The sultry spy speaks to you in a Russian accent so bizarre that she is a caricature rather than simple archetype. "Such deadly toys," she proclaims. "Shall we break them, you and I?" She isn't yet willing to tell you her name, but should the two of you live to die another day, she's happy to offer her identity as a reward. Like any classic femme fatale, she drives a hard bargain.
As it happens, your new lady friend is a comfortable fit in the newest episode of The Secret World, appropriately titled A Dream to Kill. The episode looks to James Bond films for inspiration, not just by introducing a mysterious and comely companion, but also by putting you in control of a snowmobile and having you engage your foes as you zoom down a snowy trail. Bombs explode, snow flies, and rhythmic horns recall the adventures of the nonplussed 007, cool even under the heat of fire. And let's not forget the obligatory scene in which a highly charged laser beam inches its way towards the hero's crotch, causing you to cross your legs and wince in empathy.
Of course, this being The Secret World, there is an air of the occult pervading every moment. The scene in which you grimace as that lingering laser threatens to burn its way into your flesh also features a limping, juvenile grotesquerie that is put out of its misery in shocking fashion. Elsewhere, you enter a dreamscape, pursuing an ethereal figure across frozen pathways and down a seemingly endless hallway in which your own physique becomes more and more diminutive in relation to the lengthening corridor. Expect to encounter much of the uncanny imagery that makes The Secret World unique among online role-playing games. Gnarled faces, atmospheric distortions, and unsettling transformations are among the sights that disturb your view.
Much of the imagery relates to A Dream to Kill's themes. Children have been subjected to terrible experiments, and the imposing sight of numerous baby dolls casting long shadows on a nursery's walls makes for a heavy heart. These themes aren't just explored through imagery, however, but through computer terminal entries that outline the questionable ethics of the Orochi Group which (of course) is at the center of the conspiracy at hand. The soothing charms of a lullaby take on a sinister meaning, as do the generally good-natured charms of a simple emoticon, and even the cuddly delights of a teddy bear.
A Dream to Kill is heavy on exploration, atmosphere, and puzzle-solving, and light on combat, though to be sure, there is combat, including a heated closing battle, and skirmishes versus the lycanthropes of Romania's dark woods. Monsters don't just appear for fighting's sake, but relate to the story; facing off with a failed experiment has more meaning when you understand the sick and twisted circumstances that led to the showdown. At least you get to see this evil world burn by torching it with a flamethrower, The Secret World's newest auxiliary weapon. The game's core combat and movement still feel floaty and somewhat unsatisfying, but it's hard to deny the pleasure of watching fungal crawlers succumb to the blue flames of your burning rage.
But just as Mr. Bond often preferred subterfuge to direct contact, episode 7 prefers you to go the silent route on occasion. You solve some tricky (but not too tricky) puzzles and avoid the watchful eyes of security cameras as you slink through a secretive facility known as Hatchet Falls. How refreshing that The Secret World continues to hew its own path, building tension through storytelling, and requiring you to exercise brainpower rather than just tap some keys until things fall over dead. A Dream to Kill proves that there are innumerable revelations yet to be uncovered in this deadly and dastardly universe.'