Dark Secrets

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 04 February 2014. Last updated on 04 February 2014.
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Dark Secrets
What dark secrets is the village of Calmwood hiding?
Dark Secrets
On the surface, Calmwood appears to be peaceful.
Dark Secrets
Arthur finds a letter written by his father.
Dark Secrets
Arthur reads a book on a local legend and fable.
Dark Secrets
William speaks to Arthur about a strange painting.

1The original digital release had a number of technical glitches that made the game unplayable to the end. A patch had since been released by the developer. The patched release could be played to the end.

The game is available at GamersGate.

Dark Secrets is the first game from indie developer DreamCraft Entertainment. Established in 2010, the small game company based in Skövde, Sweden has a goal (according to the developer) to create games with immersion and depth that bring the players into the game. Dark Secrets is a promising title toward this creative direction, though not without some notable flaws.

Dark Secrets is a first-person adventure game. You take on the protagonist role of a man named Arthur Smith. He receives a phone call from a police officer in Calmwood, his birthplace, informing him that his father Henry, whom he hates for years of neglect, has died from an apparent heart attack. Arthur returns back to Calmwood to attend his father's funeral and to repossess the antique shop once belonged to his father. What is meant to be a short visit in Calmwood, however, turns out to be a nightmare for Arthur—in a small Scandinavian village where the locals are acting strangely, information is impossible to glean, and mysterious events are unraveling. It appears that the locals have also been keeping a dark sinister secret. Delving deeper in his investigation, Arthur soon becomes embroiled in the horrific lies and secrets hidden in this isolated village.

Installing the game is straightforward and glitch1 free. There is no manual included in the game. Rather, there is an optional prologue to help you get accustomed to the game's controls. I highly recommend playing and not skipping the prologue. When the game first starts, you can choose to play the game in a windowed or full screen mode. You can also select from a list of supported screen resolutions as well as from 6 choices of graphics quality (ranging from Fastest offering the lowest quality to Fantastic offering the highest quality). From the main menu, you can choose New Game, Load Game, Quit, and Credits. There are only 4 save game slots available.

The game begins with Arthur alighting from a bus at a bus stop just outside of Calmwood. As Arthur walks toward the seemingly idyllic and beautiful looking village, he reflects on his memories of his birthplace and remembers that he needs to go back to the old antique shop. There, he meets an old man standing outside and admiring the shop once owned by his proud father. Arthur chats up with the old man, who speaks about a son vanished years ago and wonders if he will ever return to take over the family business. He also talks about Arthur's father always nosing around, getting into trouble, and delving into other residents' secrets. Finding that the shop is locked up tight, Arthur has to find a way into the building. It is now Arthur's job to nose around in his father's shop. As Arthur sifts through the antique collection, he discovers secrets suggesting that Calmwood is no longer the idyllic village he remembers from his childhood.

The game is controlled using both the mouse and the keyboard. With the keyboard, you can move forward, backwards, and sideways. With the mouse, you can look in any direction, including up and down. The game takes full advantage of the versatile Unity engine (on which the game is built) to model lush vegetation and superb terrain effects. Walking through the village or through the woods is almost a photorealistic experience. The loading time between locations is not too long. There is an inventory with which you can examine, use, and combine objects. When examining an object, you can turn it or rotate it a thorough examination. The Tab key brings up the Game Options. The I key brings up the inventory. The Esc key bring up the Main Menu.

The production quality is quite uneven, with some good ideas married by a few serious flaws. On the positive side, The plot is solid, involving, and immersive. As you progress in the game, you learn more about your father and his obsession as well as the deep history of the village. Only at the end of the game will you really find out what eventuates. The game features 3 different endings, depending on the choice in a dialog that you make near the end. When walking through the grandeur of the village during daylight, the ambient music is melodic. When walking away from the village at night, by comparison, the music is more dramatic, mysterious, and chilling. The sound effects are excellent and include sounds of gun shots, a door bell ringing, a music box playing, and even running water.

On the negative side, the character modeling is most disappointing. Some of the characters look nonhuman, especially with their odd facial features. The movements of the characters are stiff and uncoordinated. Since the game has no spoken dialog, all of the interaction is done via dropdown dialog menus where you choose what questions to ask. Even if the character does not speak, there is no attempt to animate the lips on the characters' faces to try to mimic speech. By far, the worst part of the game is the dialog. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are abundant in the dialog text, breaking the illusion that you are making conversation with the other characters.

Although the puzzles are reasonably well integrated in the game, there is very little imagination or variation of the puzzles. There are several locks you need to pick and several safes you need to crack the combination. The rest of the puzzles are far and few between. I like the skull and cog puzzle at the end of the game because it breaks the monotony of the previous puzzles and because it requires a lot of thinking to solve it. There is no bypass mechanism to skip any of the puzzles.

In sum, Dark Secrets is a game with an interesting premise and deserves a chance to be played despite a few serious flaws. It is a game that is best enjoyed by savoring the game's strengths and not dwelling on its weaknesses. There is some 15 hours of playing time to be had, depending on your puzzle solving skills. The developer has already announced plans for this game to be a part of an episodic series. Future installments of the series will do well if the weaknesses that exist in the current installment can be fully addressed.

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