Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis
First posted on 04 March 2010. Last updated on 04 October 2012.
Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis is the long-awaited sequel to Secret Files: Tunguska. The game once again follows the globetrotting adventures of Nina Kalenkov and her on-off boyfriend Max Gruber, as they fight to save the world.
Visually, the game is not a huge step up from its predecessor, though this assertion is by no means an insult. The original game features stunning graphics, with sharp pre-rendered backdrops and animated details sprinkled throughout. This sequel shares the same beautiful graphics, immediately reassuring fans that the game has not strayed too far from its origins.
Similarly, the story in this sequel is largely reminiscent of the original. Sure, the details are completely new, but the basic premise is the same: secret hooded cult, murder, globetrotting, and plenty of puzzle solving. The specifics of the story involve the titular sect Puritas Cordis and its plans to bring about seemingly natural disasters around the globe, fulfilling its own twisted prophecies, before stepping in to rule the world.
Of course, this story is merely a backdrop for all the exotic locations that Nina and Max will visit during their quest. This is emphasized further by the villains themselves, who are seldom present and even seem slightly irrelevant in the grand scheme of the conflict. The game lacks a strong antagonist that drives the story forward. Although improved from the last game, the villains in this game do not seem very frightening. Rather, they are the stereotypical villains hungry for world domination.
The dialogs are better scripted here than in the last game, with less translation quirks brought over from the German original. There is still the occasional sentence that sounds awkward, but it is clear that more effort has been put into the English localization. The characters often seem self-aware, breaking the forth wall and commenting on the game itself. This is a running gag from the last game and is used here somewhat more frequently. The gag can be funny, but its mileage will vary depending on the individual gamer, who may or may not mind breaking the game's self-contained atmosphere.
Sadly, the English voiceovers are still a mixed bag. Nina starts out sounding far better than the pubescent voice from the last game (although she still does not sound Russian in the slightest). Unfortunately, her voice is oddly devoid of any emotion in the opening scene; this continues on for early parts of the game, when suddenly, her voice just shifts. Her voice then becomes imbued with far more emotion and starts to sound charming. Nina's comments even raise a smile from time to time. The actress who plays Nina seems slightly miscast as a young Russian woman, but she is always clear and easy to understand.
By contrast, Max's voice is far worse than in the last game. When he is conversing with another character, the voice sounds quite natural, if not slightly grating. However, when he is commenting to himself, the new voice is pretty bad, akin to that of a cheesy narrator from a movie trailer. Fans may also be bothered by the fact that not all of the same voice cast from the last game has returned in this game; in some ways, the continuity of the series suffers as a result, though the long time gap between the game releases may mend this somewhat.
The rest of the characters are voiced competently, but none of them really shine. This seems a missed opportunity. Their personalities are limited to being sources of information and aids to puzzle solving. When the game's end credits describe what has supposedly happened to each of the characters after the story ends, the half-baked epilogue does not really hold any emotional weight. Aside from Nina and Max, you also control a few other characters at key points in the story, but this is never for long enough to develop any attachment. In particular, the addition of a new female character seems to have been little more than an afterthought from the developer.
The puzzles are great and certainly a step up from those in the last game. It is very satisfying to string a series of solutions together that feel rhythmic and clever. Sadly, there are still some obscure puzzles that can grind this rhythm to a halt. This is strange, because the proceedings suffer in many ways because of these small annoyances, yet even more so because for the majority of the time the flow works fine! When you truly feel stumped and the solution turns out to be bizarrely random (such as using a red candle on a clock face), the game can seem very frustrating. Luckily, these moments are few and far between. It is just a shame when the game has a good degree of difficulty and puzzles otherwise!
The built-in diary and hint systems usually alleviate much of these woes, although they only apply to the larger puzzles. Smaller puzzles must be solved without any help. The diary is particularly useful to recap between plays. The interface is very clean, with the cursor taking the shape of a mouse. The left and right buttons on the mouse cursor illuminate when objects can be combined in the inventory. The inventory is located at the bottom of the screen and tucks away when it is not in use.
The music is very atmospheric and fits well with the exotic environments in the game. A minor annoyance is the use of ominous choir music throughout: its use has become outdated in films and it feels the same here.
The camera system actually suffers from enhancements made from the last game. The camera now zooms in when characters converse. Although this makes the scene more cinematic and interesting, it can also pixelate the usually razor-sharp background artworks that have obviously not been optimized for this zoom effect.
Character models are extremely inconsistent. Lip-syncing is practically nonexistent. The animated models seem almost doll like and very robotic. Yet, at other times, such as when Max discovers a ticking bomb and runs towards the camera in a panic (this scene is rendered in real time by the in-game engine and is not pre-rendered), the movement looks fantastic, as if it has been directly motion captured. Inventory icons are bright and well detailed.
Overall, Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis improves on the original Secret Files: Tunguska and as such will not disappoint fans of the series. The puzzles are mostly fun, and the environments are a pleasure to explore. However, the story is rather lacking, and the characters are not particularly memorable (possibly a fault of the translation from German to English). In the end, the game offers up an experience that is always of high quality but without ever edging towards excellence. The sequel is far from being a missed opportunity, though; it is simply just more of the same. Fans of Secret Files will undoubtedly love this adventure. For others, this game is perhaps worth a look, but it has been done before, and done better, in the past.