Dead Reefs Review

Dead Reefs is a pirate story and murder mystery set on a small island in the 1700s. The player takes the role of a pretentious detective, Amadeo Finvinerro, who is sent to the island from the mainland to investigate the death of the Baron’s eldest son. Having plummeted from a cliff, he may have fallen or he may have been the victim of foul play. It’s up to the player to figure out which was the case. Making things more interesting is a creepy local witch who tells the Baron that his son was most certainly killed, and the fact that the island has been stricken by a deadly curse. This curse manifests every nine years, and it has been nine years since the last islander fell victim. The plot is fairly intriguing early on, offering a mysterious history to ponder over and plenty of secrets to unravel. As the game wears on, though, the intrigue fades, leaving just an average tale with a new skin applied.

The graphics are solid, and appear to capture the feeling one might expect from an island village in the early 18th century. The air is dense and dingy and the buildings all appear worn down by time. The inhabitants of the island sport a similar worn-out look that can make a player feel like heading home to the mainland. The problem with the presentation of the island, though, is that it is too dead. This isn’t in a frightening or ominous way – it is more of a boring and lackluster one. Though the townsfolk display a fair amount of character while in the spotlight, they remain utterly lifeless until engaged. They remain as fixtures in the virtual world, much like any piece of furniture or random item. There is simply nothing "alive" about the island of Dead Reefs.

The audio doesn’t add a great deal to the game’s ability to draw the gamer in, either. The musical score attempts to create a tense atmosphere, relying heavily on the string section, but doesn’t quite achieve its goal. This is possibly because it only kicks in on occasion, and when it does it fails to make an impact, fading into the realm of background noise. The voice acting in Dead Reefs is not bad. Most of the characters have interesting voices and deliver their lines well. The worst performance is by none other than the main character, though, who is uninteresting, uninterested, and dryer than sawdust. Sometimes his voiced responses don’t even transition logically from the preceeding statement, which is particularly jarring.

More disturbing, however, are the game’s control options. Once you step onto the island, the first thing you will notice is that there is absolutely no mouse support in this game. All character movement is mapped to the W,A,S, and D keys, in a character-relative fashion. This means that W always moves forward, and the other keys make him turn. It ends up being quite cumbersome, and it’s a wonder the developers at Strko-Graphics didn’t implement something more manageable. Actions such as look, talk, and interact are assigned to the arrow keys, along with inventory access. That part may seem a little strange, but works thanks to an ever-present on-screen guide. The best part about the control setup is that it includes a first-person visual search, which highlights interactive portions of the environment with an eyeball icon. This eliminates a lot of the click-everywhere syndrome that other adventure titles have suffered from in the past.

Unfortunately, Dead Reefs is incredibly linear. Most everything is carefully scripted, and certain actions act as triggers for the next pre-set interaction to become available. It’s as if the book has been written, and all you can do is turn the pages. Additionally, players will feel like they are at the mercy of the protagonist’s every whim, because he will often refuse to go anywhere that doesn’t lead to the next incrementation of the plot. This means that most doors, gates, and other passageways are often closed to the gamer. There is very little free reign to explore the environment.

As is the case with most adventure games, Dead Reefs features a healthy amount of puzzle situations. Usually, these make use of some combination of the many items that Finvinerro finds during his hunt for the crime’s perpetrator, and players must use them in uniquely logical ways in order to be successful. Unlike a lot of other adventure games, the puzzles aren’t overly convoluted or ridiculously conceived. They make at least some sense, and often a bit more than that.

One big problem I noticed while playing Dead Reefs is that it seems to be somewhat unstable, and gave more than a few errors on each of three different PCs that I installed it on. On one, there seemed to be issues with the display drivers. The game refused to start at all, even after much tweaking. On another PC, the game would experience random crashes and freezes, causing me to save my progress at every turn. Of course I can’t make a universal diagnosis based on the specific problems on my personal computers, but if the issues are indeed widespread, then you can go ahead and chop the final score in half on account of a broken piece of software. On a positive note, it’s nice that the game features the save-anywhere option, but I would rather not have had to make use of it under those particular circumstances.

Overall, I believe Dead Reefs has a good game hidden deep down inside, but there are a few layers of obfuscation that disallow the gamer from ever experiencing it.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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