Review: Dark Waters

In this blog post I review the Dark Waters scenario, that is going live on March 15, 2023. It is a fun, and novel way to practice your OSINT skills!

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored in any way. This is my personal opinion about what I experienced during the beta test. The final product might be different from what I have seen.

It is mid-February when I receive an invitation to join the beta test of Dark Waters, the first scenario that will be published by Kase Scenarios. They promise an innovative way of practising open source investigative techniques, solve puzzles and answer questions, while using scenarios that could be based on real-world events. Back in 2017 I created a story-based challenge, that involved OSINT and some digital forensic techniques, and I have always liked this concept, so I was intrigued right away.

The Platform

The scenario is played within Thinkific, a platform designed to host online courses. This does have some drawbacks for the linear storytelling, since it is actually possible to skip questions and move to the end. I think the choice for this platform is a bold one, but it does actually work! And there is a sense of joy when you see you completed a section.

Audio, images, everything hosted on Thinkific's CDN
Audio, images, everything hosted on Thinkific's CDN

It also comes with some standard things, that make it easier to host such a story-based OSINT challenge. The tracking of your progress, the hosting of files on a CDN, a hint button, and such. So while it is possible to jump ahead, it is not really a big problem for me. And above all, you will miss the most important part of Dark Waters: The storytelling!

Story, Scenario and Solving

The story is told by using a collection of stock images and footage, and original material. By the use of photos, videos, documents and audio snippets, you are guided through the story. I am trying not to spoil a lot about the story, but I do have to say that the makers have eye for detail. From lengthy annual reports with boring numbers, to the creation of some digital 'art work' somewhere online.

Little text cards are used to tell the story
Little text cards are used to tell the story

While going through the scenario, you are asked questions about what you are dealing with at that moment. Questions can be about a location, a person, maybe even information about a document. Some questions might have a bit of a learning curve for beginners, but there is a hint available that will give you some information, somewhat cryptic at times.

Points of Improvement

When I am asked to testdrive anything, I will dive deep, and not only look at the bigger picture. The reason for a beta test is to try and find possible issues, and there were some in my opinion. The platform demands case-sensitive answers, which creates a need to fill in multiple options in the back-end if there isn't a single answer that is correct. And it is still very well possible, that there are still some questions where sending an answer demands one to capitalize an answer before it is accepted.

There were also a few moments in the scenario where a question came out of the blue. It felt like the scenario missed something, that needed explaining. Extra content was swiftly added, but there might be more of these moments, albeit probably less visible than what I encountered. But when keeping in mind that this is their first scenario ever, and looking at the amount of visual detail, this is no deal-breaker at all.

My Verdict

Overall I was very impressed with the way I was sucked into the story. When you realize that this is their first scenario, I am impressed with the details, the puzzles, the audio and how you become part of the story. I have been looking at the price, and even though it seems a bit high, I do think it's fair. When you take into consideration that I found traces of this story going all the way back to 2021 and early 2022, there is an amazing amount of time invested in this. And with that, and the look and feel of this scenario, I think the price is more than fair. I can only say: I can't wait to test another scenario, or even buy one when it comes available!

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