With 21 Nancy Drew adventures in the books, so to speak, Her Interactive has had quite a bit of practice honing their craft, which guarantees a certain degree of polish and reliability but at times gives these games almost an assembly line feel. Many elements are so formulaic that you can guess what is going to happen before it does. This is true of Warnings at Waverly Academy as well, as no new technical or design ground is tread once again. Fortunately, that doesn’t matter this time, as this is far and away the best of the Nancy Drew titles to date, so even if you’ve grown tired of the same old thing, this game warrants another look at the long-running series.
The Nancy Drew mysteries have always had wonderfully colourful characters: eccentric heiresses, corny con artists, loony clothing designers, you name it. It is one of the series’ greatest strengths, and in Warnings at Waverly Academy, you land smack dab in the middle of Mean Girls, USA. Catfights, backstabbing, boyfriend stealing, it’s all here. Her Interactive doesn’t cut Nancy any slack in the world of privileged, spoiled-rotten prep school girls. These girls have their own culture, as Nancy learns within moments of her arrival.
And what is Nancy doing at this bastion of scions and snotty girls? To use the local parlance: Duh… like, solving a mystery. It seems someone is taking out possible Valedictorian candidates at Waverly, one girl at a time. A few weeks prior, girls started receiving threatening notes from a mysterious ‘Black Cat’. The first note is just a warning, but whenever a second note is received, it is usually followed by an unfortunate accident. The latest crisis resulted in a girl going to the hospital with a life-threatening allergic reaction. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone over so well with worried parents, who are spending the equivalent of a vacation home in the Hamptons for their daughters to get a first-class education.
But why all the fuss? Well, the Valedictorian gets a full scholarship to the Ivy League school of their choice. Not a bad incentive to encourage learning… or maybe some malicious plotting instead. With the halls packed with two-faced lassies, it’s going to be hard for Nancy to sort out the tough talk from the criminal behaviour. And there is plenty of talk. These girls make grand accusations, gossip relentlessly, easily and quickly pass judgment, and talk trash about each other non-stop.
To start with, your new roomie, the twitchy Corine, has a runaway mouth that never seems to slow down, and she is less than thrilled with your arrival just before a huge paper is due. After getting batted about by her, you walk right into Waverly’s reigning queen bee. Izzy makes a few backhanded comments in your direction, quickly letting you know that your status on the social totem pole is right at the bottom, and then sets up your cell to receive campus emails and texts. Little do you know at the time that these girls have taken texting to the next level, and within minutes of Izzy leaving you receive your first text, and guess what: it’s gossip about you! That was fast!
The more you explore, the better you’ll get to know Nancy’s fellow classmates along the way. Next door is Mel, a self-proclaimed outcast who desperately wishes she wasn’t. Then there’s Rachel, an anxiety-ridden overachiever who wastes no time in assigning tasks for you to complete, since as she says, “you have nothing else to do.” Then there is Leela, the boyish star athlete and über-competitive schoolmate who expects you to play both air hockey and darts against her. With so many strong and conflicting personalities, it’s going to take all your powers of deduction to figure out who’s the Black Cat.
I can’t say enough about how good the voice work is. Considering that you’re dealing with a group of teenage girls who range between Izzy’s passive aggressive barbs, the disconnected tones of the cello-playing emo chick Mel, and the super-high-pitched whine of Rachel, it is quite an achievement to hit just the right note for everyone, but they’re all spot on here. Because there are so many characters, a great deal of the game’s momentum is driven by interacting with them. Everyone is willing to gossip or offer an opinion on everyone else, and thankfully the dialogue is equally great. You get lots of useful info by talking to each character, but it does take some thought to sort out the invective from the truth. And the truth just might be that the Black Cat is hiding something more important than the desire to be Valedictorian. In fact, one of the school’s founding teachers had nursed Edgar Allen Poe in his final days, and may have absconded with copies of his last texts and hidden them somewhere in the school. Is this really all about getting a scholarship to the right University?
The environment is pretty much limited to the Academy’s dorm wing, though there is occasion to go outside a few times. While this may sound confining, I found it generally helped me figure out where I should go next. What is available is plenty of fun to explore, like the school’s beautiful library where you spend a lot of time doing research, and each girl has put her own unique stamp on her room, like Mel’s décor of bright pink, spiders and art. As with previous games, movement is usually limited to four directions at any one time. There are certain places where panning is available, but it is pretty limited. As always with these games, I find this lack of movement and free perspective gives Warnings at Waverly Academy a static slideshow kind of feel.Continued on the next page...