Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull is the 17th title in Her Interactive’s long-running PC adventure game series starring teenage sleuth Nancy Drew – and it’s also the newest (unlike past Nancy Drew downloads, which have been versions of older games that originally came out on CD-ROM months or even years ago). We hope you have a fast Internet connection, because the size of this download is a whopping 973MB – fortunately, good things come to those who wait.

The story begins when Nancy and her good friend Bess arrive in New Orleans for a relaxing long weekend vacation of good music, food, and sight-seeing. While there, Nancy checks up on friend-of-a-friend Henry, whose uncle and only living relative, reclusive bachelor Bruno Brulet, has just died. However, when Nancy arrives at Bruno’s mansion, she encounters a strange figure in a skull mask who throws a smoke bomb at her and promptly disappears. Nancy decides to stay and investigate the old house, the people connected to it, and the cloudy circumstances of Bruno’s death in the hopes of finding out the identity of the strange skull-wearing apparition.

Legend of the Crystal Skull is a point-and-click adventure, meaning players use the mouse to move around Bruno’s estate and look at or pick up objects of interest. When the cursor moves over an item of interest it outlines in red and can be clicked on – this could be an item to add to the inventory (to be used later), an important note or book to read for clues, a puzzle to solve (such as tile puzzles, decipherable locks or object-oriented challenges), or a character to chat with.

This isn’t the first time Nancy’s had to investigate a mysterious old house (she did in Nancy Drew: Curse of the Blackmoor Manor as well), but this time the focus is on exploring not only the house, but the surrounding grounds with its lush gardens, imposing archways, and numerous family mausoleums.

As in past games, Nancy can use her cell phone to call a list of trusted friends and associates to ask for help and get hints about what to do next. (If you’re playing as a Junior Detective, the easier of the two game modes, you’ll also get a notebook with a todo list to follow.) You also get to play parts of the game as Nancy’s friend Bess, who runs various errands for Nancy around New Orleans such as visiting an antiques shop to check out the number on a receipt, and going to a cafe to talk to a character who has important information about the case.

Conversations with characters – whether it’s the morose Henry, the eccentric housekeeper Renee, Bruno’s friend Dr. Buford or antique shop owner Lamont – involve selecting questions and answers from a list. More questions will appear in the conversation window as Nancy progresses in her investigation. While branching dialogue choices is nice idea, choosing one response over the other didn’t actually seem to have any consequences- for example, early in the game Nancy can either drink a strange liquid concoction Renee offers her or refuse it, but whichever answer you choose, the outcome is the same.

The game’s graphics, sound and music are undeniably well done. There’s less of a distinction here between pre-rendered animated sequences and the regular in-game movements of characters, which are more detailed than ever before. Characters move realistically and display a range of facial expressions. The dialogue, sound effects and music also contribute positively to the overall experience.

Legend of the Crystal Skull doesn’t approach the maddening level of difficulty that some other point-and-click adventures do, but the game isn’t exactly easy either. Funnily enough, the puzzle that I got stuck on for ages was a finicky Skee ball type game where the goal was to launch balls to land in very specific areas of a large grid to rotate panels a certain way. There are a handful of these action-oriented puzzles in the game – in another you must spray wasps to retrieve a hanging fruit from a tree – and they might prove frustrating for someone who isn’t inclined towards reflex-based challenges.

This issue aside – and really, the game has only a handful of puzzles that you won’t be able to “think” your way out of – Legend of the Crystal Skull is still one of the most life-like and compelling Nancy Drew games yet thanks to an assortment of interesting characters, a suitably creepy atmosphere, challenging puzzles and some of the best production value we’ve seen yet in a Nancy Drew game.