Nancy Drew: The Final Scene

Review by Old Rooster
September 2002

Be Careful Inviting Nancy for a Visit!

Not having a daughter, I had never read a Nancy Drew book or played any of the PC games. I was pleased, therefore, to accept this assignment and approach the task, as much as possible, from an open, naive, innocent perspective—trying, as much as an old geezer can, to adopt the vantage point of a teenager, in terms of game appeal and marketing. An interesting challenge, and one I enjoyed!

The Final Scene comes packaged with volume 162 of the Drew series: The Case of the Lost Song. Reading this pleasant little mystery prior to playing the game gave me my first sense of Nancy's world and offered some generalizations which I suspect apply to most of her books and games.

Much like my favorite mystery heroine, J.B. Fletcher, crimes seem to happen when Nancy's around! Lock the doors, bolt the windows, put on extra security if you're having her for a weekend stay. Wherever she goes, a crime has or is about to occur! Of course, the converse is true—if a crime does occur, it seems good to have this ace problem-solver around.

Nancy, her cousins, and boyfriend have a high level of self-confidence in Ms. Drew's crime-solving ability. "I have a knack for solving mysteries," claims our 18-year-old Sherlock. Also, her "experience has taught her that the simpler the theory, the more likely it was right." As raves cousin Beth, "her gut instincts proved her right again!"

Our young sleuth carries with her most of the time a penknife and pick-lock set, as well as a magnifying glass in the PC games—very handy indeed for spontaneous detecting!

The language employed in conversations is quite sanitized and youth-oriented. You'll find such phrases as: "What a two-faced skunk," "this is beyond a bummer," "she was middle-aged but very pretty."

When Nancy's cousin, George, put on a miniskirt and danced with Jason, I was worried, until reading a bit more carefully that George had been referred to earlier as "her" and "she." Whew, what a relief!

"Step into My Shoes; You'll Be My Eyes and Ears!" —N. Drew

The Final Scene is the fifth game in Her Interactive's Nancy Drew series, and the first I've played. Much as with the books and previous games, our Nancy walks into a serious situation as she visits her old friend Maya in St. Louis. Excitedly preparing for a visit to a movie premier at the old Royal Palladium Theater, and an interview by Maya of the star, Brady Armstrong, Nancy very quickly finds herself embroiled in a desperate search for Maya, who is kidnapped shortly after entering the theater. The police won't take the allegation seriously for 24 hours, and the theater is scheduled for the wrecking ball in just three days! So it's up to our resourceful heroine to explore this huge facility, interview potential suspects, solve puzzles and problems, all within a three-day timeline.

Clearly, the developers have honed their craft in terms of presentation, interface and general management of Nancy. As the youngster says in the fine but simplified (remember the target audience of age 10+) tutorial: you'll "choose what I do. Trust your instincts and have fun!" There are two levels of play, Junior and Senior Detective, with the paths separated primarily by difficulty of puzzles and relative lack of hints at the senior level. Rooms and corridors can be viewed in 360-degree horizontal panning (not vertical), but only one section at a time. The first-person interface is point-and-click, with only the mouse required for play. The cursor shows movement options and lights up clearly when an interaction is possible. Inventory is large and obvious; conversations are legible; main menu and help options are there for the asking. Indeed, the relative dominance of the interface is my main criticism of the game—using a ruler, I found that only 53% of the screen is occupied by the game proper, while the other 47% is interface and border! This is a major concern with some RPG games, where complications of character-building and magic-selection abound, but it seems quite unnecessary with an adventure title. It certainly took away from the overall involvement for this gamer.

A Little WD40, Please!

With four suspects, Nancy has some heavy interviewing and extensive exploring to do. The three-day division is interesting in that it allows considerable freedom of movement on each of the days, but still the game insists on certain tasks being accomplished before one graduates to the next day.

The theater is huge and beautiful. The background renderings, from frayed wallpaper to old posters, are lovingly done and worthy of exploration. Hidden passages and trap doors are encountered, along with magician secret rooms and an assortment of interesting games—a jazz/dance puzzle; the Amazing Monty Magician card game; a rabbit slider puzzle. Nancy can come to a nasty and premature end in this game, but the developers have placed a thoughtful "second chance" option in the menu, taking you to the spot just before you "died."

Although the characters (suspects) are nicely depicted, I found them a bit static and lifeless. Indeed, there is little in the way of nonplayer character interaction in the game, and much of the time it seems like you're exploring an empty theater. Background music is pleasant and voice acting well-done.

The story-movement puzzles are well-integrated into the overall design and logically solved. Note the WD40 reference! Rarely is there anything bizarre or not sensible required of you to accomplish your goal. This, again, points to the value of experience in game construction.

A Good Story, Well Told?

With this kind of narrative-driven adventure title, the story becomes primary for me, with the nature and design of the puzzles secondary. The Final Scene has a fine tale to tell, undoubtedly one that has previously found its way into one of the 100+ Carolyn Keene/Drew novels. The graphics are crisp and detailed; character management is clear; hints are available at the junior level; voice acting and sound are nicely done. I would strongly recommend the game to younger or newer adventure players. It's safe, comfortable, finely tuned, and well-constructed. What, then, keeps me from giving it a coveted Gold Star award?

Although there is not much in the way of direct competition for this niche of the market, other adventure titles (Syberia, Atlantis series), and other blended-adventure games (Zanzarah, Harry Potter), have demonstrated a level of production quality, especially in the graphics area, that makes The Final Scene seem almost as static and dated as the theater it portrays. Further, the 47% interface is unnecessary and certainly not required when we see what can be done with newer adventure titles such as The Watchmaker and Mystery of the Druids.

Yet being a player who values content over graphics, substance over form, I still enjoyed the game and had a good time with it. I will look forward, though, to the time when Nancy and her pals can be portrayed full-screen, and in seamless 360-degree, real 3D graphical splendor! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Her Interactive
Publisher: DreamCatcher
Release Date: November 2001

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

150 MB free hard disk space

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