First posted on 18 July 2007. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
This game is part of the Adventure Collection: Volume One re-released in 2008 by The Adventure Company.
Adventure Collection: Volume One
The compilation includes 5 games previously released by The Adventure Company separately in 2004-2007:
- Dead Reefs
- NiBiRu: Age of Secrets
- Return to Mysterious Island
- Secret Files: Tunguska
Here are some trivia about the 5 games included in the compilation: (1) 3 games2,4,5 feature female protagonists, (2) 3 games2,3,5 involve danger to either the protagonists' relatives or close friends, (3) 2 games2,5 have built-in hint systems, (4) 2 games1,2 are developed in Canada, (5) 3 games3,4,5 are developed in Europe, (6) 4 games2,3,4,5 are not originally English language releases, (7) 5 games1,2,3,4,5 are developed by small- to mid-sized studios.
1Dead Reefs 2Keepsake 3NiBiRu: Age of Secrets 4Return to Mysterious Island 5Secret Files: Tunguska
Dead Reefs is a mixed first-person and third-person adventure game from the small Canadian game studio Streko-Graphics, best known as the developer of the Aura series. Released with little fanfare, Dead Reefs is a classic horror adventure with surprisingly decent production values. However, the game is also plagued by a non-intuitive control system that can frustrate gamers who are more accustomed to a point-and-click interface. Still, novice gamers will be instantly attracted to the loads of eye candy that this game offers, while more seasoned gamers will be satisfied by the few clever puzzles that are in this game.
You play Amadey Finvinerro, a detective investigator sent by the order of His Majesty to investigate a mysterious murder on the island of Dead Reefs off the coast of England in the 1720s. Long ago, an ancient relic of unlimited power existed that belonged to a secret order of religious monks. This relic was stolen when the monks traveling aboard a ship were robbed by pirates from the island. Unbeknownst to the pirates, the relic carried a deadly evil curse. Soon, inhabitants of the island fell prey to the curse and started dying unnaturally. Decades later, when Patrick Wyndham, son of a wealthy Baron currently living on the island, dies suspiciously, fear is quickly cast among its inhabitants that his death may be linked to the cursed relic. In the end, Amadey must solve the mysterious murder and discover the identity of the killer. To do this, he must unveil a dark legend about the relic that spans across centuries and touches both the natural and the supernatural.
At first glance, gamers will be drawn immediately to the stunning visuals in Dead Reefs. All the environments are beautifully rendered in full 3D. The game is developed using the Virtools technology platform licensed from Dassault Systèmes. The game supports resolutions up to 1280x1024. A separate setup launches from which both the screen resolution and texture filtering settings can be changed. All the rendered models are highly detailed and beautifully textured. Dynamic lighting effects are used to good effect to enhance the spooky ambience of the island (an example is the glow from Amadey's lamp inside a secret passage way). Character models are also well animated, including facial expressions at close-ups. All cut scenes are generated in real time, with the camera cutting automatically and panning slowly for maximal dramatic effect.
By default, the game is played from a third-person perspective. At any time, the view can be switched to a first-person perspective in which the player can then pan around in a limited arc up close. The first-person mode is also used to reveal hotspots (by way of a large eye icon) that represent areas of interests which otherwise are not identified in the other mode. This is a clever feature and greatly helps to cut down random and unnecessary explorations in the game. Unfortunately, the player can neither move about nor take any action on a hotspot in this mode. While in third-person mode, the game uses an automatic camera system. Camera angles are switched on the fly in response to player's movements. However, a hotkey can also trigger an alterative camera angle (whenever available) if the player finds that the default view to be too obstructive.
Interactions with other characters and objects in Dead Reefs are controlled by a palette of 4 icons located at the bottom right of the screen that light up whenever the corresponding actions (such as Look, Talk, Action) are available. Conversations are handled by a rudimentary dialog tree system. Once a dialog begins, the player can select an icon that corresponds to a particular subject matter from an available list located at the bottom left of the screen. Items from the inventory are displayed also as icons located at the bottom left of the screen. Items can be selected individually or combined with others for use. Early in the game, Amadey will acquire a map which allows the player to quickly travel around the island. Amadey also keeps a written journal that is automatically updated after each major discovery the player makes in the game. The game can be saved (with unlimited slots) and reload at any time. This is indispensable since the player can literally die in this game (pigeons are deadly!). There are multiple endings to this game, including a bad ending that ends much earlier than the others.
Dead Reefs features a combination of classic inventory-based and logic-based puzzles. Most gamers will find the puzzles in this game to be quite simple. Clues are all clearly laid out in the immediate vicinity of the puzzles, and needed items (such as a key to open a locked door) are often hidden only steps away from where the puzzles are located. Many scenes in the game are shrouded in darkness, so locating these items can be difficult at times. Unfortunately, there is no in-game gamma control to adjust the brightness of the screen. The developer has put in great efforts to create a wide variety of puzzles. There is even a sound based puzzle in which the player must strike a series of piano keys correctly to reproduce a tune from a music box (those who are tone deaf need not to worry; the tune has only 4 notes). Several puzzles are rehashes of classic logic puzzles. Other puzzles are more contrived, including a mini maze. A few puzzles are quite clever, if not bizarre, such as a puzzle involving a corpse and an electric eel (though it is no where as grotesque as the puzzle involving decapitated heads in Zork Nemesis). The finale puzzle involving the runes and the relic is well done and neatly ties together the game's core story. While the game is generally well paced, it is also quite tightly scripted, contrary to what the developer may claim. For most parts of the game, the player is exposed to only a single puzzle and a single area at a time. New areas are barred temporarily from exploration by locked contraptions that often do not make sense within the context of the story. Some needed items (such as tools from the caretaker's toolbox) are also not allowed to be taken early on simply because the timing is not right; the narrator just tells the player off with a snazzy remark for being ignorant.
The story in Dead Reefs is fairly interesting and well crafted, though the theme of a cursed relic is admittedly cliché (complete with a floating ghost dressed in white inside a haunted manor). There is even a small plot twist. The ending, however, feels rushed and abrupt. The dialog is generally well written, with bits of sarcasm and subtle humor (arghhh... no pirate joke). Still, there are also some silly faux pars in the dialog. An example is at the cemetery when Amadey comments that many inhabitants of the island have all died on the same day but 9 years apart. Yet, the player can clearly see that the tombstones (at which Amadey has been looking) have inscribed only on them the years of births and deaths of the deceased, so it is not possible for Amadey to know that they have all died on the same day!
The greatest annoyance in Dead Reefs, which mars an otherwise nearly flawless game, has to be its horrendous control system. In a decision that baffles me to this date, the developer has decided that the game will be entirely controlled by the keyboard only. There is no mouse support! Keys are re-mappable. By default, WASD is used to control character's movement on screen. However, the directions of movement to which these keys control are based on the character's perspective and not the screen's perspective. Thus, pressing the key to move left (or right) does not necessarily translate to moving left (or right) on screen if the character faces the wrong direction. This style of control is akin to that used long ago in Alone in the Dark, a game that has also been criticized for its erratic control. The control is made worse by the constantly changing camera angles that suddenly shift the direction which the character faces. Navigating through a narrow oblique path is thus nearly impossible. Character movement is also very jerky and slow to respond, owing perhaps to the extra time needed for the walking or running animation to start and stop with each keystroke. It is only after a lot of practice (about halfway through the game) that I grow comfortable with this unnatural control scheme. Gamepad (aside from mouse) support, which is lacking, may greatly alleviate this frustration.
The voice acting in Dead Reefs is decent. All the lines are spoken clearly (which is quite an achievement in itself), but most are delivered devoid of any expression or drama. Amadey's voice is fairly easy on the ears. Perhaps an oversight, none of the characters speaks with an English accent that is authentic to the time period. Subtitles are available as an option. By contrast, the music in Dead Reefs is beautiful. Melodies are played unobtrusively in the background and change in both tempo and mood in concert with events on screen. Ambient sound effects (such as howling winds, clashing ocean waves, and haunting growls) are used sparingly but to good effect to enhance the dark atmosphere of the game.
Overall, Dead Reefs is a decent horror adventure game that likely appeals to both novice and experienced adventure gamers, though for different reasons. Undoubtedly, the biggest draw for this game is its lavish visuals. The story is a bit cliché but well told. Gameplay is respectable, though it is plagued by a somewhat convoluted control system that will require some patience to master. The game is admittedly short, lasting only 10-15 hours. Nonetheless, it is a small gem that is worthy of a play without hesitation. I love to see a sequel to Dead Reefs in the future, but only if I can play it with both a keyboard and a mouse!