Nancy Drew: Ghost of Thornton Hall
First posted on 01 June 2013. Last updated on 23 November 2013.
Nancy Drew: Ghost of Thornton Hall is the 28th title in Her Interactive's popular and long-lived Nancy Drew series of first-person graphic adventure games. As fans of the series will note, previous games in the series tend to fall into one of the recurring themes: horror, science, history, or travel. Ghost of Thornton Hall is a nice fit with other games in the Nancy Drew series that also have a horror theme, which include Message in a Haunted Mansion, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, Legend of the Crystal Skull, and (most recently) The Haunting of Castle Malloy. Compared to those games, this game stands out as the scariest and creepiest of them all, with some genuinely hair-raising moments that may well frighten even an adult (much less a youngster). All in all, it is a fun game that fans of previous Nancy Drew games will not be disappointed.
This time, Nancy travels to a small island in bayou country, where she must find Jessalyn Thornton, a bride-to-be who has gone missing during a ghost hunting adventure. The old family, descended from wealthy cotton plantation owners, show up to help. However, it soon becomes apparent that they have brought their old family dramas with them. The family is plagued with disasters. The most recent tragedy involves the death of Charlotte, the cousin of the family's matriarch Clara, in a suspicious fire. Her ghost is now rumored to be haunting the place. The older tragedy involves the deaths of dozens of workers at the cotton gin, also from a fire, decades ago. The blame for their deaths lies squarely on the family's ancestors, whose unscrupulous business practices including locking workers in overnight to keep them working around the clock. It is up to Nancy to figure out who (if any) among the current family members and friends can be trusted, whether there really is a ghost at Thornton Hall, and, of course, the whereabouts of the missing Jessalyn.
The game is set in a ruined old plantation home, inconveniently located on a small island. Once the boat that brings Nancy there pulls away, she is stuck on the island for the duration of her investigation. Fortunately, there are plenty of rooms in the creepy old house for Nancy to explore, as well as a graveyard, a tomb, and many crypts on the property. The developer has again done a good job incorporating some real life history into the game's mythos, with plenty of historical facts about the Civil War and the plantation economy of the deep Southern Colonies. The eerie, fog covered grounds and creaky mansion are unsettling enough, but the haunting screams, ghostly visages, and tense music all ratchet up the creep factor.
Characters are a major part of any Nancy Drew game. This game is no exception. Unlike previous games in the series, however, all of the characters in this game are somber and serious, with very little humor to break the mood. Clara, Jessalyn's mother, seems fairly objective about the ghost, but she seems to be following the example of past family members by abusing her employees. Wade, Clara's cousin, has been in trouble with the law for trying to expose Clara's irresponsible (and illegal) business practices. He is also a diehard believer in the supernatural and is absolutely convinced that ghosts are to blame for Jessalyn's disappearance. Colton, Jessalyn's rather ambivalent fiancé, seems a likely suspect, especially after Nancy learns he is cheating on Jessalyn. Finally, Nancy begins to suspect that another family member is hiding on the property—the allegedly insane Harper, Clara and Wade's cousin and sister to the deceased Charlotte. None of these characters are very likeable. Once again, Nancy can use her phone to talk to her old friend Bess and boyfriend Ned to seek help. She can also use her phone to talk to Savannah, a ghost hunter with connections to Wade, as well as Addison, Jessalyn's best friend. At some point, the entire household seems suspicious. Yet, it is also unclear if Jessalyn has actually been kidnapped or simply chosen to disappear for some reason. Needless to say, there is a great deal of mysteries here for Nancy to solve!
The first part of the game is rather dialog heavy, with a lot of exposition before the player gets to any of the puzzles. Once the puzzles start coming, though, they come rapidly and frequently. Overall, they are more difficult than the puzzles in previous Nancy Drew games. The puzzles in this game range from simple inventory based solutions (such as using turpentine to remove paint) to complex logic games. Although a handy task lists keeps the player oriented, the difficulty levels of a few of the logic puzzles are truly extraordinary. Perhaps the toughest puzzle in the game is a Sudoku inspired puzzle involving magnets that must be placed on the board in a specific pattern. Solving this puzzle alone can take many hours. Another challenging puzzle involves a half dozen clocks, each of which spins at a different speed. Nancy must figure how to set them so that they all strike at midnight at the same moment. This puzzle can be quite baffling but also very satisfying when it is finally solved. Fortunately, and ironically, it is not a timed puzzle! Other puzzles are combinations of staples such as jigsaw and sliding puzzles.
Audiovisually, the game maintains the high production standards set by previous games in the series. Settings are well drawn, and character modeling and animation are slick looking. In fact, I am very impressed with the way hair is being modeled in this game. Rather than straight hair (which is easiest to model), some of the characters in this game have big curly hair that looks and moves quite convincingly. The game's music is good as always, though I am a bit sad to learn that Kevin Manthei has stepped down from his role as the series' music composer. The voice acting is exceptional as usual, though some of the southern accents can be rather campy. Once again, Lani Minella is spectacular as the voice of Nancy Drew.
The only gripe I have with this game is that, for whatever reason, the developer has yet to update the game engine to support widescreen resolutions. I worry that some gamers may dismiss this game as antiquated based solely on this oversight.
Again, the developer has inserted plenty of Easter eggs (including an actual Easter egg!) and lots of insider jokes for Nancy Drew fans into this game. The achievement system has also received a boost, with a dedicated screen that the player can check to see the names of the achievements and whether each of the achievements has been reached yet. There is also a lovely post-credits sequence with tons of hilarious bloopers.
All in all, I have greatly enjoyed playing Nancy Drew: Ghost of Thornton Hall. I highly recommend it to all fans of the series and gamers who enjoy first-person adventures. The story, characters, setting, and puzzles are more than enough to satiate any adventurer and inspired sleuth, young or old.