Dead Secret GearVR, PS3, PS4, Rift
Though playable on flat screens, Robot Invader’s curious murder mystery has, according to the developer’s website, been designed as a virtual reality experience. Indeed, given the heightened sense of vulnerability you’ll feel as you investigate a murder scene and a series of increasingly more disturbing supernatural events, it would be a shame to play the game in anything other than its intended form.
Cast as up-and-coming journalist Patricia Gable, you embark on a firstperson puzzle adventure looking into the recent death of Harris Bullard – a man with enough enemies to suggest foul play. It takes place entirely within the grounds of a moderately sized farm house and its outbuildings, and while you’ll initially be funnelled by awkwardly placed packing boxes and locked doors, soon there’s a good deal to explore.
You navigate by clicking on the object you want to stand next to and are then either spirited over to it via a slow-paced on-rails saunter, or – if you’ve switched to Comfort mode – warp instantly to the spot. While the latter is intended for those with greater sensitivity to movement in VR, using it also significantly ups the pace of the game, and as a result we soon abandon the patience-testing walking animations. The need to find specific spots you can stand in can make navigating some of the busier spaces that appear later in the game frustrating, but overall it’s an effective design that makes Dead Secret perfectly suited for use with the Oculus Remote. Functioning like a mouse pointer in 3D space, it proves to be a particularly comfortable way to play (see ‘Remote possibility’).
Much less pleasant are your encounters with a stalking presence that wants to add your chalk outline to the house’s existing one. Your paths cross infrequently, which mostly poses no real danger, but on a couple of occasions you need to escape or hide. These moments are representative of the game at its best and worst: the chilling proximity of an aggressor closing in on you in virtual space will turn your stomach, but the prescribed nature of the sequences – which suggest choice but actually only have one solution – and the resultant need to replay them undermines their power.
More consistent is the creeping sense of dread throughout, an atmosphere that’s built on Robot Invader’s preference for slow realisation over jump scares. The story, too, does a great job of pulling you further into the world and, while the voice acting falls far short of pre-eminent genre exemplars such as Gone Home and Soma, as with everything else in the game your connection to it is enhanced to a surprising degree by experiencing it through VR.
There’s a great deal to interact with in Dead Secret’s environments – even the cushions can be lifted in the course of your investigation. Being able to bend down and look underneath things increases your immersion