Pleasing the rather small crowd of adventure gamers (compared to the big market picture), but also being more accessible to a wider audience is probably one of the hardest things for a developer, if he’s not an indie who’s more concerned about his personal vision come true. So how does the third entry in the Secret Files series fare after the rather puzzle-heavy second one?
The marriage of Max and Nina is on hold when he is arrested by the police and accused of terrorism. Nina tries to find enough evidence to get him out and discovers more mysteries than she bargained for.
Action, action, action, no time for story and character development
Secret Files has never really been good with interesting characters or an elaborated plot. More like Michael Bay and Jerr Bruckheimer movies, it’s all about the entertainment value, only interspersed with puzzles to keep adventure gamers happy. This time, the emphasis is on more action, faster pacing and a story which doesn’t only take place in different countries, but also in different ages, adding more variety and suspense to the proceedings.
Dialogues are not the best, but they’re certainly not worse than in the previous instalments of the series. Conversations with quirky NPCs are still there, but Animation Arts found a much better balance between suspenseful action sequences, exploration and some fun parts, even if it means playtime of 5-7 hours is much shorter than the other games offered.
Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with what’s actually going on with many things left unexplained and a less than satisfying conclusion. This might be hell for people finding out any logical flaws in a movie, and the plot certainly has more holes than Swiss cheese, but in a way it’s much more engaging than in the other games, which is in no small part due to the simplified puzzle design.
Puzzling in between the storyline
Unlike Secret Files 2 in which the protagonists seemed to carry around a whole cartload of objects just to have more obscure combinations and let the story take a backseat, it’s now even possible to finish a screen with only one or two items. Simple puzzles for a less patient audience? Maybe, but there are also some interesting ideas which have to do with time travelling, introducing something the series has lacked so far: originality and experimentation.
The quality of the puzzles isn’t always of the highest order and some annoying mini-games are there as well, but at least these can easily be skipped. It’s also possible to choose between two difficulties, a compromise to please both beginners and advanced players. Most of the tasks are well-implemented in the story and progression is usually as smooth, if not smoother, as in the original.
Looks and sounds promising
High production values are again visible in the beautiful environments which are some of the best the series has offered so far. Especially weather effects like falling snow enhance the level of immersion. A great soundtrack and good (German) voice acting add to a cinematic atmosphere few 2D point-and-click adventures can boast with.
Cutscenes are even better than what the series has done so far, i.e. they don’t simply rely on action, but try to have some more touching elements, something the game at one point achieves by incorporating a first-person viewpoint which hints at an approach the series has shied away from: mature themes and a less streamlined narrative (which has multiple endings depending on certain decisions in the course of the game).
The end of the cinematic road
There seems to be a lot of disappointment considering the review scores on various websites and long-time fans complaining about the drop in quality. But if one looks closer, the third and final part of the trilogy is simply an evolution of what made the first one so successful: a AAA presentation fused with accessibility in story and puzzles to appeal to a wider audience, not just the hardcore adventure fans.
It’s true that the plot is even more nonsensical than in the other games (“written by acclaimed TV writers” doesn’t really show, or it shows how poorly those TV shows actually are), but this doesn’t distract from the fact that it’s a no-brainer when it comes to entertainment value alone. Animation Arts found a much better balance between suspenseful action sequences, exploration and storytelling to make the last entry worthy of its predecessors.