In our continuing look at The Secret World, we send Gazimoff to Kingsmouth, a quiet costal town with a severe case of zombies.
Once we selected our weapons of choice, it was time to get our hands dirty. Our first destination was Kingsmouth, New England, a land infested with the walking dead. Between our and your zombie-slaying expedition was Agatha, a giant tree in the hollow core of the planet that provides quick travel to every other location. While the plebs might have to travel by private jet, Old England to New England was just a quick stroll for us.
Kingsmouth is a coastal town on Solomon Island, trapped in a moment of Halloween celebration. Most of the residents had succumbed to the zombie invasion, with a few survivors hanging on. Wrapped in a thick fog and lit by a weak sun that washed out the colors, the town felt like the epicenter of a slowly marching apocalypse. As we progressed from a holdout at the Sherriff's Office and ventured further into the town, the mystery started to unfold like a perfectly paced horror movie.
Alongside a central story that drives you onward, most NPCs offer two or three missions, supplemented with a liberal coating of quest-dispensing items. Missions are also divided into tiers or stages, progressing automatically to the next tier as objectives are completed. Almost all can be completed remotely via your character's smartphone and many are repeatable. While you can only have a small number of active missions, it's possible to pause missions at their current tier and return to them later.
While Action and Item missions will feel familiar to anyone who’s tried MMOs before, Funcom has a devious twist for you. Instead of killing the local nasties or fetching vital supplies, Investigation missions give you an introduction, a clue and nothing more. You're left with nothing more than your wits, powers of deduction and an embedded web browser to solve riddles and progress through the tiers.
If The Secret World is a reflection of reality, it's one where the mirror has been placed in a haze-filled attic, the pale dusk sun struggling to push through the single window, painting long shadows across a carefully curated collection of incompletely concealed culture. It's easy to dismiss this game as a thin slice of modern life set to the tune of horror, but the lore and quests have tendrils that reach back throughout history. This is the first time we have needed to consult everything from Wikipedia to the Bible just to solve missions.
A Mature MMO
There's clear inspiration from the darker side of culture in The Secret World, with nods to H.P. Lovecraft, Gotham, Silent Hill and more cropping up throughout Kingsmouth alone. There are also contemporary references to Google, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook, stamping it as a reflection of the modern world. Although it feels more serious than silly, there are shades of Cabin in the Woods, Shaun of the Dead and From Dusk Till Dawn in the way the region had been crafted.
Funcom has rejected the traditional MMO preference for simplistic storytelling, with its reliance on obvious motivations and heroic declarations. While there's a definite place for wholesome fantasy material, The Secret World is an MMO that treats you as an adult. The stories tread a darker path, with characters that are shades of grey instead of the stark black and white of good or evil. As a result, the voice acting feels natural and authentic instead of theatrical and overly dramatic.
Even though your character is a silent protagonist, you aren't some lone Gordon Freeman trying to save the world by yourself. You play part of an army, a legion of secret society members trying to put the duct tape in place before the world starts collapsing around you. Just as each of the three societies has its own motivations and methods, other factions such as corporate syndicate Ororchi Group and religious cult Morninglight may help or hinder your progress.
The current beta build isn't perfect - character animation is being worked on and the in-game cutscenes need some work - but it's able to convey perfectly the feel that Funcom has toiled to create. We'll be checking in regularly as the final bugs are rounded up and that coat of polish is applied. In the meantime, if you're aching for an MMO from the darker side of storytelling, this could be just what you're after.
Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Staff Writer