Secret Files: Sam Peters

Posted by Peter Rootham-Smith.
First posted on 01 October 2015. Last updated on 01 October 2015.
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Secret Files: Sam Peters
Sam starts her adventuring already in trouble, stranded on an island with an erupting volcano.
Secret Files: Sam Peters
Sam needs to fix the inflatable boat to use it to get off the island.
Secret Files: Sam Peters
Sam searches in Professor Hartmann's office for clues to his whereabouts.
Secret Files: Sam Peters
Sam finds pieces of a torn letter in the trash.
Secret Files: Sam Peters
Sam arrives in Ghana to locate the expedition.

Secret Files: Sam Peters is the fourth game in the Secret Files series from Animation Arts (developer of Lost Horizon). However, this game does not feature Nina Kalenkov or Max Gruber who are the main protagonists from previous games in the series. Rather, it is a spin-off to Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis, the sequel to Secret Files: Tunguska, and turns a minor character Sam (or Samantha) Peters from that game into the central role.

Secret Files: Sam Peters is a point-and-click third-person adventure game similar to previous games in the series from the same developer, though it is considerably shorter by comparison (not even a quarter of the length of the other games). You play Sam—a female journalist who globe trots in search of sensationalistic stories for a magazine called Uncharted, which she describes as "Playboy for scientists" but with "fewer naked women", "fewer cars", and "more text". The game starts with a tutorial segment in which Sam has to escape from the island of Bali before she gets killed by an erupting volcano there—a predicament she is left in from Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis. Once she escapes to safety, she is tasked to track down a professor who has discovered an alien virus in the jungles of Ghana that cause strange mutations in the local lifeforms.

Installing the downloadable version of the game is straightforward. The start menu lets you start a new game, load from a saved game, go to the options menu, and quit the game. The options menu lets you set sound levels (for dialog, music, and effects), graphics settings (for performance such as shadows and textures), and other game enhancements (whether subtitles are displayed, whether hotspots can be highlighted, and how the inventory is displayed). There is no apparent limit to the number of slots for saved games.

The game is entirely mouse controlled. You left click to interact (the cursor, or mouse pointer, signals if an interaction is possible), and you right click to examine. Most of the screen displays the current scene. The inventory bar is hidden at the bottom of the screen that can be revealed when needed. From there, you can click on the magnifying glass to reveal hotspots and exits, the cogwheel to return to the main menu, the diary to review what you have done so far, and the interrobang to reveal a task list in case you are not sure what you need to be doing now. Items you have collected can be combined with other items in the inventory or used on objects in the scene.

Gameplay is a mix of standard inventory based puzzles and more casual styled puzzles like reassembling torn up pieces of a letter. There is an annoying puzzle that requires you to catch some fast-moving ants—if you lack dexterity and hand eye coordination, then you may be clicking madly away for some time there. There is also an annoying maze which you need to negotiate through toward the end of the game. The inventory based puzzles are not hard, but quite a number of items in the inventory can obscure what you are meant to do with them.

The graphics are nicely done and a highlight of the game. Instead of watching animated cut scenes, you periodically click through a number of static pages that tell the story. Subtle animations like a windsock blowing in the wind add life to the otherwise static 2D background scenes. Sam is well modeled as a 3D character, though her face is prone to having odd shading effects as if she has been affected by the alien virus that the professor is investigating!

The background music is effective and unobtrusive. The scores sound as if they are from a feature action film which fits well with the game's theme. The sound effects work well to make the game world more convincing. (In fact, the sound of a cat mewing was so real that I once mistakenly thought it was real and not from the game!) Sam is prone to swearing a little, which subjectively to me seems unnecessary as it adds little to her character. You can right click to speed through her dialog, however.

Alas, even apart from her use of colorful language, I find Sam unappealing as a playable character. She comes over as self-centered, contemptuous toward most people she meets, and lacking in a real sense of purpose. Her character feels underwritten, just existing to serve the purpose of the gameplay rather than as a relatable character in a story. Simply put, Sam is not a person with whom I want to hang out—in either the real world or the game world.

The game is short and quite linear, albeit with 2 endings. Just near the end of the game, you must make a moral choice for Sam that will determine the effects of her journalism. (Hint: To avoid having to replay a lot of the game to experience both endings, save your game just before Sam finally talks to the professor.) This moral choice feels tacked onto the game and does not fit with the story before it.

Notwithstanding a few odd narrative choices, Secret Files: Sam Peters is a well made contemporary point-and-click adventure game with a tightly scripted and more grounded story. However, it is so short that it feels more like an episode than a full game. The lead character may also appeal to some gamers more than others who are seeking a more identifiable and likable protagonist in their adventure gaming.

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