Dead Reefs

Review by Old Rooster
July 2007

An initially engrossing horror mystery takes serious damage on the "reefs" of a confounding interface, frustrating linearity and mind-boggling puzzles.

The Premise

It's October 1727, somewhere in the North Atlantic. As a skilled and confident investigator, you've been sent to the island of Dead Reefs. An apparent murder has occurred, with another possibly on the immediate horizon. As you bid farewell to the dinghy crew dropping you off, you comment that you've got enough time to wrap this all up before their scheduled return. Really? Perhaps not.

Dead Reefs has a checkered history, to say the least. For over a century it has been the home of bloodthirsty pirates who use the reefs of the island to lure unfortunate ships to their doom. One hundred years ago, a shipload of monks sought refuge in a storm—an unfortunate decision for them, leading to their massacre and the confiscation of their cargo. Within this cargo was an ancient relic that may well have cursed the island, leading to the death of an inhabitant every nine years over the last one hundred years. Playing as the highly rational representative of the king, you will soon sort out all of this superstition and terrified residents' fear.

Approaching the town, we observe a grey and misty dawn, hear the gentle roll of waves on the shore, and sense, with fine accompanying musical themes, a level of foreboding that all may not be as straightforward as we had anticipated.

Gameplay Is Mouseless

Dead Reefs is a third-person adventure with occasional first-person views. You'll be exploring, conversing, looking for clues and inventory items. Unfortunately, the interface and controls are the worst I've encountered since Gothic I, and particularly in an adventure game. It's keyboard-controlled only, with the default keys a quite odd and problematic selection. WASD controls movement, which is fine, but a trip to the Controls section of the menu reveals that the arrow keys, which I much prefer for movement, are assigned, of all things, to Look, Talk, Action, and Inventory! Q is for conversation and documents (using the D key to read those documents). Item selection is done with A and D keys. Fortunately, I was able to do considerable remapping of the keys, but I still couldn't activate the mouse for any movement or selection activity. Still, no matter the remapping, combining inventory items using four keys is an almost bizarre experience.

"Dead Reefs is a Challenging Game; We Recommend You Save Often" —Game Manual

Amen! After making controls more to my liking, the next challenge became the movement of my investigator hero, Amadey. He ambulates in a jerky, imprecise fashion, with several attempts often necessary to bring him to the precise location desired. Fortunately, with regard to hotspots, a first-person view is sometimes available, which, along with the X key, helps a bit. However, the constantly grey atmosphere, initially so intriguing, can also be visually obscuring. Is there something in the fog I'm missing?

You can die, sometimes abruptly and unexpectedly. Saving anywhere, thank goodness, is allowed.

You'll spend a lot of time visiting a manor with secret passages, a cemetery and tombs. You'll chat with townfolk at pubs, along the shore and on a cliff. You'll wander through a forest maze. A shipwreck will attract your attention as will a lighthouse. Gradually, painfully, the mystery will begin to unravel.

Of course, no adventure is complete without puzzles. These vary in interest and difficulty. Problems with character movement, hotspot locations and keyboard-only control greatly impede the fun of thinking through these challenges. Plus a few of them, particularly one related to pigeons, seem especially confounding. More than with most games, I had to look to forum discussions for support and direction, something I'm not inclined to do, taking the fun out of the quest as it does.

Finally, in terms of the general path of the game, I found it to be much more linear than advertised. Indeed, if you stray too far from the required "triggers," you'll hit maddening dead ends from which recovery is nigh impossible unless, as advised above, you "save often" and can return to a previous location.

Alone—In the Dark

It's more than a bit ironic that the developer of Dead Reefs is a company emphasizing visuals (Streko Graphics). Along with the premise and haunting opening cinematic, the initial appeal is very much along the lines of the look and tonal feel of the game. Fine musical scoring contributes to the atmosphere. Sure, the story reminds of others we've played but, if it wasn't for some of the grievous errors indicated above, we may well have had a winner and a game I could heartily recommend.

In many ways, Dead Reefs initially reminded me of one of my current favorites—Pathologic. "What the heck is going on in this town?" becomes the ongoing question. But Pathologic sustains the atmosphere and suspense. Dead Reefs quickly drops the ball with interface issues, leaving us often in the dark in terms of progression and, later, a "flatness" of story echoing the dullness of Amadey.

Adventure and horror fans may be willing to struggle with this disappointing effort. Most others will not find the journey worthwhile, leading to my mixed recommendation. The End


The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Streko Graphics
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: June 2007

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 2000/XP/Vista
AMD 1800+ (1.5 GHz) or Intel 1.8 GHz processor
512 MB RAM
4x CD-ROM drive (or PC DVD-ROM drive)
nVidia GeForce 5200fx or ATI Radeon 9200
16-bit sound card
DirectX 9.0c
860 MB free hard disk space

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