The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

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7 Overall Score
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 7/10
Crime-solving: 8/10

Logic Mechanic gives a sense of accomplishment

Watching Holmes move like a puppet | Button-humping the world

Written by on November 13, 2012 in [, , , , , ]

In his newest adventure the titular consulting detective is the archetype for keen observation, deduction and crime-solving in much the same way that Gimli is the first thing to come to mind when someone says the word “dwarf.”  Instead of Middle Earth though, we’re looking at London where Sherlock Holmes is again at his mystery-solving ways. When he uncovers a failed jewelry theft, Holmes becomes the prime suspect when the jewels in question turn out to be counterfeit. With the public becoming wary of the famous detective and even Watson losing confidence in his once trusty companion, the unraveling of the who, what, when and where takes on a different meaning.

The game, as it were, is afoot.

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, compared to Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper, is definitely a prettier game. The color palette is more varied and there’s an attention to detail (like the dinginess of the corners of curtains or the cracks in tiled floors) that lend a sense of believability to the environments. On the downside, the animations are generally robotic and the voice acting is almost equally as stiff.

Like the previous Sherlock adventures from Frogwares, Testament has puzzles to provide plenty of challenge (but not so much that it becomes frustrating). As a modern adventure game, the bulk of the “action” consists of walking around a room and hitting the A button when prompted with an icon. It follows classic adventure game convention by highlighting parts of the screen until you click on every single thing clickable in a given locale. As pretty as those locales are, having to backtrack to uncover a new clue or to speak again to a witness easily turns intrigue into tedium. Things get even more tedious when trying to jockey either Sherlock or Watson to just the right spot in front of an object to interact with a clue. Of course this is no action beat-em-up that needs precise, motion captured animation, but that doesn’t make watching Holmes walk stiffly between clues any less jarring. In one too many instances, I had Holmes spin ninety degrees at a time in an attempt to examine a piece of paper only to see the interaction icon inexplicably disappear.

Luckily, one piece of intrigue that survives is the deduction board, which is the heart, soul and saving grace of the game’s sleuthing mechanic. You’ll need to use your own powers of deduction and some plain old common sense to piece together conclusions, based on key conversations and physical evidence collected throughout the story. If Frogwares got this part wrong, there would be no redeeming aspects to the game but, happily, choosing just the right multiple choice answer based on the clues and seeing the square turn from blue to green is very satisfying. It almost makes you feel a bit smug and self-important in the way you would expect Sherlock Holmes would feel. In that, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes succeeds.

When talking about Sherlock Holmes, you can easily look to the Robert Downey Jr. films,  the BBC television series starring Benedict Cumberbatch,  or Jonny Lee Miller in the US take on the famous detective. But these have more in common with the antisocial Dr. Gregory House than they do with the stuffy, all-too-proper Holmes we know from the novels. Giving respect where respect is due, Holmes is the pattern after which many, if not all, detectives are modeled. However, whether we’re talking Encyclopedia Brown or Shawn Spencer, these crime-solvers have something unique about their characterizations that makes them interesting. In the case of The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, the main character doesn’t stray too far from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s vision; maybe to its detriment. When I think of an archetype, I think of a skeleton around which pieces of wit, bits of smart dialogue and splashes of psychoses are molded. That’s just not the case here. The Holmes in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is less archetype and more stereotype. The adjective I’m looking for is “boring.”

The game deserves criticism not just for the elements that it is lacking, but because this type of title is important to the industry: there is no better flag bearer for cerebral entertainment experiences than Sherlock Holmes. He’s the perfect choice and The Testament of Sherlock Holmes hits the mark in a way that typical hack-n-slash, bang-bang action games just can’t. Where most games ask a player to react, this detective game wants us to take our time, observe, then deduce. So despite its other flaws, the strength of the logic mechanics are enough to still recommend The Testament of Sherlock Holmes to any would-be mystery solvers.

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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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