Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered



Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Her Interactive

Released:  August 2010

PC Requirements:   Windows XP/Vista, 1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU, 256 MB of RAM, 1 GB or more of hard drive space, 32 MB DirectX 9.0 compatible video card, 16 bit DirectX compatible sound card, 24X CD-ROM drive, mouse, and speakers






by Becky


Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill, the first Nancy Drew PC game, was released in 1998. Twelve years and more than twenty games later, the series featuring the famous detective has been wildly successful. The developer, Her Interactive, has just released a remastered version of their debut title. Has our intrepid Ms. Drew changed over the years? How have technological developments affected the game and gameplay? What follows is a comparison of the old and new versions, as well as some thoughts as to what type of gamer is most likely to enjoy the new makeover.

The case in both the original and the remastered versions has Nancy investigating the death of a student at Paseo Del Mar High School in Florida. The school is home to the Fighting Manatees football team, and a star player figures in the game's plot. Amusing pictures of giant manatees with boxing gloves adorn the walls. Nancy's Aunt Eloise is the school librarian, and doesn't object to Nancy using her library key to snoop around while undercover as a new student.

Back to my Old School

My initial impression after playing both games: the newer version contains significant improvements, especially in terms of presentation and game mechanics. The viewing area in the original game takes up only about half the screen. The interface in the original is downright frustrating in places, forcing the gamer to click repeatedly on the menu buttons and dialogs to get them to work. It's a challenge just to locate the "back" arrow in the close-up screens.

In addition, the original game ships on two CDs, and you have to swap them when you enter different locations. (Remember disk swapping?) For huge environments, disk swapping might be tolerable. But Secrets Can Kill has limited environments: a few hallways, a diner, the school library and a handful of other rooms. Despite the small number of locations, while playing the original, I swapped the disks almost twenty times. Near the end, where there's quite a bit of back-and-forthing, I was swapping every five minutes or so.

The remastered version of Secrets Can Kill, thankfully, ships on DVD, eliminating the swapping. (A heartfelt "thank you" to whoever invented DVDs.) The new version has a full screen option and the interface is much smoother, with consistent "back" arrows and single click dialogs and menus. The only disappointment --the 360 degree panning is still somewhat jerky. Voiceovers have been updated -- Lani Minella voices Nancy in both versions, but in the later version Nancy's voice has gained nuance and distinctive perkiness.  (You can't click through the dialogs.)

The character models are now in 3D, rather than the jaggy cartoon characters in the original game. And all kinds of small improvements have been introduced into Secrets Remastered. For instance, the fall football season now doesn't occur at the same time as the May Senior Prom. Nancy is now less impulsive: in the remastered version, she doesn't actively break the law, or try to corral others into risking their lives before going to the police. A new character has surfaced in the later version -- a police detective, who contacts Ms. Drew after the local law enforcement has been stymied, giving the remade game a more realistic premise than the original, in which Nancy sneaks into the school while the official investigation is still proceeding.

The plot is similar in both versions, and the mystery is well presented, with energizing twists. The characters keep the game compelling, as they give their opinions of the murder victim, and unintentionally give information about themselves in the process. The new version also has a different ending, so playing the original won't spoil the ending for the remastered version.

The Unexpected

I was surprised to see that some of the characteristic Nancy Drew elements had developed after the original version. You can fail in the original, which puts you at the Second Chance menu, but the chuckle-inducing "you blew it" statements apparently came later to the series. Much of the puzzling in the original involves decoding messages, and some of these don't actually figure into the process of solving the case -- they just add atmosphere. In later games, virtually every puzzle solution reveals important information or is applied somewhere -- it isn't merely a contribution to the creepiness factor. (Some of these coded messages are changed in Secrets Remastered, and they have been worked into a crucial multi-stepped puzzle.)

The diner in the original game has two arcade video game machines, but no mini-games that can be played on them! This is practically a form of apostasy when it comes to Nancy Drew games, which are now known for their formidable mini-games. (The later version does provide an optional twitch game, "Barnacle Blast" which is available on one of the arcade machines.)

Another surprise: compared to later games, the original Secrets feels quite short. Added together, total playing time for both versions was about the same as for one recent Nancy Drew game. It's tempting to speculate about this. The amount of character interaction is about the same in Secrets as in other games, and the plot is almost as twisty. Later games have additional content: more puzzles, mini-games, and more compelling "local color" (information about the setting or history of the local area). But there's also more repetition in later games -- time spent trying to drive a car or steer a boat; time spent swimming through an underwater maze, doing laundry or preparing meals.  

Secrets are Still Deadly

My ostensible purpose for playing both the original and Secrets Remastered was to advise players of the original whether playing the newer version is worthwhile. By itself, Secrets Remastered  is a good, though unexceptional game. However, I particularly enjoyed playing it in conjunction with (and comparing it to) the original version. If you own the original and are the least bit curious about trends in the design of these games, play the two versions together. (It's too bad the original isn't included on the Secrets Remastered DVD to make it easier to compare them.)

Another reason I particularly enjoyed Secrets Remastered was its many references to previous Nancy Drew games -- in library books, in the jukebox music, etc. All of these allusions contribute to the gamer's enjoyment. But they would be unrecognizable to someone playing this -- the first game -- as an introduction to the series.

So if you're a newcomer to the Nancy Drew games, I wouldn't recommend starting with this one. Since the plot in each game is self-contained, you should pick a game that has a theme or a location that happens to intrigue you, and start with that one. If you want lots of puzzles, start with a game like Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon. If you'd like to see backstabbing intrigue among students in fancy academic surroundings, try Warnings at Waverly Academy. If you'd like exotic environments, try The Phantom of Venice, or if you'd like to be horrified while snooping around, give Legend of the Crystal Skull a try.

Once you've played other Nancy Drew games and would enjoy all the references and allusions in this one, Secrets Can Kill Remastered is worth your while.

Quick List for Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered

A refashioning of the original Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill, which is more fun for series veterans than for newbies. Nancy investigates the death of a student and discovers hidden motivations and dangers. First person perspective, point-and-click interface.

Inventory and decoding puzzles, an optional mini-game, one slider, no mazes, no sound based challenges. Some codes are easier to decipher if you can distinguish colors. One fairly difficult challenge, where you use trial and error to find the right sequence for pulling levers before time runs out. You can't die, but you can fail. The game puts you back into the environment before the failure. The most difficult puzzle -- a coded message with 18 steps. You can play on Junior or Senior levels.

Somewhat limited environments -- a public high school, a diner, and a private home. A small cast of characters, a fairly complicated plot, good voiceovers. No problems with installation; no glitches. An optional opening tutorial. Unlimited save slots.

Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered is aimed at fans of the Nancy Drew series -- comparing it to its original version will interest those with an aptitude for adventure game history.

Final Grade: B

What I played it on: 

Dell Studio XPS 8000

Windows 7 Home Premium

Intel Core i5-750 processor


1024MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 220

Soundblaster X-Fi


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