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Secrets: no more watching the detectives

You play the part of a reporter in the latest Anglia CD-Rom for English students. George Cole is knocked out by its production values as well as its level of interaction and involvement.

It's every parent's worse nightmare. When 12-year-old Carl Thornton goes missing his parents are thrown into turmoil. Where is he? Who knows where he has gone? Why did he leave? The plot is hardly new, but its use in a new type of interactive CD-Rom most certainly is. Many CD-Rom titles describe themselves as interactive, but all too often, this simply involves users selecting a limited range of options. But Secrets really does offer a two-way interaction between the content and the user. Users not only determine their route through the disc, but also the final outcome (separate endings have been shot to allow for this).

Secrets has been developed by the Manx Multimedia Centre and is being distributed by Anglia Multimedia. The first thing that hits you is the title's high production values - it was shot on location in the Isle of Man and includes TV actors who have appeared in dramas such as Brookside, Cracker, Prime Suspect and A Touch of Frost.

Secrets is designed to be used at key stage 3 in English, but I reckon other subjects including personal and social education, drama and media studies would also find it useful. The disc consists of four drama episodes, which are followed by a number of tasks. You can't move on to the next episode until all tasks are completed, although there are many ways of handling each exercise. Users play the part of a reporter whose task is to chase the leads, seek out information and conduct interviews, as well as compile news reports fo press and radio.

As with every news story, there are red herrings, false leads and reluctant interviewees, and students are kept on their toes as they try and find the truth behind Carl's disappearance. The investigation is anything but a linear exercise. There are many places to visit and many people to see. Added to this, there is a demanding editor who has a habit of sending you emails which require immediate attention.

In many locations you can carry out a 3600 examination of the room, and there are hot spots which, when clicked on, reveal further information - not all of it useful to the investigation. For example, in Carl's room, users can read his diary to find out what he was doing and how he felt before he disappeared.

Caroline Webster who, with colleague Julie Harmer, had the idea for Secrets, says: "When we tested the material with students, they really got involved and wanted to know what had happened to Carl." This title can also be used in a classroom in a variety of ways: by one or two students sitting in front of a PC, as a networked resource or even as a video resource shown to a large group (the disc comes with a video containing the four episodes and teacher's notes). There is also plenty of scope for classroom discussions covering social and moral issues. Secrets will be available at the end of this month and if you're looking for an engaging, interactive multimedia title, check it out.

Secrets CD-Rom from Anglia MultimediaPrice: pound;49 (single-user licence, pound;10 per additional user)Tel: 01603 760 000 The Secrets website ONLINE STAR RATING

Suitability for purpose *****

Ease of use ****

Value for money ****

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