Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice

The stakes have never been higher as Nancy Drew joins an international investigation to help unmask a phantom thief who's stealing historic artifacts in Venice

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Genre: Mystery Adventure
Release Date: July 2008
Platform: PC

Note: Originally published 30 July 2008

If I were a detective, I'd kill to be like Nancy Drew. Working undercover, traveling the world, learning new things every day. Sam Spade would be jealous. Not every sleuth has connections in England, France, Hawaii or Canada. And very few of them can say they were called in on special assignment by a foreign police force! Yeah, Nancy Drew pretty much has it all.

This time, she's off to Italy on a secret mission. The police there need her help in investigating a rash of thefts committed by a phantom thief, dubbed Il Fantasma by the press. Because the busy season of Carnevale is approaching, the authorities don't have the manpower to investigate as thoroughly as they'd like. So, per suggestion of Nancy's friend Prudence Rutherford from Secret of the Scarlet Hand, the girl detective is on her way to Italy to discover the identity ofIl Dottore, the leader of a daring crime ring. The plot is probably the most involved of the all the games to date. Clues and red herrings abound, and the plot is not too complicated but involved enough to keep you guessing until the end, which I admit had me surprised.

The game opens at the end of the case. As Nancy finds herself in a dangerous predicament, she flashes back to the beginning of the case, where the game starts. It's an effective hook that leaves the player with an exciting scenario to look forward to. However, the game itself is pretty linear. Rarely is the objective unclear, and in Junior Detective mode, there is even a checklist of things to do. While the linearity leaves out some of the logic and guesswork that comes with detective work, it certainly limits some of the frustration.

With the previous installment, Legend of the Crystal Skull, came evidence (pun intended) of improved graphics quality and character realism. I am happy to report that this trend has continued. The facial expressions and gesticulations of each character, combined with superb voice work, really make him/her come alive. The environments they inhabit are equally laudable. Having just returned from several weeks in Europe, I can attest to the stunning realism of the artists' portrayal of Italy, and the shimmering quality of the water is incredibly life-like. There is a brief point during the game where photographs are interspersed with animation, and I had to study the former really closely to be convinced that they weren't the latter. The cut scenes - what few there are - are of somewhat lower quality, but don't hinder the game's overall appearance.

What makes the puzzles in this game great is that most all are directly related to Nancy's investigation. There are a few that are obviously there to fill time, but they are not chores which, as any fan of the series can attest, are never fun. There are also some very challenging puzzles this time around, especially toward the end. I confess to having consulted a walkthrough to help me near the end of the game, as the objective of them was unclear. This wasn't the first time I thought there could have been more clues or instructions as to what was needed to solve a particular puzzle. There are a lot of numbers and codes in this game, and sometimes it is unclear what goes with what. The mix of traditional puzzles with new ones is also welcoming. Nancy gets to show off her dance moves, go on a stakeout, and get in disguise for this game!

As always with a Nancy Drew title, there's a lot to learn. Naturally, as the game is set in Italy, the country is the main focus of the educational experience. Nancy learns about the Italian language and food, sees the sights and even plays a traditional card game. The beautiful music, which is not at all intrusive and is in fact quite relaxing, and soundtrack of noises and Italian conversations all help to immerse the player in the gaming experience. You can even take gondola rides with singing gondoliers! The game does an incredible job of making you feel like you are really in Italy, which makes it such a great game to explore and savor.

What really makes this game great, though, are the little touches. There are minor blemishes here and there, but they are overshadowed by the time and effort that shine through in the graphical details, the optional puzzles, the Easter Eggs, and the funny "outtakes" that are a must-see after the closing credits! It's clear that the people at Her Interactive love making these games - and as a result, it's hard for the player not to love them, too.

Final Grade: A

System Requirements:

    Windows XP/Vista
    1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU,
    128 MB of RAM,
    1 GB or more of hard drive space,
    32 MB DirectX 9.0 compatible video card,
    16 bit DirectX compatible sound card,
    24X CD-ROM drive, mouse, and speakers

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