In between the deadly projectiles, you’ll be solving a variety of puzzles. Many of them involve finding information that particular characters would like to keep hidden from snoops and colleagues. You’ll also be collecting inventory, such as books with information that you’ll need to solve other puzzles, electronic components, and various notes and diaries. Some of the objects you gather go into an evidence bag in your inventory, but it doesn’t appear that you can do anything special with them; they merely serve keep everything that raises suspicion about various suspects in one place.
Some of the simpler logic minigames you’ll come across include anagrams and connect-the-wires puzzles. However, you’ll also need to solve more complicated challenges that involve learning binary code as well as paying attention to the chemical periodic table. You will learn how to create objects using 3D printing by viewing multiple views of the desired object in 2D, and must pay close attention to your surroundings; any scribbles on walls or notes could give you clues to obtaining such things as computer passwords. Sometimes the threat of a character catching you prying hangs over you as you solve these puzzles, which adds a good bit of tension to large portions of the game. And while the music is generally forgettable, the sound work adds delicious friction. The creaking and groaning of an elevator you’re riding about to give way really ramps up the anxiety. You’ll also hear characters talking just out of sight and the ominous sound of a shredder behind a closed door.
There are several timed puzzles, one of which involves solving it before the sabotaged brakes on the aforementioned elevator give out. The other requires making your way out of a maze of vents. I found that I had plenty of time to make my way out through trial and error, but even if you don’t or if you’re caught snooping and get kicked out of the lab, you always have the second chance option, which begins the puzzle over again. I always need to keep a notebook handy when playing Nancy Drew games, and this outing was no exception. I was constantly writing in and consulting mine as I took note of the chemical symbols for hydrofluoric acid, the order in which to turn electronic items on, and the various details of a larger puzzle that were sprinkled throughout the game.
As usual, you’ll get two difficulty levels to choose from: amateur and master sleuth. On the amateur level, you’ll get easier puzzles, a detailed task list, and a welcomed update: the addition of layered hints to your task list. Clueless about what to do next to accomplish a task? Click on a hint. These range from giving you the first stage of a multilevel puzzle to providing the solution outright, with a small amount of waiting time between each hint. While you can’t skip puzzles, you usually get a description or photo of the final solution. One of the exceptions is a Simon-type game where you have to play through and remember a long series of musical notes attached to colored buttons. Another exception is an arcade game called Aggregation. This is a Tetris-Bejeweled combination-type game, and you’ll need to play it to beat a character’s high score in order to move forward. Neither of these tasks proved too difficult on the easier level, fortunately.
This time around, Nancy's smartphone is used to chat with Victor as you progress in your investigation; your pals Frank and Joe Hardy, who can give you some tips as you talk through your discoveries with them; and a partner of necessity, the obnoxious yet helpful Diedre, an old acquaintance of Nancy’s. Feel like taking a break from all that snooping? You can also use your smartphone to play four completely optional minigames. You can receive text messages as well, which will bombard you with messages from a clearly lonely Ned, but will also give you necessary notes at critical junctures. As in previous games, you can use your phone to take photos, which can be especially helpful if you need to remember codes or clues you find along the way.
Codes, chemistry, electrodes, and silicon wafers may sound like the ingredients to a dreadfully dull game. And sure enough, like a slowly charging energy meter, the game takes a while to warm up as you get the lay of the electrical land in the Technology of Tomorrow Today. Yet over the course of nearly nine hours playing through The Deadly Device, I found myself being slowly drawn in to a story that went beyond a typical mystery outing. In fact, the game and its characters get downright philosophical about their work and the murder. What would you do if you were on the cusp of discovering a technology that would bring abundant energy to everyone? Would you sell it to the highest bidder? Would you give it to the world free of charge? It’s a shame there isn’t more to explore here, but with a well-told story that made it difficult for me to figure out the culprit and a wide variety of fun and engaging puzzles, that slow charge builds toward a dramatic and compelling finish.