"As a mystery story, White Wolf is somewhat dry. Nancy has been hired to investigate a series of dangerous incidents, including a few explosions, at Icicle Creek Lodge, but in order to fully investigate she’ll have to pull triple duty as a maid, cook, and detective. The plot unfolds steadily enough, but there’s never really the level of intrigue or danger that it so desperately tries to achieve. Sure, there are bombings—but nobody dies. Yeah, everyone’s a viable suspect with possible motives—but, really, so what?"
I don’t know much about Nancy Drew. From what I’ve seen, she’s a normal, spunky, go-getter type of small-town girl whose life is plagued with mystery upon mystery and who, at least if her new feature film is any indication, is quite a talent at accessorizing. But behind that pastel daisy brooch is a brain capable of solving even the toughest murders, kidnappings, and pirate treasure counterfeit schemes, and my mother’s generation seems to have gotten a kick out of it, because Nancy—at this point a sixty-year-old woman imprisoned in a teenager’s body—is still alive and well, having new adventures left, right, and even in Canada. The White Wolf of Icicle Creek, a new game “for mystery fans” from HeR Interactive, has our Nancy solving yet another puzzler at an old-fashioned lodge in the Canadian Rockies—and, as it turns out, has the player engaging in a rather clever, old-fashioned, if somewhat simple adventure game.
As a mystery story, White Wolf is somewhat dry. Nancy has been hired to investigate a series of dangerous incidents, including a few explosions, at Icicle Creek Lodge, but in order to fully investigate she’ll have to pull triple duty as a maid, cook, and detective. The plot unfolds steadily enough, but there’s never really the level of intrigue or danger that it so desperately tries to achieve. Sure, there are bombings—but nobody dies. Yeah, everyone’s a viable suspect with possible motives—but, really, so what? The goal of any of the suspects is simply to close down the lodge, so the stakes are barely high enough to care about.
Still, the progression of the story—if you can call it that—is well-paced and well-executed. Nancy learns of new clues, suspects, and secrets mostly through conversations with the lodge’s five inhabitants, old journals, and phone conversations. Talking is a tedious affair, particularly because there is no option to “skip ahead;” even if you’ve read an entire subtitle, you’ll have to wait until the character finishes speaking. Luckily, the voice acting is genuine and believable, and even the Fredonian character’s accent doesn’t detract from the experience—that is, until Nancy starts speaking. Why does the most abundant voice have the worst actor behind it? Let’s get Encyclopedia Brown on that case.
Otherwise, the presentation is unobtrusive. The character models, set against pre-rendered, Myst-like background, gesture and speak in sync with their lines, and the lodge and its surroundings are detailed and interesting. Moving is restricted to certain angles; the cursor determines where you’re allowed to move, so while you’ll often feel restricted, it’s also reassuring knowing that every clue is within eyesight.
Perhaps as a necessity, White Wolf includes several mini-games, all of them mandatory at one point or another, that range from clever and engaging, such as a Minesweeper-esque snow-shoveling chore or an old-fashioned game of Fox and Geese, to the downright mundane, such as the repetitive, mindless, unavoidable snowball fights. Two of the game’s miniature adventures involve life-or-death situations with Nancy forced to act quickly or ascend to the great Sorority in the Sky, and these two are the game’s worst moments. It’s one thing to offer the player a brain-teaser with a time limit; it’s another to impose a virtually random twenty-second click-fest with a five percent chance of success. Since you’ll be multitasking as a lodge employee as well as a detective, the game also throws daily cooking and housekeeping tasks your way, and—trust me—you’ll never want to cook a virtual omelette again.
The rest of Nancy’s adventure, at least, is well designed with some puzzles that are both way too easy and clever enough to still keep it fun. The best puzzle involves an old journal encrypted with a simple cipher, which seems much more difficult to crack than it really is. The problem, ultimately, is that the good puzzles are relatively scarce. Most of the game’s frustration stems from being lost rather than stuck; I spent most of my time looking for the next event trigger, aimlessly wandering the halls. Even Nancy’s meticulous notes are no help. Even if you think you have a lead, chances are you won’t be allowed to pursue it, since the dialogue trees only let you ask questions the game deems necessary.
In the end, White Wolf is a refreshing reminder that the adventure genre is still around. It’s certainly no Monkey Island, but it’s enough to warrant its production. But while Guybrush’s exploits left me feeling accomplished at the end, Nancy’s adventure just felt like the end of a laundry cycle. My socks are dry, I’ve got a week of clean clothes, and cleaning the lint trap was surprisingly fun, but if I could avoid it I would probably prefer never to do it again.
Staff review by Zack M (July 17, 2007)
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