Publishers: Focus Home Interactive, Atlus (NA)
Release Date: 20 September 2012 (EU), 25 September 2012 (NA)
System: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PS3.
Version reviewed: PC
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Review
Sherlock Holmes is without a doubt one of the most renowned fictional characters, thanks not only to sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, but also owing his popularity to many daring film or TV adaptations. Recently, we can witness the Renaissance of the said hero, and the newest Sherlockian adventure game by Frogwares – the sixth installment in their Sherlock Holmes’ series – seems to fit perfectly into the current trend. Let us all hope that The Testament of Sherlock Holmes can win people’s hearts over as spectacularly as the other media did, because the game – though not flawless – is certainly a very enjoyable experience.
Even the title itself suggests that the plot will be grim. At first we can’t really see it, though. The story begins with a mystery of a stolen necklace, which functions as a tutorial. The case provides no challenge whatsoever for the great sleuth and the piece of jewellery is retrieved in no time. With a sense of fulfilled duty Holmes and Watson return to Baker Street. Unfortunately, an unpleasant surprise is waiting for them – an article in a newspaper reveals that the necklace have been replaced with a fake and Sherlock is accused of doing so! Of course faithful John Watson even for a moment doesn’t believe in those slanderous charges and the duo move on to solving another crime, this time a gruesome murder of the bishop of Knightsbridge. However, Holmes behaves in a strange way: he appears more heartless and snarky than usual, he conceals the evidence and above all tries to avoid the contact with the police at all cost. As the story progresses and further Sherlock’s dubious deeds come to light, Watson has more and more reasons to doubt his friend’s motives and allegiance. And so has the player.
The story unfolds in an interesting way but it is definitely not an adventure for the faint of heart, since it contains a lot of violence and generally is as dark as Whitechapel during the night. The plot twists and turns making you sit on pins and needles while you wait for the conclusion. However, if you consider yourself a Sherlock fan, especially of the BBC series, you probably won’t be that surprised after all because the game shares some similarities with the show in terms of the plot. Apart from the very end which is… controversial. It will certainly divide gamers between those who would love it and those who would ask themselves loudly “what the hell?”. Personally I identify myself with the latter group. Not giving anything away, the ending seems rather odd and against the Sherlockian canon. However, it is entirely up to you whether you’ll accept the Frogwares’ vision or rather turn your nose up at it like the biggest grumblers out there did (me being their leader). Some loose threads in the plot that weren’t properly explained or events that really seemed far-fetched (ink that controls the mind, anyone?) are harder to swallow despite your “ending orientation”. They’re not an issue of epic proportions, but they’re still something that should have been executed better. Another reservation I have towards the narration is the framing device, namely a group of strangely looking children who in the intro to the game discover on the attic a manuscript written by Doctor Watson. That manuscript is in fact the proper story that we’re playing. I found it very distracting when Holmes’ adventures were interrupted by the scenes where those little awkward abominations were commenting on the plot. I understand why the developers did what they did, but I don’t approve of their decision. In the game about Sherlock Holmes the focus should be entirely on the detective and not on a bunch of kids reading a tale. Besides, they look and sound awful and their presence in a way tears down the fourth wall, because we get slapped in the face with the fact that what Sherlock and Watson were going through had already happened. For me it was an ill-advised element that spoiled the otherwise great atmosphere of the game.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is one of the few games (and perhaps the only adventure game) that allows the player to freely change the way in which we experience it. You can either play in the first person mode, seeing the world through Sherlock’s or Watson’s eyes, use TPP perspective or rather decide on a more traditional, point’n’click display. Each perspective has its pros and cons, but the fact that you can choose either one is amazing. I’ve played the game in FPP mode for the sake of good old times I’ve spent with Sherlock series, but it’s all up to the player, so you’re encouraged to experiment and explore the possibilities by pressing “R” button on your keyboard.
The controls are really simple. We move the hero around with WSAD (or a mouse, depending on the mode) and left mouse button performs the action indicated by the cursor (magnifying glass allows us to examine something, whereas a hand means that we can pick certain object up). Right mouse button opens our inventory, but it’s not just a simple backpack where we store collected stuff. We also get access there to the review of all the conversations we had, gathered clippings from newspapers and other documents, a map that allows us to travel between locations, deduction boards, achievements and an option to switch between characters in the latter part of the game.
As in almost any adventure game out there we’ll be collecting various items, combine them and use in appropriate spots to progress. If we have problems with finding hotspots, Sherlock’s sixth sense activated by the space bar, would gladly mark them for us. Inventory-based puzzles, however, are not the essence of the Testament of Sherlock Holmes. The emphasis was put on logical minigames, which you can encounter here in oodles. Different kinds of them – jigsaws, pick locking, overriding fancy security devices, poison analyses, cracking safes and many more – will keep you occupied throughout the whole game. Most of them are quite challenging, demand utmost focus and a while of intense pondering, but when you finally solve them, the satisfaction is immense. For those desperate or too impatient, there is however a skip button, so fret not: you won’t get stuck on a puzzle forever. Aside from that, we also make examinations of the crime scenes, sort of like CSI: Baker Street, which were by far my favourite moments in the game. This time the developers didn’t spare us gory details and we can see the twisted and maimed corpses in all their glory. We even make quite a graphic autopsy, which actually made me squirm. This game is not for the squeamish.
Another type of memorable puzzles are deduction boards known previously from Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. They force us to make conclusions about the things we saw and discovered and then pick one of the three possible deductions, which consequently should be in accordance with other observations. While doing this we can really feel like Sherlock Holmes, even though some of the proposed suggestions feel almost like an insult to the player’s intelligence.
The game at some point allows us also to switch between the characters and forces them to cooperate in order to progress. Watson, despite the fact that he’s in the background most of the time and serves predominantly as an errand boy for Holmes, has his moments and occasionally shows his bamf-ness (try googling that, if you’re not afraid of a curseword or two!). Still, I had the impression that Toby, a dog that we use to track down a suspect, was overall more intelligent than the good doctor. Sorry, John.
The graphics are really amazing – you don’t see often such high quality visuals in adventure games. The streets are quite busy, architecture is remarkable and the interiors are so brilliant that I would gladly spend some time just soaking up the details. From time to time we can spot an unimpressive texture, but it doesn’t spoil the greatness. The character’s models were also improved and even though their facial expressions may seem odd occasionally, the effort put into animating them should be appreciated.
The music is fine, but hardly memorable. It does a nice job of creating the right mood, but after finishing the game I can’t remember even a single melody. The voice-acting was always a strong point in the games, so I was quite disappointed when Rick Simmonds who dubbed Holmes previously was not present here. Still, the new actor did a marvellous job and Watson was invariably very… watsonish with all of his quirks and strange remarks. The rest of the cast also did great.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is not the best games in the series (in my book that title would be forever assigned to Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis), but it’s still a wonderful adventure game that would engross you in a gripping tale of betrayal, sinister plots and mind blowing puzzles. Taking approximately 12-15 hours to complete, it guarantees that you won’t forget that adventure for a long time. For better or for worse.
+Interesting, gripping and dark plot
+Heaps of demanding puzzles
+Three perspectives to choose from
-Children as a framing device