by Caitlin Roberts
reviewed on PC
I never get tired of well made point-and-click puzzlers, and there is something about the Nancy Drew series that just keeps pulling me back every time I think I might have outgrown them. This is particularly troubling at times when I really can't afford to be getting distracted by 'a game' when the demands of the rest of my life are already threatening to overwhelm me. But this is exactly what happened when I was handed a copy of Nancy Drew: Ghost of Thornton Hall. The first time I died – I DIED, I always forget that Nancy can get killed in these games! I was hopelessly hooked and determined that I would finish this out, whatever the cost.
A call in the middle of the night from your old friend Savannah prompts a trip South, to the estate of the Thornton family – Thornton Hall, located on an island just off the coast of Georgia. Savannah has some mysterious connection to the Thornton family but refuses to go there herself, claiming her belief in ghosts would only get in the way of solving the mystery of Jessalyn Thornton's disappearance.
Jessalyn and her best friend Addison spent the night at the abandoned estate with her best friend, on a ghost-themed scavenger hunt as something of a non-traditional hen party to celebrate Jessalyn's upcoming nuptials. The two of them got separated at some point in the night, and while Jessalyn returned for a short period, her behaviour was strange. When she disappeared for a second time and did not return, Addison raised a panicked alarm.
The search for the missing heiress is complicated both by the history of Thornton Hall itself, where a series of tragedies across several generations have reinforced the rumours that the estate is haunted, and also by Jessalyn's family and fiancé, who seem not only at odds with each other, but also appear to have mixed feelings about Jessalyn's disappearance as well as motivation to find her. You, as Nancy Drew, quickly realize that there is more than one mystery to be solved, if you have any chance at all to discover the truth behind the disappearance of the heiress and restore her to her family.
It shouldn't come as any surprise that a Nancy Drew game titled Ghost of Thornton Hall is... dark. It will occasionally be frustrating, when you're trying to find something in an even darker corner of an already dark tunnel. But the house and grounds of the estate are beautifully rendered and the 'dark' feel of the game is in keeping with the storyline. That being said, it's just not as scary as I had hoped it would be. This is a game you could play in the darkness of a moonless Friday with all the lights off, and not be overly affected by goosebumps or things that go bump in the night.
The Thornton family – or should I say, the Thornton family's secrets – are what really drive the game. The storyline itself is intriguing, though there are so many 'off screen' characters referred to that the timelines occasionally blurred. The primary mystery of finding Jessalyn is closely linked with the mystery of the death of Charlotte Thornton, and Charlotte's subsequent haunting of the estate... but the secrets, the clues, the puzzles all reach beyond that and trace back through the family history to the industrial revolution, and even tie in a few elements (it's almost a requirement for South-based stories!) to the Civil War. I wouldn't have minded if there had been a few more historical facts dropped in; I find I usually learn at least a few interesting factoids during the course of a Nancy Drew game.
I have to admit some of the sub-plots escaped me. I normally enjoy them; they round out the story and add flavour to the game. But this time there are a few that seem to be put in only to push the main plot in a particular direction – which is good – but otherwise they just don't fit with the rest of the story, or don't get their loose ends tied up by the end of the game. The relationship between Jessalyn and her fiancé, for instance, only serves, as far as I can tell, to add another 'odd reaction' to Jessalyn's disappearance.
Good variety of puzzles.
Could have been scarier.