Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device is the 27th in a series of adventure games staring the amateur sleuth developed and published by Her Interactive. Coming out at a steady clip of about 2 games per year, Her certainly seems to have this style of mystery/adventure down. While The Deadly Device may have a few flaws, none of them detract from the overall quality of the experience.
Skipping past the obvious question of “why would someone hire a young adult to investigate a murder?” Nancy begins The Deadly Device tasked with just that. Hired by a gentleman named Victor, she is sent into The Technology of Tomorrow Today lab “undercover” to find out who killed Niko Jovic, and discover what happened to the research he was working on. Coming in just after the police investigation,Nancy starts in Niko’s office, the key code to his desk in her handy journal, and her heart open to the mysteries of the world.
Ok, maybe that’s taking it a bit too far. Regardless, if you’ve played any point and click adventure since the ‘90s, you’re familiar with the workings of The Deadly Device. Movement and all interactions are dealt with using the mouse, which shifts icons depending on what you are trying to do. An arrow icon equals movement, while a glowing magnifying glass or a hand icon means interaction is available.
Interactions often turn out to be nothing more then a pixel hunt around a zoomed in portion of the environment. Newer adventure games have added innovations that cut down on the “hunt” portion of adventuring, often adding icons that show whether or not something can be clicked on. Nancy Drew has to go at it old school, and I found myself more then once re-searching all the rooms because I thought I had missed something, or I couldn’t find the exact point at which an item I had interacted with the item in the environment it belonged too.
The other half of investigating revolves around conversations with the four main lab employees. This turned out to be the biggest let down of The Deadly Device, as each employee was boiled down to one personality trait, which each conversation constantly revolved around. It didn’t help that the voice work was just as stiff and one-note as well.
To add a bit of variety, the developers added a manually driven day/night cycle, and then put 2 employees on the night shift. The in story reasoning works as to why one of the employees works nights, but it lead to many trips back to Nancy’s room, where her alarm clock controlled the passage of time.
The heart of any adventure game, though, is the puzzles, and I am happy to say that Nancy Drew has some real brain teasers. I enjoyed the word/password puzzles more then some of the physical ones (one especially frustrating one required the rebuilding of a circuit board with directions that required more then a few “deaths” to interpret), but all in all, there was more then enough to even the most ardent mystery hound entertained for a while.
Clocking in at around 6 hours, The Deadly Device also offers a Master difficulty level, which changes some of the puzzles, shortens some of the time limits and removes the in game tip system. There are also numerous in game trophies for fulfilling certain objectives not directly tied into the main story.
The Deadly Device is a pretty game, environmentally speaking. Everything was highly detailed, with the in game books, whiteboards, and random notes all easy to read. There was one area, the Main Lab, where the camera hiccupped a bit because it, unlike every other room in the game, allowed a 360 degree spin, as it was the most efficient way to reach all the interaction points.
The employees, on the other hand, looked stiff and plain, with each drawn to highlight that one key personality trait. Ryan, for example, who’s main trait was either youth or aloofness, was dressed in a tank top and sported a pair of goggles (given her job as the lab tech, they were a required part of her get-up, but they added to the youthful charm). Mason on the other hand, easily the most annoying of the employees (which I think was the main trait they were highlighting) was dressed in business attire and always wore a real smarmy look on his face. Each looked served the character, but there was nothing ever developed beyond that.
I had a good time, and even though I was able to predict the turns the story would ultimately take, I was happy with the time I spent in game. There were some clever allusions to Nancy Drew’s 80+ year history (you could even call The Hardy Boys on your smart phone and discuss your current case with them), and it was funny watching her tip toe around conversations that always seemed to start with either “Why are you here?” or “What’s with the intrusive questions?”
On the Amateur level, there is an in game tip system which worked well for the most part, though I ran into certain environmental stumbling blocks that prolonged the journey a bit. There was no tutorial to speak of however, and while the controls really didn’t need one, an explanation of some of the more helpful systems (like the fact thatNancy’s phone has a functioning camera) would have cut down on a few trips back and forth across the lab.
Given that this is the 27th title in the Nancy Drew video game franchise, it was easy to see why these games keep getting made. While I believe that the next incarnations should take some hints from some of the new school, the old school feel of The Deadly Device was refreshing. It won’t be challenging The Walking Dead for depth of character, but there is a lot to like in Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device.