Written by KitchenGorilla; PSHG Team Writer
Murder, theft, and other dark deeds lurking within the human soul have intrigued people since the beginning. A much more powerful feeling is the desire to solve the crime and be the one to announce the ‘whodunnit.’ This can be proven by the sheer number of Law & Order and C.S.I. shows on television at any given moment of the day. I prefer the classics myself: Poirot, Brother Cadfael, and the greatest of all, Sherlock Holmes. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend Dr. John Watson have held readers on the edge of their seats. Over the years, the works of Sir Doyle have spawned numerous television programs, comic books, cartoons, blockbuster movies, and video games. When I saw a trailer for The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, I knew it was time for me put on my ‘deerstalker’ cap and step into the shoes of the greatest detective.
Taking place in the ‘Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ series by Frogwares, the game starts with Holmes and Watson in the middle of a crime scene. Here the player is taught the controls and gameplay elements while warming up their minds with a simple case. The feeling of awesome victory doesn’t last long as the game’s darker story begins to unfold. A London journalist has made a target of Holmes and Scotland Yard begins to doubt if he solved the crimes over the years or if he staged them for personal glory. Even the loyal Dr. Watson isn’t immune to the events around him as his good friend destroys evidence, blackmails a priest, and almost kills a man in cold blood.
During the course of the game, players will take control of Holmes, Watson, and a special character from a previous story (fans of the books will enjoy this unique gameplay, but I won’t spoil it here). Game time will be split between searching the area for clues (a sixth sense button can be used for help, but I hit it more by accident), interviewing NPC’s, solving puzzles, and examining clues back at Baker Street, piecing together your findings to advance the story.
Finding clues in the game range from discovering the right address, to examining a mutilated corpse. The traditional magnifying glass will appear over anything that is important. Some items will need to be inspected closer to fully understand, such as checking the hands and feet of a corpse. This simple system works rather well, but at times I would pass by an annoyingly small item without the magnifying glass appearing. Using the ‘sixth sense’ will make all clues in the area appear, but it hurts your end game trophies.
Interviewing NPC’s is very similar to Mass Effect dialogue sequences with a wheel of dialogue choices. There are a number of different things to say to get information both right and wrong, but you can always go back and pick the right thing to say. So unlike Mass Effect, saying the wrong thing won’t result in a game over or waking up half dead in a restroom. It kind of takes away from the suspense in a way, knowing you can always get the right outcome.
Puzzles are a huge part of the game and some are pretty much brain teasers while others will make your sanity dance on the edge of madness. I enjoy a good puzzle from time to time, but this game goes overboard with them. It felt as if I couldn’t take more than a few steps without having to rack my brain trying to unlock a box or open a hidden safe. I could overlook the sheer volume of puzzles if not for the fact that I would have a couple that I had solved only to have the game keep telling me I was wrong (lock-pick puzzles are the worst). Thankfully, there is a skip button that can save you a headache and save the disc from being tossed out a window.
When the player returns to Baker Street they can use Holmes’s desk to take a closer look at their clues and use the chemistry set to find poisons or discover where a clump of dirt came from. There is also a ‘Deduction Table’ (you can access it anywhere in the game) that contains the information that you have collected during the game chapter. In the Table, you will have cards with names of clues on the left and cards on the right that have ideas related to the clue. The player must pick the right idea to open another card until the right deduction is reached. A way to sum it up is you have A-B-C-etc with each letter having a number (A1+A2=right answer). Some letters can’t be finished unless another is solved and by the end you reach X. A handful of times, I had everything right, but the game wouldn’t let me continue. It may have been that I didn’t look at a clue right or it might have been a bug, but it didn’t ruin the Deduction Table part for me.
The game’s graphics and animation are very good, but seem dated when compared to many games for the PlayStation 3. Holmes and Watson move very stiffly and NPC’s are outright robotic in their movements. The game was developed using motion capture technology and it really shows in the cutscenes, but as I played the game I couldn’t tell. Game mechanics were also lacking with Holmes walking on thin air, Watson getting stuck on an unseen wall, and tons of boxes falling into a canal without so much as a ripple in the water. I would have thought I was playing this game on the first PlayStation back in high school.
On the other side of the coin, the environments in the game are amazing. Baker Street looks and feels like you stepped into one of the books. Nods to the books can be found as well as references to the other games in the series. A part of the game takes place in a prison and you can’t help feeling the walls of stone and iron are closing in around you like a cell. However, the greatest environment was the Whitechapel district. It was a hell on earth with garbage littering the streets and rats darting into alleyways. Fog choked the streets making it hard to see little more than a block ahead and half-starved eyes watched you pass from alcoves. I kept expecting footpads to ambush Holmes around every corner and wished I had a life-preserver (a short club often weighted that was mentioned in a few books) at my side to fend them off. Fog is such a great tool for building suspense and Frogwares used it well.
In closing, I found The Testament of Sherlock Holmes to be an enjoyable game that could have been better, had it made full use of the PlayStation 3’s potential. The bugs, sometimes annoying voice acting, and puzzle saturation can be overlooked for the rich story and breathtaking environments. Fans of the books will enjoy this game and puzzle aficionados will think they’ve died and gone to heaven. Gamers who want to try something new might find the game slow and frustrating before they can really get into it. My advice is just give the game a chance and you may find yourself enjoying a new genre of video games.
“Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot.” - The Adventure of the Abbey Grange