Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill is a graphic adventure played out in detailed interactive 3D environments. This two-CD murder mystery is based on the Nancy Drew character first seen in Edward Stratemeyer's novels, written under the pen name Carolyn Keene. As Nancy, aged 17 or 18, you navigate using a point-and-click interface that allows examination and manipulation of the game's many objects.
In this adventure, Nancy, who is visiting her Aunt Eloise, investigates the chilling murder of a widely disliked student, Jake Rogers. Aunt Eloise, a librarian, lives near the high school where the heinous crime takes place, affording Nancy access to various pertinent locales such as the high school, Maxine's Diner, and a pharmacy. At all times, the player controls which environment Nancy is investigating.
In each environment, you must navigate 3D rooms and hallways while searching for clues such as notes left on bulletin boards or objects in drawers. An inventory box near the bottom of the screen houses Nancy's found objects until needed. In addition to finding clues, you must also solve other types of puzzles. Each area of exploration has its own ambient music and sound effects.
During the course of the investigation, Nancy must elicit information from several characters. Each is a 2D cartoon with individual facts and motives, a distinct personality, and personal reactions toward our heroine. When speaking with a character, Nancy is given a choice of questions or comments from which to choose, and, based on the responses she receives, investigates accordingly. If Nancy is killed by stumbling into a booby trap, a "Second Chance" option pops up, which if selected, puts her back in the game immediately prior to the fatal error.
After 350 mysteries bearing her name spanning more than 70 years, our favorite teenager sleuth Nancy Drew finally takes her leap onto the computer screen in the form of an adventure game, appropriately titled Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill. This title is the first of a planned interactive mystery trilogy from Her Interactive. Recalling the less than stellar track record in the sales of previous computer mystery games, Her Interactive has chosen wisely to market this game toward a younger audience. Designed for girls 11 ages and up, its goals are to provide role-playing experiences through computer games and introduce the world of technology to girls by making computers more appealing. While its intention is certainly noble, intention alone can only serve so far to satisfy the appetite of a gamer. It is here that Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill shines as an interactive adventure for the novice player, making this title truly a welcomed change for the neglected genre.
The story begins with Nancy visiting her Aunt Eloise in the fictitious town of Paseo Del Mar in Florida. A crime has been committed at the local high school where her aunt works as a librarian. Jake Rogers, a student at that school, has been murdered. Nancy is now asked by the school principal to help investigate the crime. Posing as a student, you play the role of Nancy and begin your sleuthing by exploring the town, talking to people who knows the victim, and collecting clues. Soon, you learn that each of the 4 student suspects has something to hide but only a single student bears the motive to kill Jake to stop him from revealing the secrets.
Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill is based on The Nancy Drew Files Case 1: Secrets Can Kill by Carolyn Keene from Archway Paperbacks/Minstrel Books. The game plays out using a combination of static slideshow sceneries and 360° panoramic view at key locations. While the backdrops are photorealistic in quality, game characters are all 2D cartoon drawings superimposed on pseudo-3D background sceneries. This gives an unwanted artificial appearance to the game. Dialogs are played out with perfect lip-sync animations.
Her Interactive has used its earlier published titles as R&D to focus in developing a more robust game engine for this game. The current engine uses a cursor to identify both places of interaction and points of navigation. Disguised as a magnifying glass, the cursor turns red to indicate hotspots for interaction (talk to a person, view a close-up, pick up or interact with an object) and blue to outline directions for navigation (up, down, left, right). An U-Turn cursor lets you back out of close-up scenes or exit certain locations. There are 2 modes of installation--a compact install which requires 42 MB of hard drive space, or the recommended install which takes 220 MB. The company claims to have test-marketed the game extensively prior to launch, conducting research and focus groups to ensure it is well-suited to today's preteen and teenage girls.
The game can be played at 3 degrees of difficulty--junior detective, senior detective, and master detective. In the game, hints and additional clues are given to the player in the form of Ned (Nancy's boyfriend) or Bess and George (Nancy's sidekicks) who themselves are otherwise not part of the game. Other characters featured in this game include Daryl Gray, Hal Tanaka, Connie Watson, and Hulk Sanchez. Gameplay consists of mostly pre-scripted dialogs, mini word games, logic puzzles, and a few classic inventory-based puzzles. All interactions can be carried out with simple point and click. In order to crack the case and capture the murderer, the player must put together the correct pieces of information from conversations, puzzles, and hidden clues.
A welcomed inclusion in this game is its "Second Chance" feature. If you die of a fatal error during play, you are automatically taken back to the Main Screen and may option to return to a point just prior to your fatal move. Music and sound effects are also nicely done. Jukebox song titles like "Help Me Nancy" and "Murder on My Mind" as well as an animated opening clip of Nancy in silhouette all give a subtle, fine touch to elevate the production value of this title. Her Interactive must be congratulated in taking a pioneering role in attracting girls to computer technology through attractive role-playing. This market segment has clearly been a neglected niche since the early days of computer gaming. Nancy Drew serves as a perfect medium to expose teenage girls to computers as both a source of productivity and a source of entertainment. On the downside side, the number of challenging puzzles in this game is few and far between, making the gameplay somewhat unsatisfying for the seasoned gamers. Its aim at a younger audience may exclude older gamers who are also fans of Nancy Drew.
It is of historical interest to note that Nancy Drew is originally conceived as a girls' version of the Hardy Boys by Edward Stratemeyer back in 1929. Her Interactive has done an admirable job in translating the attraction of Nancy Drew onto the digital medium. The company must also be praised for the noble intention in promoting computer technology to teenage girls through intelligent gaming without the use of undue violence. The game even includes a detective handbook and a sketchbook for diehard Nancy Drew fans. Best echoed by the company slogan "For Girls Who Aren't Afraid of a Mouse", Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill is a sound product aimed at a niche market that other game developers have so far neglected.
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