Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device
First posted on 28 October 2012. Last updated on 23 November 2013.
Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device is the 27th game in the venerable Nancy Drew series from Her Interactive, and it is the best game in the series yet. With a great story, inspired puzzles, and equally good artwork and sound, it is difficult to find fault with this gem. While some critics unfamiliar with the series may regard the Nancy Drew games as mostly "games for girls", the developer's claim that they are for "mystery fans 10 to adult" is more accurate. I have not played an adventure game that has engrossed me this much for quite some time.
No doubt, part of the game's appeal is the focus on Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor and rival of Thomas Edison. An archetypal "mad scientist", Tesla is most famous for his important scientific work on alternating current. He is equally infamous for his speculative work on death rays and resonance machines thought to crumble buildings. Set in modern times, the game's story begins at an isolated lab where the lead scientist (and an admirer of Tesla), Niko Jovic, has been killed in what looks like an accident. Niko's work with the giant Tesla coils indicates that he may be close to a discovery of epic proportions, making his untimely death suspicious to say the least. The owner of the lab, Victor Losset, calls Nancy in to investigate the case.
Nancy soon learns that the other scientists at the lab, snarky Mason Quinto and homesick Ellie York, have motives for wanting Niko removed and discredited. Likewise, the menacing head of security, Gray Cortright, who seems unstable at best, may be responsible for Niko's demise. However, Victor is convinced that Niko's death is the fault of Ryan Kilpatrick, a geeky lab technician who builds parts for the coils. Meanwhile, the video recordings clearly show Niko entering the lab alone, with nobody else on hand to perform the sabotage. To solve the case, Nancy needs to keep a close eye on all these suspects, find holes in their alibis, and confront them with the evidence she finds. There is a catch, though! The catch is that she cannot reveal to the others that she is a detective or else her cover will be blown. While all these characters are quirky enough to be interesting, it is Tesla who truly steals the show. In the game, the players learn all about his work from books, conversations, and models of his inventions.
Of course, an adventure game is only as a good as its puzzles, and it is here where this game really makes its mark. Most of the puzzles are scientific in theme, with plenty involving chemistry, electricity, and computing. While previous games in the series have often been content to re-skin conventional puzzles, this game introduces a number of inspired new puzzles I have never seen in an adventure game before. Among them, a couple of puzzles readily stand out. The first puzzle involves a 3D printer for which players have to think in 3D to get the correct model built; it is quite satisfying to pull the right model from the printer at the end. The second puzzle is based on circuits and schematics; solving it is like playing with a basic electronics kit. Probably the most fun puzzle is actually an elimination game called Aggregation, which is so smartly designed that it can compete against the best of standalone casual games. While difficult—many of the puzzles are timed—I never feel frustrated trying to solve them, and the task list does a good job of keeping me from wandering aimlessly about the lab. The only puzzle that has me stumped temporarily is a cryptogram from Niko's journal. I feel that the game needs to give a slightly greater nudge in the right direction for this puzzle.
Artistically, the game is well drawn. The characters look vivid and are well animated. Body proportions of the characters (particularly females) are modeled realistically. The rooms are richly detailed and reward close inspection—as always, there are wacky gadgets manufactured by the infamous Krolmeister and plenty of Koko Kringle bars. The developer has also hidden charms for Nancy's phone; finding all of them requires extremely diligent observation and study of each location.
The soundtrack selection in this game is more expansive than that in previous games of the series (for example, Nancy Drew: The Captive Curse), where the music became repetitive after a few hours of play. The different tracks are all excellent and quite distinct, ranging from moody electronica, to sinister string pieces, to lighthearted fantasy themes. Not since Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island has a Nancy Drew game sounded this good.
I am disappointed that Her Interactive has still not added support to accommodate widescreen monitors, making the Nancy Drew games look somewhat dated. I fear that this limitation will unduly restrict this game's appeal. Also, while I am not a big fan of massive game worlds with dozens of pointless areas of endless backtracking, the lab begins to feel claustrophobic for me after a while. It seems that the game world in this game is actually meant to be bigger than what it is: at least, there are plenty of areas that are sealed off which I never get to explore. The pretext in the game is that a snowstorm prevents Nancy from going outside, but keeping her stuck in the building the whole time seems to me to be a mistake.
All in all, I highly recommend Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device to all fans of adventure games, particularly those who relish good puzzles and science. I have greatly enjoyed playing this game—working out the solutions and searching diligently for clues, all to the beat of a really great soundtrack. The game is also family friendly. Parents can play the game with their children to get them interested in learning more about science and technology. In short, this is perhaps the best Nancy Drew game to date. Even if you have never played the other Nancy Drew games or read a single Nancy Drew book, you should give this great game a chance to impress you.