Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock Download (2005 Adventure Game)

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Supernatural abilities are inherently controversial. A person can't really prove he has ESP, for example, but it's pretty difficult to prove that he doesn't, as well. Add in a contested will, a Depression-era economy, and a town full of strangers, and Nancy Drew has some big challenges in front of her as she sets out to solve her 12th computer-game case. In The Secret of the Old Clock, Nancy visits a friend-of-a-friend named Emily Crandall, whom she meets for the first time when arriving at the Lilac Inn, which is run by Emily and her guardian.

Emily and her recently deceased mother had run the inn for years, and expected its eccentric but kindly owner, Josiah Crowley, to leave it to them in his will. Instead, it seems the deed to the Lilac Inn was left in full to a flamboyant character named Richard Topham, who runs the town's "School for the Study and Development of Paranormal Powers." Chances are it will take Nancy's natural powers of keen observation, empathetic engagement, and good old fashioned deductive reasoning, to see through any supernatural charades and help her new friends find justice.

Released in time to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the teen sleuth's literary debut, Secret of the Old Clock is based on characters and settings found in the first four Nancy Drew books, and it is the first game in the Her Interactive series that is set in the past instead of contemporary times.

The Secret of the Old Clock brings the number of games in the Nancy Drew series to an even dozen. While this is an impressive accomplishment for any series, that's not Clock's only distinction. The game is based on the first book in the Nancy Drew canon, the game's release date is the 75th anniversary of that book's publication, and the game is done in period, right down to Nancy's more-or-less Model A roadster. Clock carries all this baggage effortlessly, providing players with one of the most sprightly entries in the series.

The menu system and interface of Clock will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever played a Nancy Drew game. One chooses to play as a Junior or Senior detective with difficulty levels for certain puzzles adjusted accordingly. Driving the roadster might seem a bit daunting at first, since one drives it by leading it with the cursor. After a few spins around Titusville, though, players will be doing four-wheel drifts and 360-degree spins with no trouble. As long as care is taken to avoid the potholes, there will be no need to change a tire. And as long as puddles are avoided during the thrilling chase finale (puddles slow down Nancy's roadster), the villain will have no chance of escaping.

Considering that the game has "clock" in its name, it seems ironic that Clock dispenses with the "advance time by having Nancy sleep" feature. Once the game begins, the sun never sets. As someone who never much cared for the in-game timepiece, I didn't mind its absence.

Only purists are likely to object to the conflation of the plots of two Nancy Drew books (The Secret of the Old Clock and The Mystery at Lilac Inn) to produce the plot of the game. The game's story links the greed of Richard Topham for the estate of Josiah Crowley from the original Secret with the lost jewels of Emily Crandall from The Mystery at Lilac Inn. The resulting story opens with poor Emily mourning the loss of her mother. A friend of her mother's has come to help Emily run the Lilac Inn. Did Josiah Crowley really leave his money to Topham? Is Jim Archer, the banker, on the level? Clues point, as is usual in Nancy Drew games, everywhere. Assuming Emily is innocent, the villain could be any of the other fully animated characters.

Clock, by putting Nancy back in the era of her birth as a character, provides an object lesson in why Nancy is such a durable heroine. Even in the midst of the Depression, Nancy proves that a good heart, a keen mind and an observant eye could bring order and harmony to the world. Relieved of the modern conveniences of a cell phone or the internet, Nancy has ample opportunities to display the resourcefulness that made her a star.

In the world before cell phones, Nancy must use a pay phone. Every call costs a nickel, and Nancy's only got $3.50 in her purse. Would the folks at Her Interactive drop in this resource management element without providing a way for Nancy to pick up some spare change? Of course not. Whenever she pleases, Nancy can jump into her snazzy blue roadster and deliver telegrams all over Titusville for an impressive twenty-five cents apiece. And, like it or not, Nancy will spend time on the road delivering telegrams.

There are three separate instances in the game where only money will get the job done, and that means navigating, from an overhead view, the map of Titusville. Avoid the potholes or risk a flat tire and a $2 tire repair fee at Zippy Gas. Keep the roadster's gas tank filled or risk a $5 towing fee. Fortunately, there is a puzzle to solve at Zippy Gas that can get Nancy back in action in case she's too broke to pay for tire repairs or towing.

The driving sections of Clock, underscored with tunes that Raymond Scott imagined but never wrote down, brings an engaging velocity to the proceedings. They also give the player an opportunity to learn the layout of the roads in Titusville - something that will eventually prove essential.

Between arriving at the inn in the amazingly shiny blue roadster and pushing that roadster to its limits in the thrilling chase finale, Nancy must solve a pleasing variety of puzzles. While most lend themselves to contemplation, some require a bit of eye-hand coordination. There is a miniature golf minigame (which can be skipped), a bit of fishing and the dreaded sewing machine. The sewing machine puzzle requires a steady hand as Nancy attempts to stitch a clean line. Suggestion: Move your mouse cursor speed and acceleration toward the slow end. This will smooth out any twitches and help keep your seam true.

The team at Her Interactive, by setting Clock in the Depression, have taken the bold step of letting the Depression weigh, however gently, on the game's mood. The music is sprightly, as it was in the Depression, but money worries remain. Emily may lose the Lilac Inn if the inheritance of Josiah Crowley winds up going to someone else. The residents of Titusville are not immune to the money drought spreading across the country. Nancy cannot solve the mystery without earning money for gas and other necessities. For those playing this game with their children, this could be an opportunity to discuss this bleak period in America's economic history.

Clock is the first Nancy Drew game to use black-and-white still photographs (reminiscent of Noir: A Shadowy Thriller) to provide visuals for some of the places (Zippy Gas, a mansion, an orphanage, a print shop) Nancy visits. While initially somewhat jarring, the photos contribute to the period mood.

Clock, with its sunny exteriors and perpetual daylight, feels like the adventure game equivalent of a beach book. It's light, bright, and fun. For those who found Nancy's previous outing, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, more to their liking, Nancy's next adventure, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, looks a bit more moody. And a bit more modern. Nancy will be sporting a new camera cell phone for taking pictures and calling for hints. She'll be joined by Frank and Joe Hardy, and there will be pachinko to play, heirloom dolls to sort and short-order cooking to do. In other words, another entry in the irresistibly predictable adventures of the indestructible Ms. Drew. I can't wait.


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