 controller.

Dead Secret Circle is a self-enclosed title which can be enjoyed with or without prior knowledge of the first game, although prior knowledge will benefit you in terms of the back story. The premise and mechanics are similar to the prequel with our main protagonist moving around in first person trying to find clues and solve puzzles in order to investigate a mysterious killer. However, this time around the developers have made some changes to the controls and the core mechanics in order to make it more accessible and enjoyable to play. So, come with me as I become Patricia Gable once more and head to a secluded building without police backup…

**The below review will include spoilers to the ending from Dead Secret due to the story almost directly following the final outcome.**

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Meet Edmund, the lovable superintendent. The first thing he does is send us on a fetch quest!

Dead Secret Circle takes place in 1971, around six years since the horrifying events which occurred in Kansas during your first investigation into the death of a local scientist. Dead Secret Circle follows the presumption that you escaped the house by choosing the correct killer, Josie, and you helped her instead of leaving her to be burnt alive. What follows is that you went on to recover and gain employment within a major newspaper and Josie wound up in a mental institute. It’s been around a year since your mother died and you beginning to suffer from strange dreams which always seem to occur during the nights of the full moon. This is down to you being subjected to the Lunar Dream Apparatus previously, which has changed the way your subconscious works.

You are having strange dreams, which you presume is the future, about an old apartment building and a horrific masked being who is armed with an old-style razor blade. The police know that this killer, who is named The Laughing Man as he carves peoples mouths open into a large smile, has killed a couple of people so far. Patricia believes the killer has actually killed more people than the police know about and wants to investigate but she has nowhere to start.

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Suddenly, whilst in her flat minding her own business, someone pushes a picture of an apartment building under her door and runs away. After looking over all of her case notes from recent killings in the area, Patricia deems this apartment building is the home of The Laughing Man, or at least has some connection to the killings as it’s right in the centre of all the related deaths. With her notepad in hand and her balls of steel upon her person – she heads out on her lonesome in order to investigate and find out the truth behind this mysterious killer as well as how this relates to herself and the dreams she has been having.

Yay! the mirrors are back – I can’t wait to try them out in VR.

Dead Secret Circle takes what was good about the first game and improves on almost every aspect. My review is based on the Non-VR version of the game on Steam (the game is also avaliable in VR for the Oculus Rift via the Oculus Rift store with a Vive version currently in development) so I can’t talk about the VR aspect or the controls, although I have seen the developer play it in VR and it looks great. You even have access to both hands in this game – no more sling for Patricia! The game comes pre-setup for an Xbox One controller or the Mouse and Keyboard. I chose to use my PS4 controller because I prefer it – however, it didn’t work out-of-the-box, but you can set it up within the launch menu and remap all of the buttons so it works fine. I have had a few issues with the controller, but I’ll put all my issues towards the end of the review.

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The main difference with the controls this time around is that you have free movement. Previously, it was like a point-and-click game where you would automatically move to set locations – not anymore. You can now freely move wherever you want in order to fully investigate areas. Other than that, the setup is very similar to the previous game – you can look at almost everything, pick up items, work on puzzles, talk to people, read notes etc… All the things you would expect. You even have access to the Mask, which you obtained early on in the original game, which allows you to see cryptic messages and ghostly spirits as they guide you on your journey.

I think it’s trying to tell me something…

Dead Secret focused on Patricia finding notes and stories, then piecing them all together to work out what had happened, who everyone was, why the scientist died, and who the killer really was. In Dead Secret Circle, the developers have gone one step further. As well as having over 40 pages of notes to look for and the inner monologue of you recording messages for your psychiatrist at the end of each day, you also have access to talk to living beings this time around. As I said earlier, you have your notebook in hand – literally. As you investigate the worn-down apartment building, you will interview the various tenants who live there as well as the superintendent who sleeps in his office. You question them and build up your character profiles for each of the people who reside within the building, as well as uncover new objectives to work on.

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In regards to collectables, as well as the above notes and recordings you do each day, you have a few things to collect. First of all, there are other cassette tapes hidden around the building which are varied but mainly creepy messages with a sole intent on freaking you out. You also have a collection of books you can find – these are all parodies of existing franchises, such as “A Residence of Evil”, “What’s in the Box”, and “Come play with us”. Once you complete the game you are also shown the various things you could do throughout the game such as “did you do X before Y happened” or “did you find the X in the Y”? I like how the game told me these things to look out for AFTER I’ve finished the game as you can’t reload your save and go get the ones you missed out on. So now I have something to look out for in my second playthrough.

Dead Secret Circle has more focus than the original game, with each chapter split by the day you are on. Fulfil your objectives for the day, as well as any impromptu ones you add along the way, and then return back to your flat to wind down and recap on what you have learnt. That’s right, at the end of each day you will have a mini trivia quiz, just like in the prequel, where you are asked a series of questions which you must answer. I don’t think there is a penalty for getting these wrong (I never got any wrong so I can’t be 100% sure), but they aren’t difficult and they are there to keep you updated on what’s happening. You can also participate in trying to answer some quite difficult puzzles which you have delivered to your house each day in the form of a daily puzzle magazine. I was never successful in solving any of these, but it didn’t appear to change the story.

The puzzles are a lot more varied this time around.

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Speaking of puzzles, there are quite a lot of them within this game. From finding an item so you can unlock a rather elaborate lock mechanism which a lady has on her workshop door, to creating a new dose of medication for a tenant who falls into a seizure. Almost every room has something in it either as a key to another puzzle or insight into what’s going on. I really enjoyed the diversity of this game and a few of the puzzles had me stuck for a while – which is great. It also helped that I’m one of the first people to play the game, so there are no guides online or any means to get help other than trying to do it for myself. Plus, the fact I was able to complete the game basically means that anyone can!

One of the things I loved about Dead Secret was the fact that the scenes with the masked killer ultimately had you choosing where you run or hide as you couldn’t move, yet you had a choice of where to go. Now that the mechanic has changed we have the standard ‘run from the killer and find a hiding spot’ mechanic instead. Unfortunately, I didn’t like this aspect as much as I did in the first game. The things I didn’t like were the speed and the lack of options.

So, what do I mean? Well, Patricia may have both of her hands in this game but it sure does feel like she’s lost one of her legs! She walks around at a leisurely pace as if she is taking a long stroll in the park. This is even when the music is in overdrive and there is a killer right behind you – you just stroll along like you have no worries in the world. The second issue, choices, is the fact that it isn’t obvious where you can hide. Most events only have one or two hiding spots, so it’s up to you to pick the right one based on trial and improvement. However, without a visual clue that you can hide behind a certain object, you may not be aware of where you can actually go.

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

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In terms of the atmosphere, the developers have nailed it once again. The game isn’t horrific or terrifying, but it’s creepy, unsettling and unnerving. Yeah, you’re just walking around a soon-to-be-destroyed apartment building, but it feels so surreal and everything gets under your skin. From seeing the same creepy guy with various different facial hair in numerous paintings in one hallway to talking to a wife and husband duo where the wife keeps smiling whilst the husband stands there and stares at you. It’s not a nice place to live! This rolls into the sound design as, just like the first game, there isn’t much music within the game during normal gameplay but there is a lot of ambient sounds and atmospheric cues. There is nothing worse than hearing your footsteps as you walk down a quiet hallway then hearing a door open nearby, or going around a corner to see nothing yet as you come back the way you came you bump into someone just stood there – along with the obligatory ‘Boom’ sound effect.

Which brings me to my next point – jump scares – yup, their back and they are plentiful. If I was playing this in VR then I believe I would have screamed on more than one occasion due to the jump scares. The game thrives on them for its horror moments and the developer knows how to do them well. I also don’t feel there were too many of them as most of the time I was just worried there would be a jump scare and unintentionally made myself more scared of something that never even ended up happening. From seeing something in the corner of the screen to turning and having someone right there, every single one got me! I really hate jump scares – I can see the appeal and they worked well, I’m just not a massive fan. The only thing I didn’t like about the scares in Dead Secret Circle was the killer scares. In most situations, the screen begins to turn red and the music kicks in when the killer is nearby – this ruined the scares for me in most instances when the killer was involved as I’ve just been given a heads up that I’m about to see them.

Hmmm, something looks familiar. Btw, these paintings are amazing!

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Graphically the game looks very similar to Dead Secret. Some of the texture work looks like it’s higher quality and the paintings within the game are amazing quality as they look so realistic. Also, when you enter the dream phases and you’re within a purple tinted realm, those parts look really cool with the environment bending and coming together as you walk around. Similarly, the character design is really well done and I can’t fault the game in that aspect – everyone looks creepy and worn-down like they’re supposed to be and the killer looks mysterious and creepy. The main issue I had here is that there are some graphical issues with the game which the developers are working on which I’ll mention below.

Finally, the sound. I think I’ve covered it all, but I just wanted to mention it again. There are a few music tracks in the game, mainly when you are in the dream sequences and being stalked by the killer, but most of the game you are subjected to the ambient sounds. Also, when you put on the mask to see what can’t be seen, the creepy drone noise makes what you’re looking at much worse than it probably seems without the sound. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the voice acting – Robot Invader has hired the perfect voice actors in Dead Secret Circle. There was nothing wrong with the first game, but some sequences did seem a bit muffled whereas in Dead Secret Circle every single voice actor delivered their lines convincingly and with a high quality. The only issue I had was with Edmund, the superintendent, as his accent seemed to slip at times. Other than that though, the cast was great and I seriously can’t fault any of the sound design throughout the game.

You’ve gotta love parody – and there are quite a few of them to collect.

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Now, as this is an indie PC game I didn’t expect the game to be 100% perfect before launch and I know it wouldn’t have the polish that a AAA game would have. As such, I’ve reported a decent amount of issues to the developers, the majority of which have been resolved in a few patches we have received over the last few days. However, there are still a few issues which plague the game and could affect your enjoyment of the title. All of these things I’m about to tell you about are with the developer and they are actively working on them, I will remove them once the game has been updated to fix them. Also, I made it all the way through the game and managed to finish the game even with these issues present – so none of these are game-breaking.

1. PS4 Controller. As above, I am using a PS4 controller but if you have one plugged in when starting the game then Patricia will continuously spin and look up. To fix, you must Hold SHIFT as you click play, so the launch menu appears, and boot it from there – Then the controller works fine.
2. Setting the resolution and remapping the controls. This one has been resolved now, as above, hold SHIFT and press ‘play’ – this will open the launch menu.
3. Shadows. There is a graphical issue at the moment with the engine and certain shadows as they appear very dark and in places they shouldn’t. It’s distracting visually but it doesn’t affect gameplay.
4. One of the puzzles, gaining entry to the workshop, wouldn’t unlock – even with the right combination. I closed and re-opened the game and it worked the first time. This was the most game-impacting issue I had, but it worked fine upon reload.
5. There are a few other non-impacting issues like losing access to the menu and being able to fly in certain locations, but these shouldn’t be around long.

As I said, none of the above stopped me from playing the game, enjoying the story and finishing the game within around 6-7 hours. As such, my final grade below is for the game itself and my personal rating of how much enjoyment the game gave me, not including the issues I’ve stated above. I believe it will be unfair to mark down the game for these as the developers are currently working on resolving them and I was able to complete the game without any issues stopping me.

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Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Dead Secret Circle is a great sequel to an immersive and unique game. It’s taken the formula of things which worked, the exploration, interaction, horror, and supernatural elements, and improved on almost every aspect in order to deliver yet another truly disturbing adventure game. As you investigate The Laughing Man, the tenants and the apartment building, you will discover more about the situation and the people involved than you could ever wish to know. The game doesn’t require you to find every last secret and piece of information, but upon playing the game, you’ll want to go out of your way to find everything as it’s such an interesting world.

With it’s improved controls, new mechanics and bigger environments, Dead Secret Circle is a great game for those who enjoyed the first title and people who like adventure games in general. I would say this game is more akin to an adventure game than a horror one due to the number of puzzles and investigations mechanics in place over the jump scares. If you can look past the fact the game looks a bit ‘basic’, due to it being a VR game which you can also play non-VR, then you’ll find another hidden gem here, just like the original game (which you should also get if you like the Adventure genre).

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Dead Secret Circle

9

Final Score

9.0/10

The Good:

  • Interesting environments and characters
  • Great use of the ambient sounds to intensify the atmosphere
  • Really good voice acting
  • Decent amount of puzzles and collectables
  • Cool visual effects in the dream sequences

The Bad:

  • Your character moves really slow in non-VR mode
  • The warning about the killers presence makes it less of a scare
  • The issues stated above (not affecting my score though as they are currently being worked on)
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