Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill

Developer/Publisher:  Her Interactive
Year Released:  1998

Review by Rosemary Young (October, 1999)
drewsck.jpgNancy Drew, teenage super sleuth, has been strutting her stuff for around seven decades now. She's graduated from the pages of numerous books to the movie screen and the TV screen, and here she makes her debut in a Computer Game. Once more Nancy is poised to attract a whole legion of new fans.

Aimed primarily at girls 11 and up this is a great title for pre-teen and early teens and it helps to fill a yawning gap in the computer game arena, featuring a resourceful and clever female protagonist who will lure young players into her investigations. Nancy has come a long way since the1930s, she's been modified and updated several times, and in this escapade she has truly evolved into a young woman of the '90s who is not afraid of a mouse! The story, too, has been updated and the investigation touches on the contemporary issue of drug (steroid) abuse and is accompanied by a strong anti-drug message.

The game is afoot
The story begins in the house of Aunt Eloise in the fictitious Florida town of Paseo Del Mar. Nancy has just arrived on a visit when a student is murdered at the local school and she offers to go 'undercover' to unravel the mystery.

What an auspicious beginning it is. Aunt Eloise's house is a delight to explore as the graphics are so detailed and curious players are invited to poke around to begin their investigation. Aunt Eloise is the School Librarian and she has left a letter for Nancy telling her that she can use the Library key which is locked away in the safe. But where is the safe ... and what is the code? Searching the house is bound to captivate young players as there are cupboards and drawers to peer into, books to read and an assortment of clues to find and things to do, including a familiar sliding picture puzzle, before it's off to continue the hunt.

After this there is a lot more sleuthing to be done at the diner and the school. As well as a selection of standard adventuring puzzles such as accessing the locked teachers' lounge and opening another lock with a brail combination (library research comes in handy for this one), there's also a close scrape in the boiler room where someone has set a booby trap. This and one other situation requires fast thinking, but there is no penalty for failure. Just press the 'second chance' button and try again.

Of course, detective work also entails interrogation and there are four students hanging around all of whom have possible motives. In conversation mode Nancy is equipped with a short list of questions to choose from which appear below the picture window. Although the dialogue is crystal clear there is an option to display text for both questions and answers. What a pity for hearing-impaired players that this text option isn't applied to the short introduction, or to Nancy's interior monologue throughout the game when she comments on her findings and gives mild hints.

Help at hand
Nancy's passing comments give players a gentle nudge in the right direction when confronted with a problem. There are more hints available in the coded messages pinned to notice boards or hidden in the pages of books. These are plentiful and they are all fun to work out and heighten involvement in the game. If the budding detective is still stuck then Nancy's good friends Bess, George and Ned are waiting at the end of the telephone line to offer some good advice.

Her Interface
Secrets can Kill is a first-person perspective game so the player is encouraged to step into the role of Nancy Drew and solve the mystery. As befitting a detective a magnifying glass is the primary cursor and it changes colour when actions are available such as for navigation, interacting with the game world, or talking to people. Very simple, but maybe a little too simple. It might have worked better if the magnifying glass icon had been restricted to 'looking' and the more standard 'hand' icon was introduced for taking or manipulating objects with a distinct arrow for movement. This is not a serious complaint, just a suggestion, and the only other quibble I have is that the game demands the first disk be inserted every time it is opened.

Well this one surely gets my seal of approval. The graphics are great and allow for 360 degree panning and the music and voice acting are also very good. More importantly, it's an entertaining, modern story to go with the new, modern Ms Drew and is pitched about right for the targeted age group. It also has three difficulty levels which govern the depth of hints available making it a very good introductory game for players who haven't yet sampled the delights of adventure game playing. Although it is essentially a young person's game it has quite a deal of sophistication and will keep players intrigued to the very end.

Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill can be ordered directly from the HerInteractive website. When you pay them a visit don't forget to preview Nancy's next adventure: Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger. This one looks suspiciously like it might also be a winner. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1999. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Win 95/98, Pentium 166MHz (200 recommended), 16MB RAM (32MB recommended), 42MB available hard disk space (220MB recommended), 8xCD-ROM drive (24 speed recommended), 16-bit Windows-compatible stereo sound card, mouse and speakers.