Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock review

The Good:
  • Like a cake
  • Her Interactive has all the ingredients -- dialogue
  • Voice work
  • And story -- to cook up a confection that will be enjoyed by both Junior and Senior detectives. They even add a few new things such as an in-game map and a roadster (cool!) to get around in
The Bad:
  • Now that they seem to have a handle on their formula
  • It would be a good time to start tweaking some of the things that need work
  • Like creating more life-like characters and dumping the tired
  • Looped soundtrack in favour of a full slate of ambient sounds
Our Verdict: Spunky teenager Nancy Drew, though celebrating her 75th birthday, once again proves why she is still relevant in the 21st century.

Some women age impeccably. It is anyone's guess how old they are. They look good no matter what their age. This can certainly be said for Nancy Drew, who, after years of slogging through mysteries and logging long hours uncovering secrets, is celebrating her 75th birthday this year. Over the years, Nancy has happily made friends with generation after generation of girls, helping many of them while away numerous happy afternoons spent curled up under a tree, in a comfy chair, or on the beach meticulously piecing their way to the end of one good mystery after another.

Along the way, the Nancy archetype -- loyal friend, clever puzzle solver, intrepid adventuress -- has evolved with the times. In the '70s, she was the fieldstone that Velma from Scooby Doo was built upon. For the new century, she has become the inspiration that characters like Veronica Mars have been created around. Though Nancy would never crack wise like Veronica -- she is still a single strand of pearls girl at heart -- she has managed to weather 75 years of changing tastes, demographics, and technology. It seems only fitting that that her latest incarnation is as video game vixen; the star performer of her own successful game series and number one VIP in Her Interactive's stable. Not bad for a teenager who just aspires to be one of the girls.

In Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock, the twelfth game in the august Nancy Drew series, Her Interactive has decided to go back to their roots, or more specifically, Nancy's roots. ND: SOC is based on the very first Nancy Drew book of the same name, though it actually incorporates a number of plot points from the first four books in the series. Set in 1930, Nancy is called in to help out a friend of a friend, 17 year-old Emily Crandall, who has just inherited the Lilac Inn, where our spunky Nancy soon finds that things are not smelling very sweet for Emily.

It seems that Emily is really struggling to juggle the emotional loss of her mother and the practical predicament of running an Inn that she had little experience with before. Add to this the fact that Emily seems to be hearing voices and is surrounded by the requisite cast of unpredictable characters, and Nancy knows she has come the right way to uncover a mystery.

Right away I was welcomed to the game with a splashy new introduction, complete with animated cutscene. I know Her Interactive started using this sort of opening in the previous game, but this is my first experience with it and I have to say this idea is a winner. One of the nice features of the new introduction is asking the player if they have played an adventure game before. If not, it offers you a number of game tips and a tutorial. I did the driving tutorial and was glad that I did, as the inclusion of Nancy's roadster in this game is new and took me a few minutes to get the hang of. The player can choose to drive the roadster with either their mouse or the keyboard. For newbies and Junior detectives, this is a great way to get acquainted with some of the basic features that seasoned adventure gamers already have a handle on. For beginning roadsters (such as your author), it also provides an opportunity to get some miles under your belt before you are required to scoot all over the town of Titusville.

The game's interface also sports a couple of new tricks that many will appreciate. As you will be required to run a number of errands for people -- darn, that Nancy just can't say no to anyone -- you are going to need to know where you are going. Thus, the game provides you with a built-in map of Titusville so that you can quickly find the bank, or more importantly, the gas station. I would suggest locating this right away, because after an extensive fatherly diatribe from Carson Drew about watching the gas gauge and avoiding potholes, you realize you will need to use it quite often. Let's just say that the roadster may look cool, but it goes through gas faster than some small countries.

Another feature that is not new, but which I am sure most detectives will be happy to have, is a notebook where essential clues are stored. What I really like about this is that in Junior mode it provides players with a 'To Do' list. It's a great feature for those who may get bogged down by the non-linearity of this game. If they need even more help, they can contact Carson Drew for a gentle fatherly prod in the right direction, or stalwart hint providers Bess and George.

The thing I like the best about this game's interface is the large game window, first used in the tenth game of the series. Because of the increased size, instead of using only about three quarters of the screen for the game environment, you now use just about the whole window. The inventory has been removed and now exists as a small icon that can be accessed at the bottom of the screen. Also, dialogue that used to take up a significant chunk of space on the screen has been reduced in size so that it takes up less than a quarter of the screen. This is a huge improvement for maneuvering your way around the game. In older games, the point & click navigation could get finicky working in such a tight space. This often resulted in players having to place the mouse on the very periphery of the environment to prod their first-person alter ego to move the right way.

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