Today I’m going to talk about a game I didn’t think I’d ever get to play. Announced in 2015, it took four years for Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem to finally see the light of day. For a series that had previously maintained a 6 month release schedule since 1998, four years is a pretty long stretch of radio silence.
But Midnight (MID in fandom parlance) did eventually release completely, almost under my nose in late 2019. Was it worth the wait?
I’m not saying that Midnight in Salem is a bad game. It’s really just more of the same Nancy Drew gameplay that we’ve come to love: fun puzzles, an intriguing story, lots of characters to meet and environments to explore. The works.
But that in itself is a problem, as there’s just not many good qualities that separate MID from a game that hadn’t been delayed for several years. And, unfortunately, there are several bad ones.
The move to full 3D brought with it much jankier navigation and control schemes. The town square and museum areas are the biggest culprits here: just getting from one side of the square to the other takes quite a few non-obvious clicks and could be genuinely frustrating at times. I don’t know where the move to full 3D environments went wrong, because the control scheme hasn’t really changed at its core: you still click on an area to move towards it. But there’s just something off about where you need to click to get to a particular area.
Included with the move to 3D was the ability to inspect and rotate inventory items up close, but sadly I can only remember one instance where this was actually helpful in solving a puzzle. I kept checking the back of every letter and document I picked up for some secret or another, only to be disappointed every time.
There are also numerous visual glitches and flaws in the game that, while not game breaking, definitely broke immersion. The driving cutscenes are simply ugly with the landscape outside of the car windows being nothing but flat grass and the odd tree, with the map’s horizon line clearly visible.
When it comes to the move to 3D, I’m just not sure the change was really worth it. What it added was barely utilized and it brought with it a host of issues that make the game less enjoyable to play. I definitely believe that HER will improve on these issues in future games as they get more used to their new toolset, but I simply don’t believe the change was necessary. Why fix what wasn’t broken to begin with?
Oh, and the UI just sucks. It only has room on screen for one sentence of dialogue at a time, so seeing the full dialogue all in one place is flat out impossible.I miss the old panel in the very first games that allowed you to scroll through the entire conversation so far. And for some reason voice lines don’t skip when you forward through the dialogue faster than the actor is reading it, which is rather annoying.
But it’s not all bad. The story was still interesting enough to keep me engaged, and there was never a total dud of a puzzle. Things start to get a bit shaky near the end when it becomes very apparent that certain parts of the game were rewritten some ways into production. A puzzle item from Nancy’s inventory inexplicably shows up in the Hardy boys’ and is only explained with a passing reference to an off-screen handover some time later, after the boys come across a puzzle that, conveniently, requires said item. But the narrative managed to keep itself together (even better than certain other games in the series) and the conclusion was nonetheless satisfying.
The villain’s motive was a bit lackluster, but at least she wasn’t a feral old woman with a jetpack.
Despite the frustrating controls and bad UI, I still enjoyed the 8 hours it took me to finish Midnight in Salem. I don’t think the game is bad at its core, but it made a lot of very questionable visual decisions that bring it down. Once you strip away the annoying navigation and dialogue UI, it’s still a part of the same series of games I grew up with, and having another adventure with Nancy and the Hardy Boys was extremely comforting, what with the stressful state of the world right now. Nancy’s new voice actor does a great job, and despite missing Lani’s performance, I have to admit that the new voice pulls off “teenager” better.
There were two very obvious sequel hooks in MID, so I hope this turbulent entry isn’t the end of the series. Despite questioning the choice, I don’t think the move to 3D environments is going to doom the franchise, but I do think a lot of the game’s issues come from implementing this new feature poorly. But with feedback and experience to learn from, here’s hoping the next game in the series doesn’t run into the same issues MID did.