Nick Burgess
04 Jun, 2006

Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock Review

PC Review | Psychic neighbours, counterfeit documents and miniature golf - let the craziness ensue, that is Nancy Drew.
Taking you back to time before teenage girls had mobile phones, endless fashion outlets for shopping and no Paris Hilton to idolise – what was a girl to do with her time? Why, become a sleuth of course. Nancy Drew, known throughout the world as being a famous heroine detective stars in a point-and-click adventure game based on her very first book – Secret of the Old Clock – despite this game being the twelfth in the videogame series. Her Interactive is a videogame developer and publisher devoted to the production of interactive games for girls and is responsible for this entry into the Nancy Drew series – if you haven’t heard of them before that’s because their only foray into the video games industry is through Nancy Drew games. But don’t write them off just yet, Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock proves they do know what they are doing, but it is not without its faults.

Nancy Drew, fresh out of high school and first time sleuth, is called out to the Lilac Inn, to help a girl named Emily Crandall, whom she only knows through a mutual friend. Emily’s mother, the owner of the Inn has recently passed away and now she must run the Lilac Inn by herself, with some assistance coming from her guardian – Jane Willoughby. Their eccentric neighbour, Josiah Crowley, had promised to leave them a generous sum of money in his will once he passed away – when that time came, no money was left to the Crandalls, instead it all went to Richard Topham – a man who teaches gifted people how to develop their own psychic abilities out of Josiah Crowley’s old house. When the stove in the kitchen blows up and Emily’s late mother’s jewellery is stolen – Nancy Drew is on the case and no one is safe from her magnifying glass.

The Lilac Inn, home to mystery and intrigue.

The Lilac Inn, home to mystery and intrigue.
Despite what preconceptions you may have against such a game, the story is quite involved and filled with engaging plot turns and twists – due to the fact that this title was a book-to-game conversion. Of course, at the beginning, everything gets off to a slow start; finding out where you are, the other characters and their back stories can be a little confusing and somewhat dull, but after a while the game moves into top gear (well, as top a gear as one can get in the 1930s), and gamers will be thrust into the middle of the debut adventure of the famous mystery series.

Players take control of Nancy and see the world through her eyes from a first person perspective. The controls are quite simple for the main game, as only the mouse is required. The cursor takes the form of a magnifying glass and produces a red outline when browsing over interactive elements in the surroundings. Otherwise, the cursor takes the shape of an arrow which denotes in which direction Nancy can move. It’s all pretty straight forward and nothing in the control department should cause any head scratching moments. The monotony of pointing and clicking is broken up with puzzles and the occasional mini-game.

Whether you want to or not, this game requires players to take some sort of notes when a clue of significance presents itself – sometimes a sequences of numbers, sometimes as a series of sound effects. Otherwise, you will be in for a fair bit of backtracking, which means generous amounts of clicking.

For the age group this game is aimed at, puzzles and mini-games will cause a considerable degree of difficulty – most of which can be overcome by either noting certain occurrences or trial and error. For those apt with a mouse and gamers with a background in point-and-click adventures, this is a synch, but fun, nevertheless. The puzzles one will come across include logic tests, using a sewing machine and fixing clock insides. Most of the mini-games are actually based on board games, like Mastermind (where players must guess the correct sequences of colours), Rush Hour (where players slide objects around a grid in order to clear a path for the main piece) and Memory (finding matching pairs of face-down pictures). The mini-games, for most of the time, are peculiarly placed both within the game and in the unravelling of the plot. It isn’t that much of a problem, since the game contains crazier things than playing a game of memory that has been perched above a fireplace, but more congruent placement of the mini-games would have matched the high level of story development.

Richard Topham - your friendly neighbour/telekinetic.

Richard Topham - your friendly neighbour/telekinetic.
To control the car when driving, players either use the arrow keys or the mouse. A strong suggestion to use the latter though, as manoeuvring your vehicle is quite unintuitive, especially with the arrow keys. Basically, the car faces the direction that mouse is at, holding down the left-click causes the car to accelerate, right-click puts it into reverse. Driving has its hazards though, one must be wary at all times of pot-holes and mud otherwise you may blow your tyre – which is a bugger to repair and pay for. Feeling like sorting through seemingly impossible to decipher nuts and bolts in order to repay your debt for the repairs?

Two things players can take advantage of are the ‘Second Chance’ option and loading a saved game at an opportune moment. If Nancy falls off a bridge or meets her demise at the hands of a rogue game of putt putt, players can initiate the ‘Second Chance’ option, which picks up the action just before players kicked the bucket. Saving the game regularly provides a similar function, being able to load a game if a puzzle has been botched or because gamers might have lost too much gas aimlessly driving around. Working this out is pretty easy and why wouldn’t you take advantage of these options? Add these options to the ‘it makes the game easier’ column.

Nancy Drew strikes a cord visually as the gameworld is decked out in high quality objects and models. Something most point-and-click adventures pull off diligently as practically nothing within the game world moves unless its interacted with. Whenever the view switches from Nancy’s viewpoint, the graphics take a beating. Mini-games and especially the car driving mini-game feels underdone in comparison with the rest of the games graphical abilities. What is usually a top down, but sometimes isometric, viewpoint gives everything more of a ‘map’ look and feel. Along with the story and sound, this is one of the high points of the title.

Surprisingly enough, the game features an abundance of clocks.

Surprisingly enough, the game features an abundance of clocks.
Players will want to leave the volume up for this title, as the sound throughout compliments the games setting and style. Context sensitive instrumental tunes flow almost seamlessly – a different tune for inside the Inn, walking around the property and another for Josiah’s house. The voice acting is, in a word, spectacular. Every single line – and there are a lot – has a spot on delivery. Talking face to face with a character that actually puts the emphasis on the correct words and doesn’t over-exaggerate their lines is one of those anomalies – where you’re sure it exists, you’ve just never come across it yourself.

As strange as it sounds, there is definitely a sense of satisfaction after finding the next clue in this game. It actually will keep gamers motivated enough to continue clicking and hunting around for answers. There is something calm and serene about a 1930s setting and surprisingly the game provides a refreshing change of pace to the usual run-of-the-mill generic shooting, racing and action titles. Of course, this definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, with the target age group for this game being 10 – 14 year olds – which is reflected in both the games execution and difficulty. The style, pace and challenge of this game is reminiscent of the old point-and-click Where on Earth is Carmen San Diego title. Fans of that old chestnut will relish in the technical advances, although on the whole it is of a slightly lesser calibre where replay value is concerned.

The game will take around eight to ten hours, depending on which order gamers tackle the puzzles and how many car trips players have to make. For example, if gamers decide to follow the story verbatim, they will find themselves having to refuel more often and run more errands in order to gain money, whereas, players who bide their time, assess the clues and take one long car trip with many stops will save gas, money and time. Regardless, point and click aficionados can blitz through this in a day.

Her Interactive have produced a game that nails their target audience perfectly, whilst other demographics may and probably will struggle to play through Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock. The controls, graphics and story are great, but length and lack of replay value brings the game down - but it's always nice to play something different now and then.
The Score
Not for everyone, but it is a nice break from contemporary gaming’s genre monotony.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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