Nancy Drew is the ultimate goody two shoes. She travels around the world solving mysteries pro bono and always captures her culprit. In Her Interactive’s 25th Nancy Drew adventure, Alibi in Ashes, the teenage sleuth comes home, not to a warm welcome but to a town surprisingly eager to accuse her of arson. This time it’s Nancy’s turn on the hot seat and our turn to play both as Nancy and her full circle of close friends for the very first time. The result is an efficient, solid whodunit that finally lets you learn more about Nancy’s life and the town she grew up in. Like its predecessors, it’s once again quite technically limited, but there are plenty of well-integrated puzzles to solve and an opportunity to explore the underbelly of River Heights you never knew it had.
Taking a break from her typical globetrotting, Nancy decides to partake in a town clues challenge. Though she normally works alone in solving her mysteries, here in her home town she’s got her whole gang of friends to help her: ditzy Bess Marvin; serious George Fayne (a girl, for those of you new to the Nancy Drew franchise); and Ned Nickerson, Nancy’s impossibly perfect boyfriend. But just as the game is getting started, Nancy finds herself trapped in the old town hall as a fire overwhelms the building and threatens to end her sleuthing days.
Veteran players know to look out for a few timed puzzles that will result in the sassy detective suffering a game-ending tragedy if you don’t solve them in time. These usually make their appearance well into the game, but Alibi in Ashes throws you right into the middle of a timed puzzle as you attempt to escape the burning building. The tactic immediately thrusts players into the midst of an exciting storyline, adding a wonderful sense of urgency to the introduction. However, coming as early as it does, it can also be quite a frustrating wrench thrown at you right away if you’re not a fan of pressured sequences.
After the frenzy of this first challenge, things slow back down to Nancy’s typical pace, where a large part of the investigation involves leisurely interviewing potential suspects. In this game, however, Nancy is the prime suspect, and she spends most of the game locked away in the police station. Fortunately, Nancy has her trusty phone to contact her friends, and you’ll get to decide which one to take over the case at which time. As Bess, George, and Ned, you’ll question the other suspects, including an ambulance-chasing news reporter, a town council member who also runs the local ice cream parlor, a jealous classmate, and an aging antique dealer who used to be a prodigy amateur sleuth long before Nancy.
Though there aren’t many alternate suspects, you’ll get different responses depending on which character you are currently controlling: clumsy Bess may not be the best person to send into an antique shop cluttered with precious antiquities; on the other hand, handsome Ned can help you wheedle out needed information from the ladies. As you chat with the various suspects, you’ll have to manually click through a list of dialogue options using the same clunky interface. No mouse scroll option or even the ability to use the up and down arrows to move through the limited dialogue box makes interviewing suspects a pain at times. Handy interface options are limited elsewere as well, as there are no keyboard shortcuts to do things like close out of your smart phone or inventory screens.
As in Nancy’s previous outings, Alibi in Ashes plays as a first-person slideshow, with limited, choppy panning in some scenes. The pre-rendered backgrounds are beautiful, but a complete lack of ambient animations gives the environments a lifeless feel. Nancy’s pristine suburban home is straight out of “House Beautiful”, with buttery yellow walls, miles of white wainscoting, puffed-up sage throw pillows on window seats, and staid framed prints marching up the stairway walls. You’ll get to nose around Nancy’s room, which is tastefully decorated with Art Nouveau prints on the walls (no Taylor Lautner or Justin Bieber posters here). The only windows into Nancy’s sleuthing life are a closet filled with mementos from her earlier mysteries, such as a small Frankenstein monster from The Captive Curse, and her drawers, which are filled with detective tools. Without any animations, however, roaming her house can feel more like paging through a glossy magazine.
You’ll also get to visit the burned-out husk of the town hall, a news van, an ice cream shop, the antique store, and the police station. To get from location to location, you click out of the current scene and into an interactive map. The map shows a wide variety of town locations, but only the six places you can investigate allow you to fully interact with them, and you’ll get to watch your characters’ cars drive the streets of River Heights before you arrive at each. If you click on additional locations, such as the town cemetery or mall, you’ll get some amusing voice interaction, but you won’t actually get to explore them. While amusing at first, because you’ll be traveling between the same six areas multiple times, watching your little car driving between them becomes tedious over time.Continued on the next page...