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How to solve a murder in VR

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You're not looking at a crime scene, you're in one

I'm standing in the middle of my living room, with my virtual reality display strapped over my eyes. It looks silly from the outside as I turn in place, looking up and down and sometimes tapping or swiping the side of the Gear VR. The noise cancelling headphones I'm wearing ensure I'm making no sounds outside of grunts of surprise or the occasional questioning "huh" as I try to work out a puzzle.

I'm completely isolated, but it's hard to care. From my point of view I'm solving a murder.

Adventuring in virtual reality

Dead Secret is a $9.99 game available now for the Gear VR, and it will be coming to the PlayStation VR in the future. It's a somewhat standard adventure-game-slash-murder-mystery, but doing a "standard" genre inside of virtual reality is never easy. The team even wrote a blog post about how they solved the issue of player movement without making you ill.

dead secret gif

It's a game that takes place inside a fairly limited space, although that space will unlock itself as you play, inviting you to explore more areas in the house and new rooms. You look at where you'd like to go and if there is a shoe icon, you can tap your helmet and move to that location to get more information or pick up objects to use in solving the puzzles.

"Your goal is to search the house for clues, piece together the events leading up to the death, and finally name the killer," the blog post states. "In designing this game one of the main challenges has been to define how the physical space, puzzles, and pacing interact. This can be thought of as the problem of density: what is the effect of packing lots of information into a small space compared to spreading it out over a larger space?"

A quick swipe upwards reveals your inventory, and allows you to go over your notes. The game does a great job of cataloging the clues and reveals as you go, which is helpful. There is no way to take external notes once you're inside virtual reality.

And that's what helps the game stand apart: You're inside these environments. It's one thing to look for solutions to puzzles or things out of the ordinary on a screen, but it's quite another to be standing inside a room while looking around to see that a book has been removed from a shelf. There's a big difference between being told you're a reporter with an arm in a sling and seeing yourself as such in the mirror.

While most virtual reality experiences are rather short, especially on the portable Gear VR, the developer told me to expect to spend six to eight hours finishing the game, and there are multiple endings. I still haven't seen the mystery to its conclusion, but my average play session is much longer than I'm used to in virtual reality. It's a comfortable game to play, even if the experience itself is unsettling.

So I stand in my living room. I look around and try to figure out what to do next. I look down at the chalk outline of the floor, and I feel as if I'm in a crime scene. I promise to figure out what happened here, and why.