There’s plenty to scoff at in Secret Files’ point ’n’ click formula. TARDIS-like trouser pockets capable of carrying ladders and coal sacks; ludicrous leaps of logic as monkeys are painted red; and let’s not forget our old favourite, the truck fashioned from a coat hanger and a juicy orange. These are laughable ideas, but as with an entertaining friend, we can laugh with them, rather than at them.
The story follows Nina Kalenkow again as she’s preparing to go on a vacation on a cruise ship. When her luggage gets stolen, a series of bizarre events unfold toward a conspiracy about Armageddon. During the story you get to control both the main character and several secondary characters.
Secret Files 2 won’t change the face of gaming, but it does embrace silly conventions in a way many point ’n’ clickers shy away from. Any one screen can hold up to 20 items for you to combine into tramp deterrents, water purifiers and monkey classrooms. After playing the oh-so-talky Broken Sword, hitting the minus button here (to make hotspots visible) and seeing the screen fizz to life with puzzling potential is a thrill.
As for putting several rucksacks’ worth of junk to use, the devs’ secret is to ground scenarios with a clear goal. With the basic direction set in stone, the solutions can be as colourful as they want. Only twice did we perform actions without a complete grasp of why we were doing that. We wouldn’t have noticed if the character hadn’t said, “I think I need to use this here, but I have no idea why.” They would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling writers.
Actually, a big slap on the wrist for all the writing. Scratch that, an axe on the wrist so the writers may never write again. As in the first game, the allegedly European cast speak with stupefying American accents. Get past the “I’m from Smolensk, y’all” and then there’s the embarrassing stabs at humour. Stabs as in ‘vicious knife attacks until humour is dead’. A leaden reworking of Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch is particularly awful. They even shoehorn in a classy bit of racism towards a Japanese character. Tsk.
The script really lets the side down – after all, what’s your reward for solving the puzzles other than furthering a good yarn? Puzzling-wise Secret Files is on really good, if totally dumb, form. If only the developers could COMBINE pen WITH decent writer, they could really be onto something.
May 13, 2009