Nancy Drew: The Final Scene
Haven't bad guys learned yet not to mess with plucky Girl Detective Nancy Drew? A minor scoop turns into a major crime when Nancy's student reporter friend Maya vanishes without a trace in an antique theater where Houdini once dazzled audiences. But as Nancy (pluckily) warns the kidnapper, "You're messing with the wrong girls! She's a reporter, and I'm a detective, and we don't scare easy." You'll need all the pluck you've got to snoop around and solve the case, because the police are worse than useless in Nancy Drew: The Final Scene.
Control for this adventure game is entirely with the mouse. It is highly advisable to complete the tutorial before playing a game, especially if you're not used to this style of navigation. Figuring out how to turn around and what the layout of the room is can be disorienting until you get the hang of it. Click on objects and people to interact with them. There are two modes: Junior Detective, suitable for younger or more inexperienced gamers, and Senior Detective, for people who want a challenge. There are two timed puzzles, but there is no penalty for trying again, and once you know exactly what you're doing the timer is more than ample.
Nancy Drew: The Final Scene first came out as a PC game for purchase on CD-ROM in 2001. This means that, yes, the graphics are just a tad dated. That being said, I would rather play a game that doesn't look that great but has a sparkling script, compelling plot, and fun gameplay than the plethora of shiny but vacuous games that I've seen lately both on consoles and for PC, so I was perfectly happy with The Final Scene.
Analysis: An adventure game lives and dies by its plot, and I really cannot think of any complaints to make about The Final Scene. I immediately cared about Maya and wanted to know what happened to her. Nancy is brave, cheeky, intuitive, admired, and clever, and by controlling her the player gets to be all these things vicariously. While the suspects fulfill certain stereotypes (the self-absorbed actor, the scheming Hollywood agent, the young radical, and the devoted old caretaker), they are all rounded, not one-track. Some of the red herrings and throwaway details pointed to surprising depths, in fact, and I'm still curious about who "Georgie-Bear" is. I'm also fascinated by vintage entertainment, so the forays into the tricky world of the early stage magicians were right up my street—there's even a magic trick Nancy reads about in the game that you can do in real life, with a bit of practice and some cheaply obtainable props.
This is all revealed through a vivacious and extensive script, performed by voice actors who are clearly having fun. The part that had me cracking up the most was the optional calls to Nancy's friends Ned and Bess. I'm a college student, and some of the lines were exactly the sort of things my friends might say to each other. I loved when Bess and George responded to Nancy's goodbye with a chorus of "Watch out for weird people!", and the flirting between Ned and Nancy was actually sweet and realistic instead of forced and saccharine. Even if you never get stuck, I recommend calling them a couple of times just for the fun of it.
I also liked having manual saves, enabling me to try a conversation or a puzzle more than once, and the "second chance" feature, which means that you can never get into an unwinnable situation. The mystery unfolds at a good pace, with a few twists to keep you on your toes. I thought I knew who the kidnapper was, then I thought it was someone else, then the first person, then someone else entirely, then maybe all of them working together! At the same time, I never thought the game was being unfair by making the case impossible to solve logically.
Given the manual saves, however, the non-skippability of some of the conversations becomes a real drag. If you decide you've made a mistake and you want to go back to an earlier save, you have to sit through lengthy conversations all over again. While in most conversations you can at least amuse yourself by choosing slightly different answers, some of the conversations are effectively cut scenes, with no player input. Being able to skip ahead would make things a lot easier. The puzzles all appear without instructions and are non-skippable too, which may send some players scrambling for a walkthrough, and the puzzles don't reset when backing out of them, so if you get truly stuck and the walkthrough you have assumes you're starting from scratch, you may need to go to an earlier save.
I also would have liked to have truly had a final cutscene instead of the "Dear Bess: Here is a letter where I talked about what happened while photographs and newspaper articles pop up on the screen" approach. Mostly because at that point I liked all the characters so much that I wanted to hear more about them. Although I had to laugh at the corner of a tabloid newspaper that popped up in the cutscene which read "Crime Follows Nancy Drew: COINCIDENCE?" Maybe for her next case Nancy can investigate herself.