Secret Files 3 review

The Good:

Intriguing scientific rationale; slick, streamlined gameplay mechanisms; attractive, detailed art; practical and credible heroine.

The Bad:

Shallow overall plot and dull script; sparse gameplay with too much hands-off resolution; weak secondary cast; obvious production shortcuts; no Max for most of the game; abbreviated and haphazard.

Our Verdict:

Secret Files 3 replaces romance with rocket science, but its convoluted premise, simplistic puzzles, and slapdash resolutions make it the weakest link of the trilogy.

Veterans of classic adventure games are likely on a first-name basis with Nina and Max already; for the uninitiated, feisty do-gooder Nina Kalenkov and her fiancé, archaeologist Max Gruber, have graciously saved us from apocalyptical doom twice already. But just when they think it's safe to take a breather from genocidal megalomaniacs and start planning a quiet wedding, a team of commandos bursts into their bedroom and hauls Max off on charges of terrorism, leaving Nina to scramble for scraps of cryptic information which eventually expose another (literally) earth-shattering bout of villainy. The simply-titled Secret Files 3 follows popular predecessors Tunguska (2006) and Puritas Cordis (2009) in theme, attitude and styling: it stays focused on the sweetly sassy, good-versus-evil track while making a concerted effort to keep gameplay entertaining and more sensible than before. Unfortunately, the third time doesn't prove a charm, as the latest installment underwhelms in most other comparisons.

Although much of the game's pre-release hype centered around the professional writing team brought on board this time around, the plot is steadfastly restricted to crazies chasing world domination. The previous two games did so as well, but those titles banked more on the attractive lead couple, exotic locations, mysterious cloaked figures, deranged villains, and occasionally bizarre but consistently amusing quests to keep the action chugging along even as their pseudo-scientific tales unfolded. By contrast, Secret Files 3 leans heavily on the technical aspect of its story, building a rather intricate scientific theory that hijacks the actual plot but fails to ramp up either gameplay or characterisation accordingly, yielding several solemn science lectures but little else of consequence.

Another misstep is the attempt to tie the Secret Files trilogy together, especially since there is no recap of past events. It is mentioned in passing that Nina's nightmares of hooded figures and blazing fires have recurred since the Tunguska days, and familiar ancient symbols are strewn about, but neither induces much curiosity because the game treats both as incidental. Nina refuses to discuss her visions even with Max, so you don't get a window into her thoughts, which makes it tough to care about her problem. To make matters worse, one of the series' main draws is lost right off the bat as the game splits up the charismatic duo and shuts Max largely out of the gameplay, making Nina the sole protagonist most of the time. Besides losing a core character, this leaves cagey Nina without a partner to share her distress with, and removes any means for delving into her mental state. Meanwhile, the stereotypical supporting cast gets only a few minutes of screen-time each – just enough to blurt out essential facts and figures.

The gameplay has also been revamped, but largely to the game's detriment. Inventory quests – criticized for being too outlandish in the previous games – have been reduced in both quantity and complexity. This is ostensibly to improve the flow of the story, but obstacles now suffer from diminished charm and challenge, being limited largely to open-door-with-crowbar type tasks. Standalone puzzles are similarly watered down, and there is little dialogue other than Nina's snarky comments (mostly to herself) and the scientific chatter, while production quality fluctuates between classy and jarring. The super-streamlined gameplay mechanics, however, are a delight, and the linear, no-risk progression allows breezy advancement. That doesn't do this truncated game any favours though – its brevity (five hours for me) and haphazard resolutions of key issues will probably disappoint gamers who have waited three years to play it.

If this heap of criticism makes it sound like Secret Files 3 is a bad game, it's not. It is just very ordinary, which feels like a letdown given its potential to be more. While Animation Arts has, as usual, blended historic events and people into the story to give it greater plausibility than simple fiction, they haven't fleshed out the characters enough to bring it to life, nor have they capitalised on the long-term relationship of Nina and Max to give the game an emotional depth beyond executing mechanical tasks. The story delves deep into the why and how of its chosen method of global destruction: the explanation spans eras and civilisations, and links topics as diverse as antimatter and Archimedes, the quadrillionth value of pi and Fermi's paradox, the CERN particle accelerator and Leonardo da Vinci. Impressive? Definitely. But essential to the game itself? Questionable, since the details don't directly affect either core objective of saving Max from his captors or the world from a weapon of mass destruction. It's also evident that such extreme detailing of one aspect led to cutting corners on most others.

The prologue is set in strife-torn Alexandria in 48 BC, where master thief Menis Ra is paid a princely sum to torch some scrolls in the royal library. This brief segment is rich in visual texture and combines inventory puzzles with offbeat activities like scaling a wall and stealthily avoiding guards to start off the game with aplomb. The action then shifts to present day France for Max and Nina's wedding, but Nina's worst nightmare soon comes to life when Max is abducted. Desperate to save him and haunted by her visions, Nina swings into action, first tracing clues scattered around Max's home and office, then rushing to the archaeological site in Turkey where he had been researching the disappearance of an ancient civilisation.

There she meets Max's dig partner, Emre Dardogan, who introduces the scientific theory of the plot. Nina then flies to San Francisco and returns to Europe aboard a US military ship; gatecrashes the CERN facility in Switzerland where obsessive scientist Jane Cunningham is on the brink of a major discovery, and takes a submarine to the sunken ruins below the Greek island Santorini. In between, a dream sequence allows her to time-hop to 15th century Florence and affect ongoing events while being invisible to the locals. Taking things further, she later travels into the future to meet a multi-millennia old alien in a post-apocalyptic city.

All this jet-setting may sound hectic, and indeed the segments in each location are quite short, averaging three or four screens, half a dozen activities and a similar count of inventory items. Emre and Jane have one playable task each, Max has three; Nina handles the rest. Objectives are quite reasonable – mundane, even – and backtracking is negligible. Segments are linked by quick explanations and cutscenes, but even then, it's not always clear what is going on, such as why the US army is involved (or even if it is), or why a hacker is based in a public building like the Alcatraz. Most of the cast have only momentary roles and exist solely to give Nina items or information, then vanish afterwards until being accounted for at the end of the game with a photo and a one-liner notifying their eventual fates.

There's a big contradiction between the high-tech story and the nature of the tasks to be done, which are roughly divided between opening secret chambers via simple puzzles, and escaping captivity using a variety of utility items. While admittedly sort of realistic, there is little exciting about repeatedly unscrewing panels with plastic cards. Whenever greater aptitude is warranted, such as operating an escape pod, a nuclear device, or even a toy robot, the game takes over, and the screen fades to black while the job is auto-completed. This is supposed to maintain the flow of the story, but it basically comes across as a cop-out, and the frequent hands-off resolutions deeply frustrates. In fact, only two quests – rescuing Emre in Turkey and an Arab merchant in Florence – truly demand cohesive thought. While neither is tough, and some may crib about the repetitive process of the Italian job, they at least integrate multiple steps, screens, items and lateral thinking to achieve their objectives, which gives you the satisfaction of puzzles well solved.

Continued on the next page...

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Game Info

Secret Files 3



Animation Arts

Game Page »

Europe September 14 2012 Deep Silver

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Secret Files 3

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User Score

Average based on 22 ratings

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User Reviews

Posted by Little Writer on Jul 21, 2014

Great game but abrupt ending

I loved this game, simply because I love playing with Nina Kalenkov. Luckily this time she had a better voice actress than with Puritas... Read the review »

Posted by btague on Jan 13, 2013

Such a Let Down

First off, I loved the first two Secret Files and Lost Horizon. I thought them to be very good adventures, with a great story line, good... Read the review »

Posted by aeonfluxx75 on Dec 30, 2012

Interesting Plot

I enjoyed the series for the story/plot only. The character dialog and dynamic, for me, never came across as plausible and oftentimes I... Read the review »

Posted by pylke on Nov 15, 2012

Sometimes third time is not the charm

I was very excited when this game came out; I thought that i had the chance to play the third game of a series I loved. But as I went on... Read the review »

Showing 3 of 30

About the Author
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Shuva Raha
Staff Writer


dekaneas297 dekaneas297
Sep 24, 2012

Dull scenario (I’m fed up with CERN scenarios in every book, movie, game during the last 5 years), too easy puzzles, no character development. I hoped it would be good but it’s just mediocre. 2.5/5.

tsa tsa
Sep 24, 2012

That’s such a pity. The preview and all I’ve read about it seemed so promising. I liked the first two games and this one will stay on my list of games to play, but my hopes are low now. I hope to read some more reviews of it soon.

scorp18 scorp18
Sep 24, 2012

Some comments in the forum made me think quite the opposite. I’m gonna play it, just a little later in Fall. AG reviews aren’t always “right” (for my taste of course).

MoonBird MoonBird
Sep 24, 2012

This was perhaps the most weak from the trilogy. Not enough dialogue, some volume-issues, too much abstract story twists and turns, and not so great character development.

It’s still not a bad game though, far from it. I thought the voice-acting was pretty good, interface was a delight, graphics were beautiful (especially that zoom-effect!), technically solid, and some locations were just… so emotional. I also liked that it let you choose the difficulty level of the puzzles.

My final score is 4 stars.

chrisildur chrisildur
Sep 24, 2012

Not even for 2,5 stars…weak gameplay (about 4-5 hours), dull story and the sense that the game was made very quick…the worst adventure game I played in 2012

gray pierce gray pierce
Sep 24, 2012

I’m still gonna play the game but I now have very low expactations. Shame up untill now I thought Animation Arts meant good quality as their previeus games SF1 and 2 and Lost Horizon were very enjoyable. I think they should dump Neos film. It obviously was a mistake to bring them aboard. What surprises me most is that a professional film company is the first to throw all the rules of screenwriting out the window. (don’t tell em, show em, dialogue not monologue, no lengthy expositions.) I think my former teacher would be very angry or laugh himself to death if I showed this to him.

Sep 24, 2012

Having recently played it in the original German, this is a fair and accurate review. Unfortunately.

Stuart Stuart
Sep 24, 2012

Disappointed to hear so much negativity, enjoyed the first two Secret Files games despite their flaws. Will eventually get this but only when it goes really cheap on Steam. I hope Memento Mori 2 turns out better…

MoonBird MoonBird
Sep 25, 2012

gray pierce: As far as I know, SF1 had nothing to do with Animation Arts. It was developed by Fusionsphere Systems. When developing SF2, Fusionsphere decided to collaborate with Animation Arts, they made the game together (where Fusionsphere had the main responsibility of it) and SF3 is Animation Arts product only. Or have I understood something greatly wrong?

Niclas Niclas
Sep 25, 2012

Hmm, very disappointing.  However I did not have any high expectations for this one. Enjoyed the first 2, and I loved Lost Horizon. They should make a sequel for Lost Horizon instead. Fingers crossed.

Jackal Jackal
Sep 25, 2012

Fusionsphere was behind the original engine, but Animation Arts has always been responsible for the actual game design, as far as I know.

Sep 26, 2012

Yes, AFAIK Fusionsphere Systems is the one-man operation who developed the game engine, the content was always done by Animation Arts.

MoonBird MoonBird
Sep 27, 2012

Alright, thank you for the correction Smile

SamuelGordon SamuelGordon
Oct 2, 2012

Finished it today. If you are a fan of the previous ones ( i was) you’ll be disappointed. I miss the jerk shopkeeper that you need to convince/trick and the funny dialogue. There was a shopkeeper but it was so ridiculously easy as are all the other puzzles. The locations were uniteresting because there is hardly any human interaction. I craved for some TALKING! The only time you talks it feels soulless and pointless.

The story is uninteresting,shallow. The voice acting coupled with dubbed mouth synch was terrible. The multiple endings are not worth a replay (i’m not replaying, just no).

Adventure Games are getting worse and worse, please please never give up on dialogue. I want to see people converse, make the puzzles interesting and give a TRUE hard difficulty (swinging a statue is not a challenge!).

Bad game. The only good thing were the graphics (and options!). If you never played the series , buy the previous ones and skip this one.

talkshow talkshow
Oct 3, 2012

Definitely the weakest link in the Secret Files series.  I can’t really recommend it.  Story and “evil” characters are quite dull and un-interesting. Was looking forward to this, but, disappointed is the best take-away word after playing it.

Oct 5, 2012

I agree with everything in this review and the score reached, apart from the critisism that too much gameplay is focused around Nina. It felt natural to me given that she is after all the main protagonist in both previous games, and more or less the sole one in Tunguska. I also prefer it this way. I found Max as a character unbearable in the earlier games. In SF3 at least he is decently voiced.

I’m not a very big fan of the series, but was still disappointed by this part. The main negative for me was that so many things just don’t make sense and I had a very hard time to completely follow the story. I repeatedly found myself in situations and locations without knowing exactly why. I sometimes had to consult a walkthrough only to check if a cutscene or something had failed to trigger between scenes. I was left with a feeling that the developer ran out of money and had to leave a lot of stuff out of the game.

On the positive side: They have finally got the voicing of Nina right. Still too lenghty and detailed comments and monolouges though.

Darla D
Dec 17, 2012

I play maybe one game a year and this choice was crap.  I was honestly disgusted that there were derogatory comments made in the game towards Russia, North Korea, and Iran.  It’s a fictitious game, there’s no need to spread real hatred.  The voice acting was as bad as it gets….I mean seriously awful.  The last game I played was Portal 2 and that was an enjoyable time.  I would suggest Secret Files 3 be put in a secret file and locked away.

scorp18 scorp18
Dec 27, 2012

Finally I got to play the game. After finishing it, a question was formed in my mind. Was it a teaser for Secret Files 4? I mean, you can’t consider it a full game. It was so short, it took me half the time Tunguska took me to finish!
So in overal, it has nice graphics, the story has some potential but is finally ruined (I’m not a mathematician but I think no number can end in a binary code like 011101101, only 010101 repeatedly, plus CERN is already a cliche) and it gives the impression that it was rushed in general. The riddles are too simple, which results in a very fast pace in the game that would be acceptable had the game been longer in general.
That’s all that comes in my mind now. I was expecting much more, mostly about story depth and game length.
3 or 3.5 stars. Not sure yet.