Decent puzzle games are an increasing rarity in the major console world. I’ve always been a big fan of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so it was with some excitement that I got my hands on The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, a puzzle adventure game by Frogwares with an original story featuring The Great Detective. Let’s dredge out our magnifying glasses, deerstalkers, and pipes, and see where the trail leads us, shall we?
I was truly surprised to discover that The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is actually the sixth game in the series. I’d heard of one of the prior games only because of a particular funny/spooky glitch pertaining to Watson’s behaviour in Sherlock Holmes vs Arsene Lupin (aka Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis). But we’re not talking about that game now. I must note, though, that disappointing as it may be, this game isn’t based on the recent BBC series featuring a modernized version of the detective, but rather based on the classic vision of Holmes. Just in case you were wondering.
The basic plot of The Testament of Sherlock Holmes (or TToSH) is that after a successfully solved theft, good ol’ Holmes is accused of using shady and subversive methods, including blackmail and murder, to solve crimes. Eventually, even Watson starts doubting his old friend and things get a lot worse before they get any better.
At heart, TToSH is a puzzle game, and you’re free to explore the environments and gather clues. As you gather clues in crime scenes, they’ll be placed into a gameplay mechanic called the deduction board, which shows the various relations the clues have to each other. Many of the clues themselves will be hidden behind puzzles of various natures (one early puzzle, for example, is a smaller version of the Knight’s Tour) although, thankfully, you have the option to skip a puzzle if you find that the top of your head starts steaming from the unfamiliar brain-work. As clues are added to the deduction board, you’ll have to start coming to the right conclusions given the evidence. Obviously, the game does not let you continue based on the wrong conclusions, and there’s no way to get help about a wrong set of conclusions!
Given the less frantic pace of the game, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s a bit slow in the tooth and boring, and of course, few things could be further from the truth.The game is truly intriguing, and the story is a fair homage to Sir Doyle’s work. The makers of the game know their Sherlock lore well, so you’ll find that Mr Holmes and Doctor Watson stick fairly close to their personalities as depicted in the books. When dealing with a derivative work, this sort of thing is important, and I’m happy to say that the requisite research has been done here!
As far as the look of the game goes, the graphics look a little bit dated but it’s nothing that will look too jarring. Of course it’s not going to be on par with the graphics of, say, Skyrim, but it’s not bad nonetheless. In all honesty, I found the sheer attention to detail in the graphics a delight, even if they weren’t as photorealistic as we’ve come to expect from modern games. The faces are fully animated, and the lip synching is fairly decent. The murder scenes in the game are shown in their full gory graphical glory, and some of the crime scenes can be downright upsetting to sensitive gamers. The only otherwise disturbing aspect of the graphics is the faces of the children in the game. They’re absolutely creepy, but thankfully they’re a rarity in the game.
As a game reviewer, I often have to face uncomfortable truths about games. I’m one of the old-school ones, who cut my teeth on Space Quest, Quest for Glory, Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle (actually, I cut my teeth on Felix in the Factory and Boggy Marsh, but odds are most of you have NO idea that these were games). My uncomfortable truth is this: the frantic pace and adrenalin-crushing vigour of most modern games is getting to me, and I’ve been longing for a return to a game that forces me to think. Yes, I know. Get off my lawn. Honestly, though? My opinion is that TToSH is a better game than some other bigger budget games out there. Yes, it’s lighter on action, but far heavier, and far deeper than most games we play these days. The plot is not the same shallow insipid nonsense we’re forced to endure but a deeply moving story about a well-established character.
If you’re looking for a good thinking game that will take you back not only to 1898, but also the adventure games of long ago, I really recommend giving this game a go. It’s fun, it’s gory at times, some of the puzzles can be more devilish than a Sudoku puzzle with only 14 starting numbers, and above all, it makes you think about the game and about the story. The deductions board is a great way to get into the mind of a sleuth, and TToSH will have you thinking properly about crime scenes by the end of it. If you’re still young enough to want your action games with more guns than you can logically carry, maybe skip this game. But do yourself a favour, and at least read the great books that made Sherlock Holmes the wonder he is. And then, if you find that it piques your interest, give this game a go.
Final score: 8 supersleuth prawns out of 10
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive/Atlus
Distributor: Apex Interactive
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Age Rating: 18