Cosmic Top Secret

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Klassefilm
Release Date: May 21, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Cosmic Top Secret'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 1, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Cosmic Top Secret is a true-story adventure game that incorporates elements of documentary storytelling.

Despite the silly name, the term Cosmic Top Secret is a real thing, but it has nothing to do with space. Coined by NATO, the word COSMIC is actually an acronym for Control of Secret Material in an International Command, and the information falling under that designation is considered to be the most important in relation to national security. For the game with the same name, the actual information is tangentially important, as the real interest lies in the people holding those secrets.

You play the role of Agent T, the game's version of director Trine Laier. Throughout her childhood, she knew that both of her parents worked with Danish Intelligence, but she was never sure on what they did. Every time she would bring it up, she would either be ignored or simply told that it was all secret. Tired of it all, T is determined to learn those secrets, even if it means bringing a few others to light.

When it comes to games that take on a personal angle, things are usually melancholy. Both In My Friend Carrie's Car and That Dragon, Cancer deal with their subjects in a way that plays out like a drama so it feels like important viewing, but it's not something you'd do for pure entertainment. Cosmic Top Secret goes for the opposite approach that bounces between a slice of life game and a comedy with sprinklings of something serious. You'll try to get answers while orienteering at a forest or learning how to march. Being privy to normal conversations while at a picnic or when driving a car seems like a perfectly fine way to liven things up in a documentary.

This isn't to say that things are perfect with the story. There are plenty of parts that feel like fluff, where some scenes or details don't contribute to the narrative. Some of the scenes feel like they could've been cut without affecting the pace. Some of it feels like incidental material, so those hoping for a tighter experience might wish that some edits were made.

The overall presentation is certainly intriguing. From a sound perspective, the music is a bit scattershot in tone but not off-putting, giving the game an odd vibe overall. Sound effects are minimal, but the dialogue is interesting because of its quality. Most of it has been recorded outside in public areas or in buildings without proper setup, so the dialogue is mixed with lots of ambient noise without proper balancing. All of it is recorded in Danish but is sometimes difficult to hear, which makes you grateful for the subtitles but lends an odd authenticity to the guerrilla style. Oddly, there is English dialogue spoken by the director whenever you find big clues, but it would've been nicer if this also stuck to Danish to keep things consistent.

Graphically, Cosmic Top Secret crafts everything in a style reminiscent of a cruder LittleBigPlanet. Everything is made with cardboard and bits of scrap paper glued together. Ribbons can make up your pathways, and pieces of documents comprise the walls and ground, all of which are quite legible if you stop to look at it. Real pictures are placed without color correction, so lush, flat green fields are mixed in with faded-looking bushes that were taken during a cloudy day. The animations look like they're trying to mimic string puppets when they move, and the lip animations are similarly crude, but what stands out more are the googly eyes that appear whenever anyone speaks. It's a surreal, but it captures your attention before reeling you in with the story.

Initially, the gameplay mechanics seem normal. For the most part, you're walking around and picking up clues that relate to that section of the story. There are a few puzzles, most of which boil down to collecting clues and discerning the number needed to move on to the next chapter. While there are no enemies, you can access smoke grenades to help you navigate a map or knock down things to open passageways or create ramps for you to reach your next clue.

The quirkiness comes through in a few ways. Instead of walking to any place, T rolls into a ball and returns to her normal shape when she stops moving. That only applies to her, as everyone else moves normally. The game features no real death state, as you fall to pieces if you are attacked by hazards or get emotionally distraught when the script calls for it. When you do (literally) fall to pieces, you put yourself back together piece by piece to continue.

Traversal is clunky in several different areas. Moving your character forward and backward is much better on the PS4 than it was on the phone, but the turning speed of the camera is abysmally slow. As a result, moving around the world feels slow, since forward movement and turning at the same time feels unnatural. Transforming into a ball when moving makes you so low to the ground that the camera can sometimes lose track of you if the ground isn't flat. The movement issues also apply during moments when you need to fly, so that also feels awkward. Additionally, the game has an issue with inconsistent barrier placement. Go up a ramp, and there's a 50/50 chance that you can veer to one side and fall off. Get to the edge of something, and you'll likely hang to the side instead of falling down. With that being a guessing game, you'll spend a good amount of time fighting your instincts and taking the long way around.

Navigation is also a chore thanks to the translation from mouse cursor movement to a gamepad-based one. Instead of a free-moving cursor, the cursor snaps to important selections in menus, but there are times when the snapping either misses the intended target or forces you to navigate to what you want in unnatural ways. Those same issues happen when you need to put T together again, and you can hit a direction on the analog stick and not know which body part you're highlighting. There are also moments when the cursor disappears until you toggle through menus to bring it back.

One thing that people may or may not see as a drawback to the game design is the relative ease with which players can find all of the essential items they need to move forward. Even though the title encourages you to use the coordinates on the map and on the level itself, you barely use them since every essential item has a stream of stars rising to the sky that can be seen from almost any distance. As long as you're fond of wandering around, you'll have a tough time not finding them all. You can look at it as a means to ensure that the player gets all of the story that they want, but those looking for a challenge will come away disappointed by this decision.

Cosmic Top Secret is a conflicting experience. On the one hand, the story is excellent. Even with the meandering parts, the narrative is fun, and you uncover endearing characters that are a joy to watch. On the other hand, while the unique presentation pulls you in, the clunky controls and inconsistent platforming bring you back out. It's still worth checking, provided you aren't easily flustered by the gameplay mechanics.

Score: 6.5/10

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