The Testament of Sherlock Holmes
I’m a detective!
Or at least that’s the sentiment I have when I’m playing The Testament of Sherlock Holmes. I only found out about it a few days before release, and decided to take a gander and see what Frogwares had developed. I realized my purchase was the right one when the game reminded me to save, and when during the loading screen I received a historical tidbit. I am almost finished the game and I can still say that this purchase is definitely worthwhile.
I haven’t played the previous Sherlock Holmes games, so I approach this series with a fresh face and curiosity. Apparently the criticisms of its predecessor, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, stemmed from long loading times, nearly unplayable third-person perspective, and frequent crashes. I am happy to say that these are not an issue with The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, and in fact I found both first person and third person perspectives very enjoyable to play.
The details in the game are exquisite. The bricks look like bricks, the linens like linens. The faces are expressive and unique. The clothing is absolutely dapper and makes me wish I could find some of it in a vintage store. The music doesn’t make me want to go out and buy the soundtrack, but it does add to the atmosphere of the game. The voice acting is almost perfectly suited for each character (save for the heavily caricaturized German accent of one fellow in particular). I found the strongest element of this game to be the atmosphere of immersion. I really could feel to some extent that I was Sherlock Holmes. The story is very linear, but with all the exploration you’re doing as a detective it still feels like you’re really getting to know the universe in which Sherlock Holmes lives. Did I mention that the achievements can be accessed via the main menu? Your achievements are immortalized in virtual medals on a virtual velvet drape. How elegant!
The only issue I had with the narrative was that halfway through there was a huge revelation that turned the story on a different time and for several minutes I was caught up to speed. Showing is more effective than telling, and for a detective game it seemed rather out of place to suddenly tell the gamers, “Oh, here’s what’s really happening.” But my fun certainly wasn’t spoiled.
There are several technical criticisms that I have with the game. No graphical glitches that I could see, some for all the detail that the game provides your eyes, it does feel and act very much like an older generation game. The focus was on the puzzles, but not necessarily the animations, and some looked rather awkward. The mouths didn’t necessarily sync up with the spoken words. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the realism of some other games I have been playing lately. Sometimes my discovery icons would wander across the screen without my input, or Dr. Watson would be in such a hurry to follow me that he kept walking into my character, or my character was in such a hurry that he clearly didn’t notice the giant wall in front of himself. The other frustration was with the clues. I would wander around an area several times, searching for items that I needed. Minute changes to the camera angle and character’s stance mean that searchable clues are unseeable, and in one section I spent a good hour going over the same areas, trying to find clues, only to realize that I needed to get a half-inch closer and tilt the camera angle to forward the story. And it’s not as if these are all small thing such as dust or rings. It’s with windows, or pipes, or ladders that are right in front of the player character. I wish that aspect was more forgivable.
There is a hint button you can press should you get stuck; theoretically it should show you clues you’ve passed over, but I found it useless most of the time. This is quite important as without certain items or information, you can’t proceed with your detective work.
Another one of the criticism of the game’s predecessor was the seemingly useless multitude of puzzles that had Sherlock and Dr. Watson running around doing errands. I haven’t found that to be an issue. Each puzzle that I completed was pertinent to my current case.
You might wonder why this game is rated M. That’s because the nature of the game deals with actual mature subject matter. There’s no fighting, from what I’ve encountered. No crass words all over the place; Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes are gentlemen. But you are dealing with acts of murder, and sinister beings, and acts of terror. I squirmed at the grotesqueness at some of the mutilated beings that I came across. Violence is definitely shown in this game, albeit never too gratuitous.
I personally find it hard to quantify a game and give it an overall score. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a game with a great atmosphere, and even if a game has flaws I just like to have fun with it. The pacing is good, the story in engrossing, and the puzzles are quite fun, albeit the clues deduction can sometimes be tedious. But the game does have quite a few technical flaws that are surprising to have by 2012, and in some cases it acts and feels like a last generation game. If you can forgive the flaws and desire something different that works your brainpower while giving great story and atmosphere (or don’t mind a bit of gaming nostalgia with a 2012 graphics boost), then definitely pick up The Testament of Sherlock Holmes. As of right now, I can’t say how replayable it is, but I stayed up four hours past my bedtime the night before to play it, and I think that says something as to how fun the game is.