Since their debut in 1927 as detectives
in a series of books for young readers, Frank and Joe Hardy have been
solving cases, eventually branching out into comic books and television.
They’ve recently been featured in Nancy Drew games, sometimes as voices on
Nancy’s cell phone, and sometimes as playable characters alongside Ms.
Drew. But in The Hidden Theft, at long last the Hardy Boys are the
chief detectives in their own adventure game and (in a role reversal) it’s
Ms. Drew who becomes a voice on the phone.
Like the Nancy Drew games from Her Interactive, The Hidden Theft
uses a point-and-click interface, and relies heavily on inventory puzzles.
Unlike the Nancy Drew games, the Hardy Boys are seen in third person
perspective, and they crash through their game like bulls in a china shop,
making the delicate Ms. Drew look tidy and law-abiding.
Frank and Joe have sometimes been portrayed as action heroes in the
books. But their first PC adventure does not involve any action sequences
(though there is one timed sequence). In their books, the boys have also
pushed the boundaries of would-this-happen-in-real-life “truthiness,” and
in The Hidden Theft, they continue to test these boundaries. For
example, I found myself frequently shaking my head and wondering, “Will
that evidence be admissible in court after they run tests on it in the
high school lab?” or “Could the doctor have saved that man’s life if the
Hardy Boys hadn’t forced a death bed interrogation?” On the other hand, if
you’re the type of gamer who can willingly suspend disbelief and enjoy an
unusually deep story, as well as some entertaining puzzles, you might want
to put The Hidden Theft on your list.
The game opens as Frank and Joe encounter their mother’s wrath. A
police officer has stopped by the house to report that the boys have been
seen running a red light while riding on their motorcycles. This “police
officer” puts the brothers Hardy on a new case – bearer bonds have been
stolen from a local mansion. There will be international complications if
the bonds are cashed in. Frank and Joe need to get to the crime scene to
find out everything they can. The only problem is that their mother now
doesn’t trust them to leave the house. (Mrs. Hardy is clearly thrilled
with an excuse to ask her sons to do chores instead of solving crimes.) If
this were a Nancy Drew game, everything else would wait while the chores
got done. Since it’s a Hardy Boys game, the boys skip the chores and sneak
out of the house.
The Hidden Theft contains a large and varied cast, and the
characters are uniformly well voiced. If you favor games that emphasize
character interaction, you will enjoy this one. You can click through
dialogs if you choose, though there is sometimes a bit of a lag before
people stop talking. The story is complex, with twists that surprised me.
It’s well crafted and becomes darker as it unfolds -- enough that, though
the plot is still appropriate for children, the nuances will probably be
best understood by older gamers.
The game contains opening and ending cut scenes made up of “comic book
style” frames. These work well to develop the characters of Frank and Joe
in the opening sequence and to establish an effective resolution in the
The puzzles in the game have a wide difficulty range. A few were made
more difficult because the solutions were implausible, but overall they
were amusing and fair. I particularly enjoyed the costume shop puzzle,
where you match accessories with different fantasy and horror themed
displays. The constellation puzzle was also a fun challenge, as was the
“Hamlet’s Twin Brother” scenario, where you experiment with the staging of
music, lights and sound in a theater. In a couple of places, you switch
back and forth between Frank and Joe in order to perform actions that take
place simultaneously while the boys are separated. These provide variety
and work well.
Background music includes a tense action theme at the Hardy home, a
laid-back cool jazz theme in the coffee shop, dissonant and chilling tones
in the costume store, and a choice of varied music to try on the player
piano in the theater.
Each Hardy carries a cell phone which facilitates conversations with a
few of the other characters (including Nancy Drew). The phone also records
certain documents, allowing you to read them there rather than in the
Also on the cell phone is a “Questlog,” which functions as a hint
system. This indicates what the Hardy boys have left undone within that
particular chapter. Sometimes it is a lifesaver but at other times it is
too vague, merely narrowing parameters and not assisting play. For
instance, the log tells you to examine the car, but doesn’t specify
whether your initial search of the car was inadequate, or whether you’ve
missed an inventory item in one of the locations that needs to be used
with the car.
The game installed without a problem and ran smoothly. Happily, it
provides the gamer with unlimited save slots.
I found The Hidden Theft to be frustrating at times. Movement
through the environments was awkward in several places where the
“footsteps” directional icons were difficult to locate.
Another problem – actions that really ought to work, sometimes didn’t.
For instance the game wouldn’t let me give a report to Officer Riley at
the mansion, but would let me give him the same report after he had
returned to police headquarters. This reliance on “triggers” in the game
meant going back to look for directional footsteps or item hotspots where
they didn’t exist before. Searching and then re-searching, trying things
over again to see if anything has just been triggered, is not my favorite
type of gameplay.
Many times I was stuck because, despite the assistance of the Questlog,
I didn’t know what to do next. This was especially annoying because each
time I switched locations to figure out what I’d missed, I encountered
long loading screens (fifteen to twenty seconds each time). This occurred
when leaving the mansion to visit the mansion grounds, or visiting the
different buildings in Manhattan and Bayport. I spent a lot of time in
this game just sitting and looking at the loading screen.
Some consistency issues: the Nexus search database, accessed
immediately after Frank and Joe are trying to find out information about
the victims of the crime (a well-known local family), revealed no
information about them at all. In fact, the database seems to have only
one entry, which is related to a procedural question. I spent a lot of
time searching the Nexus for nonexistent information, when the tiny tidbit
I finally gleaned from it could have been provided in a short handwritten
note. Why include such a limited database in the first place?
Character responses at times are random and inadvertently ironic. When
Frank removes a bloodstained piece of cloth that is essential evidence, he
casually comments: “I don’t think anyone will miss this” – the same
comment he uses when picking up an old hubcap. The game map, which allows
the gamer to travel between disparate locations, is very strange. The map
makes it look as though Long Island has collided with New Jersey,
squeezing Manhattan Island northward until it’s part of the mainland.
Small problems like these start to add up and (depending on how much
you care the authenticity of the gameworld) make the game seem slapdash.
The Not So Pretty
Character models are lifelike and detailed, but character movement is
rather robotic. Faces during conversations look stiff, though the
excellent voiceover work covers up for this inadequacy. Occasionally, a
non-player character disappears from one part of the screen and suddenly
reappears in another place or another position, which is a trifle
I found some of the game environments to be disappointing. They feature
intriguing angles and give an impression of photorealism, but on my way
through the game I encountered a few too many empty, abandoned or
dilapidated rooms. With the exception of the Hardy home and local shops,
the buildings felt cold, as though no one lived or worked in them. Some
objects and furnishings show interesting detail. The classic car, for
instance, is lovingly rendered with bright metallic highlights. But at
other times, objects are flat and collaged – a hedge that looks like
leaf-patterned wallpaper, solid blocks of color representing curtains and
window panes, or clothing tossed on a bed that looks cardboard stiff. It’s
not uncommon in The Hidden Theft to encounter four or more
characters holding a conversation and moving in or out of the room;
perhaps in scenes with multiple characters, intricately rendered objects
had to be sacrificed.
One place where the graphics do work unusually well is the costume
store in Manhattan, with its eerie green light, extreme shadows and
alcoves occupied by elaborately costumed mannequins. The whole store has a
bizarre atmosphere that contrasts nicely with the sunlit, wholesome
atmosphere in Bayport.
My twelve-year-old son also played this game and enjoyed it,
particularly the can-do quality of the Hardy Boys, their rapport with one
another, and the respect with which they are treated by the adults in the
town of Bayport. With subtitles on, he spent hours reading and thinking
and solving puzzles -- and beat the game before I did. The Hidden Theft
is nonviolent, though off-screen violence is implied. Since finishing, my
son has started reading the new Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers graphic
novel series. (I often find that mystery adventure games pique his
interest in reading if the game is based on a series like this one.) That
said, a preteen action gamer will find the pace of this game to be slow
when compared to action titles. And figuring out what to do in The
Hidden Theft is difficult enough that gamers of any age will probably
need to sneak a peek at a walkthrough before they identify the thief.
Quick List for The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft
An engaging introduction to the Hardy Boys for a generation who may not
have encountered them. A surprisingly deep mystery plot with Frank and Joe
solving a major theft that has stumped the Bayport police. Third person
perspective, point-and-click interface.
A cast of multiple, well voiced and intriguing characters. Character
movement is noticeably stiff.
Many inventory puzzles, some pattern based puzzles, one timed puzzle.
No sliders, no mazes, no sound matching challenges, one color based
puzzle. The inventory is easy to use. Note: double-clicking on items in
inventory is sometimes required (this will come as a surprise if you don’t
read the brief walkthrough in the manual). Two difficult puzzles: the
nurse’s box/arrow/grid puzzle and figuring out where to put the gauze.
Game structure encourages revisiting and searching the environments over
and over; long load times between locations make this frustrating.
One haunting, weirdly classy location in Manhattan. Otherwise, graphics
are serviceable, if a bit sparse in certain locations.
Unlimited save slots. You cannot die. A fairly effective Hint system.
No problems with installation or glitches.
The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft is aimed at mystery lovers who
enjoy character interaction and complex plots – especially gamers who have
a soft spot in their hearts for the Hardy Boys.
Final Grade: B-
Note: Information about the history of the Hardy Boys was taken from
My Computer Specs:
Windows XP Professional
Pentium 2.80 GHz
2046 MB RAM
Direct X 9.0c
512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX
SB X-Fi Audio
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