Adventure Gamers Awards
For her 31st adventure, teen sleuth Nancy Drew treks her way to subpolar Iceland, braving the long dark nights of an isolated fishing village to find a missing person. The villagers Nancy must navigate are just as interesting and full of depth as the terrain she must investigate. But while the tale that unfolds around the search kept me playing, non-integrated puzzles that all seem to follow the same pattern as well as a few frustrating gameplay elements keep Sea of Darkness from rising to the top of Nancy’s many mysteries.
Luckily for series fans, Nancy has no qualms about leaving home at the drop of a hat whenever a friend comes calling for help. This time around, the distress call comes from the sleepy town of Skipbrot, where villagers view outsiders with skepticism, keeping them at arm’s length. Upon her arrival, Nancy meets with a fellow outsider, Dagny Silva. Dagny is a no-nonsense treasure hunter, mercenary in her desire to find what she’s looking for. Not one for niceties, she tells Nancy: “You can call me boss-lady, or my queen, or Dagny, whatevs.” She’s in Skipbrot to participate in the town’s annual ancestor celebration, which includes a showing of a wrecked ship, the Heerlijkheid. But Dagny’s not there out of any civic duty or to learn more about history. She’s there to find treasure. And if she doesn’t want to talk to you, don’t bother her: “I have a space bubble. You’re violating it.”
Dagny had been working to restore the ship with her business partner Magnus Kiljansson. However, just before the festival, he disappeared in the cold wastes. No one knows if he skipped town, potentially with the treasure, or fell afoul of more nefarious deeds.
To begin her investigations, Nancy has to pry information from the town’s few inhabitants, whose voice acting ranges from solid to superb. Elísabet Grimursdóttir manages the showing of the ship as well as the Missti Skip, the town inn and pub. She is a bit paranoid and especially uncomfortable with strangers. Elísabet has an interesting relationship with Magnus, but she is stingy with the information she’s willing to share with Nancy. You’ll also discover that Elísabet’s roots run deep, and her family history is linked very closely with the mysterious treasure tied to the Heerlijkheid.
Elísabet co-runs the ancestor festival along with Soren Bergursson. The town views him as an outsider even though he was born only ten miles away from Skipbrot. His otherness is reinforced by the fact that he spent time in the US for his studies, learning about Viking history and weapons – enough information to make him dangerous and a valuable ally to Dagny in her search for treasure.
And then there’s Gunnar Tonnisson, the town grump. His grey turtleneck sweater blends in quite nicely with his grey beard and hair. Amidst the crackling of a warm fireplace, he’s taken up residence at the town pub and drowns his sorrows while berating you and giving you charming Icelandic nicknames, like fiskur (fish). He’s the local agitator, who vigorously opposes the way the annual ancestor festival is being run. He’s committed regular acts of sabotage (one described in the words of a police chief as “definitely the most offensive use of fermented shark and hot tar I’ve ever seen”), shooting him right to the top of Nancy’s suspect list in Magnus’ disappearance.
As in previous outings, Nancy also interacts with a few characters on the phone (or in this instance via ship radio) rather than in person. Alex Trang mans the Reykjavik harbormaster’s control tower. She regularly communicates with Magnus as the captain of the Heerlijkheid and was privy to some of Magnus’ final communications before he went missing. She’s earning a maritime psychology degree. What’s that you ask? Well, she’s “got a 30-page thesis answering that exact question.” Or to put it more succinctly: “Two words: Sailor feelings.” You’ll interact with Alex on the ship’s radio, and she’ll help Nancy out now and then and give her random ship facts to boot, should you ask for them. And of course, Nancy will be calling her long-suffering boyfriend throughout the game, Ned Nickerson.
Nancy’s sleuthing doesn’t just involve chewing the fat with town locals. She also explores the ship, the town, and its immediate environs. Ambient sounds do a terrific job of fleshing out these locales. When you descend into the bowels of the ship, the heavy creaking of timber and howling wind highlight your isolation. Move out of the ship’s hold and into the sumptuous captain’s cabin, and you’re met with the more soothing sounds of lapping water. The music is also quite lovely, with soft flutes and stringed instruments winding their way through your wanderings. There is also a sad, enchanting original song, “The Word I Couldn’t Keep,” the theme of which echoes in one of the game’s puzzles.
Such a mournful dirge matches the mood of Skipbrot perfectly. It is cold and lonely, desolate and beautiful. Against lowing foghorns, you’ll visit the docks and come across fish sheds, with dried fish heads looking out blankly at a sea dotted with icebergs. The look of the game hasn’t really changed at all from previous outings, although the designers have included some different graphical elements that make for a welcome addition to the usual photorealistic slideshow presentation. For example, as you listen to a salty sea tale about how Gunnar lost a few fingers, you see a charming charcoal animated drawing of the crusty old fart’s battle with a giant squid. Another simply drawn animation tells the history of the town’s relationship with the shipwreck and the mysterious disappearance of the treasure. There are also a few bits of welcome interactivity, such as when you click on a variety of stringed instruments hung up on a pub wall and hear the different plinks, plonks, planks of the strings. Clicking on a small replica of a ship has you turning on cabin lights or firing off cannons.Continued on the next page...