Platform: PC (version reviewed), Mac
Release Date: May 8, 2012
I know, I know. An adventure game set in Egypt. Nothing new, right? It was inevitable that after 25 interactive adventures, Nancy Drew could no longer ignore one of the most popular destinations for riddles and legends and mysteries. But before you dismiss her latest escapade and find a game that’s set somewhere else, you will be pleased to know that HER Interactive has managed to put quite a successful twist on an old formula and an even older setting, and it’s worth looking at through your magnifying glass.
The storyline is, as usual another version of the usual Mad Libs template: Nancy travels to (Cairo) to (work as an archaeologist on a dig site). As expected, strange “accidents” befall the crew, which some claim to be part of (a legendary curse). When the lead member is attacked in the middle of a sandstorm, almost everyone except Nancy flees the scene, leaving the intrepid detective herself to figure out who’s behind the sabotage – and to find the lost tomb of Queen Nefertari.
HER Interactive promises that this is “the most richly detailed Nancy Drew mystery ever,” and I have to agree. We’ve all seen Egypt in adventure-game form before, but it really comes to life in HER’s unique style. To convincingly portray the detail and opulence of an Egyptian tomb is no small feat, I’m sure, but the designers succeeded here, and their animations are also up to par. If you’ve played the Nancy Drew games before, you’ll notice how far they have come in their design quality, each adventure improving on something from the last. You have to admire that in a small company that produces two games each year.
The interface is another element that has improved significantly, now looking more stylish and sophisticated. Icons for Nancy’s phone and main menu remain in the lower left corner; an inventory bar takes center stage, telling you what each item is when your cursor hovers over it (finally!); and Nancy’s journal and task list are in the other corner, where they can be expanded with a single click. It really couldn’t be easier to use, and it’s nice and compact.
With all these visual achievements, though, it seems at first glance as though there isn’t a lot to look at. You cannot travel outside the dig site, which means you’re limited to the main tent, a smaller tent, and the tomb itself, and only two characters to interact with. Initially, I was wary of how the game was going to maintain my interest – but, like the tomb, it is full of surprises. The more you explore, the deeper you get into the tomb, decoding hieroglyphics and solving riddles and cracking codes and finding hidden passageways. And new characters show up in surprising ways and keep things interesting. You can even choose how Nancy responds to them – whether she agrees or disagrees or takes a kind or confrontational tone – and see their reactions. I’m not sure if the dialogue choices affect gameplay at all, but they make the conversations more fun and pull Nancy out of her usual sweet teenage girl act. So, while the Nancy Drew games never stray too far from their tried-and-true formula, this one does toy with it, and very successfully. I was ultimately grateful that Nancy didn’t have to learn to ride camels, or take a caravan to the nearby market, or any of the other tedium I was expecting that has appeared in previous mysteries. This is a very well thought-out entry, and it shows.
The puzzles this time around are mostly based around navigating the tomb and finding the hidden coffin, so you have to combine all the notes and clues you find to decipher symbols and riddles along the way. There’s nothing that’s terribly difficult, but it does require a pen and some paper, and critical thinking. The “Master Sleuth” level offers much more of a challenge than “Amateur Sleuth,” if you’re looking to test your detective abilities. I was frustrated that the game operates by triggers, so that certain items don’t appear in their respective locations until you’ve completed certain tasks. I was dismayed to find certain items in locations where I had previously looked; the game had triggered their appearance as the result of other things I had done. Seems a little unfair, but I suppose it’s all in the nature of good detective work.
But that’s really my only gripe. All the other usual elements of a Nancy Drew mystery are here: a quirky roster of suspects who aren’t what they seem; wonderful voice acting; exceptionally witty dialogue; funny phone-a-friend conversations; engaging history lessons; outstanding soundtrack; and ‘second chances’ for game-ending mistakes. This is not the most challenging game of the series, but I think it is one of the most exciting, and after 25 games, it is quite an achievement to keep things interesting. “Tomb” is definitely worth checking out for something fun to do on your summer vacation.
Final Grade: A-
Minimum System Requirements: