One of the best things about video games is their ability to immerse you in worlds that are decidedly different from those that you actually live in. Even if you’re a student that spends hours upon hours of each day studying in order to earn whatever degree you might be aiming for, in video games, you can be anything you want, from a weapons expert for the army to a martial arts champion with supernatural powers to the owner operator of a charming restaurant. Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy, is a game that takes this idea very seriously. It uses the adventure game format to make players feel like they really are a detective undercover at a private school, digging for clues and piecing together evidence from conversations, and it does this successfully. The fact that it does do this so well, however, is the game’s biggest problem.
On the surface, everything about Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy is actually pretty good. Although some textures tend to have a strange blur as you wander through the halls, the graphics are perfectly passable. Everything is clearly drawn enough that finding everything you need to see is never much of a hassle, and each character is represented by a CG model that, though it lacks detail, conveys the character’s personality well. The sound is also without major faults. Neither the sound effects nor the voice acting is excellent, but they both work pretty well within the game to create a sense of immersion.
The real problems with the game start with the gameplay itself. At first, it seems like a typical adventure game and, as such, is fairly enjoyable. You play as Nancy Drew as she interrogates people, searches for clues, and, of course, uses items she finds with objects in the environment to solve puzzles. There are even a few minigames to break up the monotony in case all of the old-school adventuring starts to drag you down. All of this is nicely done, with well written, if not stereotypical, characters, puzzles that are easy to solve without insulting the player’s intelligence, and a good variety of tasks to complete. Despite the game’s overall quality, however, it soon becomes a grind dull enough to make you wish that you were reading the listings in a TV Guide carefully enough to pass a comprehension quiz.
While some of the game benefits from the game’s tendency towards immersion, allowing players to feel as if they really are detectives, the attention to detail when it comes to the fact that the game is set in a school is not nearly as much of an advantage. The game forces you to help people with homework, sticks you in a mind-numbing on-campus job in food service, and even punishes you for misbehavior with demerits from a strict RA. Though all of this contributes to the game’s atmosphere, it isn’t any fun to play. When jumping through the game’s private school hoops, all I could think about was how glad I was to have graduated from all of the stupid things that it was putting me through, and for gamers that are still trapped within a school’s rigid boundaries, I imagine it’ll prove to be even more of a headache. Pretending to be a student is not only an escape from reality, but, at least for me, was a reminder of all the things that I’ve spent hour after hour playing video games to avoid.
Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy is an excellent example of a game that could have been a lot of fun had it just done a few things differently. The game is well constructed, a decent value, considering the ratio of length to price, and has a more than adequate level of presentation. In forcing players to help virtual people with virtual homework and earn their virtual keep with virtual sandwich making, however, the game becomes a real-life experience in slogging through a point and click adventure game. Considering the interesting mystery and intelligently written characters, it’s a bit of a shame, but the way that the game prioritizes realism over adventure makes Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy difficult to recommend.
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