The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft


Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Xpec Entertainment

Publisher:    The Adventure Company

Released:  October 2008

PC Requirements:   Windows 2000/XP, 1.4 GHz Pentium Processor, 256MB RAM, 1.5 GB disk space, 16x CD/DVD-ROM, 64MB DirectX 9 compatible Video card, DirectX 9


Additional Screenshots




by Becky


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 Good

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 epilogue.

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 inventory.

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.

The Bad

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 startling.

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.

Sneakily “Educational”?

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


October 2008

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