Nancy Drew: Labyrinth of Lies review
Nancy Drew, teenage sleuth, has traveled the world helping to fight crime and solve mysteries. In Nancy Drew: Labyrinth Of Lies, outing #31, our young detective packs her bags for Greece to help out a friend in need when priceless artifacts mysteriously disappear from a struggling art museum. Solving the mystery will throw you into the middle of a modern retelling of a classic Greek play that will have you guessing who’s just acting and who’s really taking their character to heart. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Nancy Drew game without a variety of head-scratching – though at times tedious – obstacles thrown in with a fair amount of educational content. While you may have fun learning about Greek art and history, repetitive puzzles and a lack of innovation or upgraded presentation can leave everything feeling a bit stale and musty.
Nancy’s friend Melina has her dream job curating a museum filled with fine Grecian antiquities, but she finds herself dealing with the reality of dwindling visitors who no longer seem inclined to spend time wandering through a dusty old museum. To turn the ship around, Melina experiments with bringing in a troupe of actors to perform a play on the museum’s scenic grounds. And not just any old play; she’s also brought in an avant-garde staging company that promises to add pyrotechnics and innovative stagecraft to the performance.
Unfortunately, Melina’ s plans run afoul when a shipment of treasures goes missing. Unwilling to stop the play, which may increase museum attendance, Melina calls in her detective friend. Upon Nancy’s arrival, she hears a beautiful young woman screaming for help as a dark, brooding man in Grecian costume stands menacingly over her. But when Nancy attempts to prevent any violence, she finds out that Xenia and Thanos are simply rehearsing, rather convincingly, a play about the Persephone myth.
Xenia, graceful and beautiful, is also the director and writer, and though she exudes a calm exterior, she admits to Nancy that she feels quite out of her depth with everything that needs to be done. And in the first of multiple indications that all is not what it seems with the cast, she also warns Nancy away from the boys in the play as they can be rather intense. The dark, brooding Thanos possibly has violent mafia connections that could threaten to derail Nancy’s entire investigation; in fact, he may have killed a man himself. Fortunately, Nancy can call Frank and Joe Hardy to help her out. They’re no slouches when it comes to detective work, and they use their network of sources to give Nancy additional information when she asks for it. Make sure to reach out to them from time to time, as chatting with them will occasionally be a catalyst for action moving forward.
Nancy also verbally jousts with the handsome and gregarious Grigor, who plays Hermes in the play. His past is also quite suspect, with many misadventures moving through the foster care system, though he swears he has been redeemed and is working hard to repay someone who helped him out of a bad spot. Aside from these bad boys, Nancy meets Niobe, the fourth cast mate. She too has a mysterious background, an up-and-coming artist who’s had a brush-in with authorities. Strangely, she doesn’t appear to have any acting ability at all. Even Melina isn’t off the suspect list. Though she never makes a personal appearance in the game (Nancy only interacts with her on the phone), you learn about how she always loved museums and always wanted to be part of the art and history surrounding them. However, she often gets her facts confused, and you aren’t quite sure if she’s telling Nancy the truth.
When Nancy isn’t questioning the actors, she investigates the museum and its environs, and of course must also do a ton of reading. You’ll read about everything from the dark underworld Tartarus, to Greek architecture, to a rewrite of the Persephone myth. All of this reading might have been tedious if the writing weren’t as capable as it is. You won’t just be reading, however, as Nancy also stumbles upon recorded rehearsals of “Persephone in Winter,” a story about a mother, her daughter, and the nature of sacrifice. It would have been nice to actually view the cast acting out portions of the play, but the line reading here is very entertaining anyway: Grigor is lightweight and fun, Xenia is stoic as Persephone, while the talentless Niobe, playing Persephone’s mother Demeter, reads in a monotone at certain times and with odd overemphasis at others, struggling to reach the depths of noble anguish that Xenia pushes for in her direction. The real voice actress who plays Niobe, pretending to be bad at acting and then hitting moments of true frustration, is just great. One drawback to the voice work, however, is the comings and goings of Greek accents, though the game attempts to play this off as all part of the mystery.
Your entry into this Greek world of art and intrigue is experienced through a user interface that will be instantly familiar to Nancy Drew regulars. Exploration is still done via node-based slideshow presentation that is occasionally interrupted by serviceable cutscenes. There is a bottom inventory bar on screen that holds items Nancy acquires during her investigations, and a couple of tabs for notes and layered hints should you choose the easier difficulty setting. The diary is now in Nancy's smartphone, where it shares space with a variety of minigames that seem to grow in number with each new mystery. This time I counted nine, with many of them making a reappearance from previous games. And again, as in previous outings, I didn’t touch a single game, as they are not needed to progress through the story.
Labyrinth of Lies is predominantly an inventory- and logic-based puzzle game. You’ll help Nancy pick up items to examine and search for clues such as photos, notes, and books. In addition to the inventory obstacles, there are a variety of puzzles that, while not as difficult as some found in previous Nancy games, can be quite tedious to complete. To open up a lockbox on Xenia’s desk, for example, it’s possibly understandable that there might be one jigsaw puzzle barring your egress. But seven? The puzzles often have learning elements, such as a create-your-own temple puzzle (“Building temples is easy, when Nancy ‘Stone Mason’ Drew is on the case.”) that has you researching various architecture terms like entablature, peristyles, and plinths, and an intricate matching puzzle that first requires studying the Greek alphabet. You’ll also learn about provenance, or the work of proving the ownership of antiquities over the years. I found this to be one of the less interesting bits of knowledge I picked up, as it had me sorting through bills of sales and lists of museums.
As with any Nancy Drew game, one bonus is the wide variety of puzzles offered, and the puzzles here range from matching animals and symbols to their Greek mythology counterparts to solving math word problem (horrors) to help assign tickets to play-goers. The good old (or very bad old, depending on where you stand on these) standbys like slider puzzles make an appearance here as well. There are also some timed sequences, like a connect-the-dots task used to open up a lock that has an annoying beeping sound playing in the background, creating a terrible sense of urgency (and irritation). Failing the puzzle results in a typical “Fatal Error” that ends the game; fortunately it saves just before you started the puzzle. Unfortunately, there is no skip option for this or any of the other puzzles, though the layered hint system does provide you with final solutions.
Of course, the museum isn’t just full of puzzles. At first glance this is your stereotypical museum, filled with Greek statuary and exhibits of coins and jewels. However, the experimental company Melina hired has come up with a complicated staging system. Most of it exists below the museum, creating the titular labyrinth that has Nancy exploring hellish sets, with molten lava and dread figures barring your passage over dark rivers. Some of the images are truly nightmarish, with a doorway surrounded by hundreds of grasping, disembodied hands. Most scenes are rendered in static slideshow format, though there are some animations like the skeletal hand that unfolds for money every time you try to cross the river on a boat.
The background artwork and character animation is decent enough, though advanced graphics aren’t why anyone is playing a Nancy Drew game at this point. The character details can be nice, however, such as the pottery dust on Niobe’s black top and the time I finally got to see Nancy’s feet (this is a teenager who wears very sensible shoes). Accompanying your explorations is soft Greek-sounding music (at least how I would imagine it), filled with a sprinkling of light guitars. There are also a few ambient effects to deepen immersion underground, such as fire crackling and the sound of water trickling through underground passages.
In seven-plus hours of play, Labyrinth of Lies demonstrates all the elements of a typical Nancy Drew adventure game, but that’s also the downside in this 31st series entry: it has all those elements and really nothing more. And this time around, the overly repetitive puzzles and increasingly convoluted mystery work against the now-familiar formula and dated design. Too many puzzles feel like filler, and I found the interplay between the actors and the story about Persephone and Demeter to be much more interesting than the crazy shenanigans surrounding the art heist, which includes a plethora of storylines involving the mafia, innovative stagecraft companies, shadow investors, and art forgery. Still, if you’re a fan of puzzle-solving and educational research into another exotic culture, you won’t mind getting lost for a while in Nancy’s Greek adventure.