Secret Files 3
First posted on 07 October 2012. Last updated on 14 May 2014.
Secret Files 3 is the third game in the Secret Files series, following Secret Files: Tunguska released in 2006 and Secret Files: Puritas Cordis released in 2009. A third-person point-and-click adventure, the game once again joins Nina Kalenkov and (to a lesser extent) her fiancé Max Gruber as they fight to save the world from complete annihilation.
As an adventure game, Secret Files 3 is almost as uninspired as its name suggests. Previous installments have shown a potential for the series to excel. Sadly, despite increased production values in parts of the game, Secret Files 3 is an entirely underwhelming sequel from the outset.
After promoting the player to answer some questions to make a custom main menu—a process that seems pointless and unnecessary—the game begins not with Nina or Max but with master thief Menis-Ra. The year is 48 B.C., and the city of Alexandria is under attack. As Menis-Ra, the player is tasked with destroying a series of scrolls contained within the Library of Alexandria. Among the game's earliest puzzles is a sequence that involves scaling a high wall by clicking on various cracks. This sequence is supposed to be fast paced and cinematic, but it ends up feeling repetitive and plodding. The sequences that follow are not much better either—a big letdown from the traditional adventure elements in previous games of the series.
Once control is finally returned to the series' main protagonist Nina, the player finds out that the opening cinematic involving Nina and Max is actually only a dream sequence. These sequences crop up frequently throughout the game, and the fact that the player knows that they are only dreams steals these moments of any real drama. When Nina finally wakes up (in her underwear, of course), it is not long before Max is taken away by masked soldiers for supposedly being involved with some sort of terrorist activities. Nina then sets out to find Max and uncover whatever conspiracy there is behind his kidnapping.
What follows, unfortunately, is a most streamlined and uninspired adventure game experience. The puzzles are solid enough, but they do not make sense within the real world setting. For example, it makes little sense for Max to have the time or the inclination to install the numerous hidden compartments in both his home and his workshop for Nina to find. Furthermore, if it is Max's intent to leave a trail of clues for Nina, then why does he choose to make the process of opening them so ludicrous?
Globetrotting has always been a prominent activity in previous games of the series. Yet, in this game, the environments that the player will visit are now completely devoid of life. Only a couple of short conversation trees exist in the entire game, all of which are poorly implemented. All other conversations are triggered automatically. Even worse, none of the non-player characters are remotely memorable. The game consists solely of alternating streamlined puzzles and brief animated cut scenes—with no real character interaction whatsoever. It makes the entire experience feel empty, lonely, and truncated.
It does not help that the story itself is just bizarre and nonsensical, even when compared with the stories in the previous games. Nina's dreams soon start to occur in real world locations from the past—in Florence, Italy in 1477, to be exact—and although nobody can see her, she can interact with the world normally. Is this supposed to be time travel? Who knows... The developer seems to care little about logic, content only with blaming any plot holes on the mysterious figures called Guardians whom Nina and Max have previously encountered in the first game of the series. At some point in the game, a secondary character even disappears completely without explanation from a crashed car and is never seen again.
Despite some poor storytelling, the production is a clear improvement over previous games. The voice acting is much better—though, as usual, it feels wrong to be playing a Russian woman (Nina) who is engaged to a German man (Max), with both characters speaking in neutral accents. This is especially odd when another character mentions Nina's German accent! Despite looking oddly static at times, the cut scenes are well done and the backgrounds are beautifully drawn. The music is mostly forgettable and often does not match the mood of the current scene. The exception is a song played near the end of the game whilst piloting a submarine—a rare tune of cinematic beauty. Sadly, that moment is quickly ruined by a frustrating mini-game, of which there are several peppered throughout the game. Whether the player chooses to attempt the hard or easy versions, none of the mini-games are particularly fun to play.
The character models look pretty bad when viewed up close. Perhaps due to budget constraints, there are no animations for many of the actions that unfold on screen. Sometimes, when the player uses an item on an object in a scene, the screen will simply go black and then returns to show the required action already finished. It is a terrible shortcut, but it is an understandable choice given the quality of the animations that are included. Aside from the occasional nicely motion captured animation, most of the animations that are in the game look absolutely terrible. For example, at a particular point, Nina is seen trying to open a steel door with a lever without even being anywhere near it. The door stays intact at first, then all of a sudden, the door is seen completely removed from its hinges. Later, when Nina uses an axe on a pipe, she is seen missing the pipe completely. Yet, the pipe still reacts as if she has scored a direct hit. The graphics engine is solid to the extent that it can deliver some nice visual effects throughout—but unlike the previous games, frequent graphical compromises often make this game feel like a budget title instead.
To conclude, Secret Files 3 is a huge disappointment. This third game in the series is a dumbed down adventure with basically no conversations, a nonsensical plot, and overly simplified puzzles. Yet, when corners are not being cut in the production, the game has a few genuine moments where it shines. The story has potential but soon becomes buried beneath nonsense. Furthermore, the lack of chemistry between Max and Nina makes the initial premise of the game (of having Nina rescue Max) seem unimportant. Even the addition of 4 different endings is pointless, as there is very little variation between each of them and therefore little incentive to replay the game and see all of them. Ultimately, the developer falls short in its commitment to create a believable story for the world it has worked hard to create for the series. The result is a game that can be breezed through in just 4-5 hours and an adventure that lacks coherence, heart, and soul.