I Say, Holmes!
There has always been something quite dark about Sherlock Holmes when portrayed correctly. But nothing could have prepared me for the horror I witnessed involving children in the early scenes of The Testament of Sherlock Holmes. It was not that anything bad happened to the kids, they were just playing happily in the attic before coming across a journal that leads into the game proper. What I found disturbing was the children’s faces – they looked downright creepy.
Developers Frogwares are not new to turning out Sherlock Holmes games and previous successes ensured that this latest adventure title could be given a larger budget. Now I haven’t seen Frogwares accounts, but the most obvious improvement that has come from this increased budget is undoubtedly the visuals. In an attempt to make the game appeal to a more mainstream gaming audience, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes looks very nice. It’s not quite up there with the AAA games, but the set pieces and environments are well detailed, authentic and offer a real sense of atmosphere. Even the characters look good for the most part, with one exception. The faces are quite simply wrong. For the majority of the cast, the faces are passable and will not raise an eyebrow. However, those children at the beginning of the game are the stuff of nightmares and could quite easily cause more than a few sleepless nights.
Aside from a few cut scenes, we don’t need to trouble ourselves with the children any more. Let’s get down to the serious business of solving mysteries. My hat goes off to the people who devised the story in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, as they have really managed to capture the essence of what makes a good Sherlock Holmes story. In my mind, Holmes is not a very pleasant man, and the game manages to portray this more and more as the story progresses. It all starts with the case of a missing necklace, which Holmes will solve with his usual dismissive, aloof manner. Things then take a turn as Holmes is accused of switching the real necklace with a fake and then the story builds. In the process of finding out who is trying to frame him for various crimes, the player will accompany Holmes as he uses questionable techniques and crosses lines whilst being hounded by both the press and the police, spiralling ever deeper into darkness. This is quite a mature story, but one that is handled very well and does a good job of keeping the player gripped.
Fortunately, the puzzles go a long way to keeping the player involved in the game, rather than acting as intervals to the enjoyable story. The player controls their character directly as they investigate various scenes. Holmes has a sixth sense which causes interactive objects to glow, removing a lot of hit and miss action, and players will examine clues and question suspects, leading to a number of possible conclusions. This is where the deduction board comes in. Players are able to make their own deductions, in a multiple choice format, about what the clues actually mean. Once deductions have been made, play progresses. In this respect, the gameplay is fairly straight forward, although that does not necessarily mean that the solutions are. Sometimes the solutions can be very far fetched, whilst still remaining logical, which fits in quite well with the general Holmes feeling.
However, there were a number of occasions when the progression halted. Actions need to happen within an order and this can lead to the player having to go over things multiple times as the outcomes of interaction could have changed since triggering something else. This can be a little tiresome as it is not always clear what to do, and use of an online walkthrough may be required.
Besides the main mysteries of the cases that Holmes is working on, there are a selection of more straight forward puzzles, the likes of which can be found in most puzzle games. Complex lock mechanisms will need to be picked, grids will need pegs inserted and chess boards will need to be cleared. These puzzles will be entertaining to the puzzle fans, some of them are quite tricky, but the adventure gamers will find them a distraction that need to be completed as quick as possible.
The production values are much more mainstream in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes. I have already mentioned the visuals which, aside from the faces, are very good. The controls and menus work well and even the sound is passable, although I would have preferred some slightly better voice actors and a more natural feeling script. The game may be a bit rough around the edges, but the excellent story and maturity more than make up for it.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a grown up game that will appeal to adventure fans that yearn for something a bit more thoughtful. There is no doubt it could use a bit more polish, but the engrossing story will suck you in enough to overlook any faults. The game is never going to be a big hit, but gamers who pick the game up will still enjoy the ride.