With all the modernising, re-imagining, and re-booting going on, Frogwares - the developers who have been making Sherlock Holmes games for ten years now - have given us a very old fashioned Sherlock. There is no ultra slow motion explosions, no text messaging, no irony, and no ‘look how clever we are’ in-jokes. What you get is a twisting, dark, and violent tale that slowly unfolds on the cobbled streets of Victorian London.
Strangely, the decidedly classic take on Sherlock Holmes, which is more in keeping with they way the character was portrayed in the first hundred years of his existence rather than the last ten, feels fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, though there’s plenty to like about the slowly unfolding mystery, there are problems with both graphics and gameplay which stop it from being as immersive and enjoyable as it could have been.
We are first introduced to Holmes as he solves the mystery of the missing necklace. In what’s effectively a rundown of the basic gameplay, Holmes walks around a room examining clues flagged by a blue magnifying glass. Press the action button when you’re close enough and you might get a brief explanation of some scratches on a window or you’re taken to a closer view of some objects on a desk. When you have discovered everything you need to know about the clue, the magnifying glass turns green. So it’s not just an old-school Holmes, it’s a pretty old-school kind of a game.
It’s fairly graphic, and creepy
The game has a mature rating, and a slow and thoughtful pace that is an enjoyable contrast to all the other games on the market. Its rating is earned early on when Holmes and Watson enter a darkened room, flies buzzing, to find the body of a suspect torn apart by his dog. It’s fairly graphic, and creepy, a mood enhanced by effective sound design.
Not happy simply to have you examine the dead man at the scene, you also have to perform an autopsy. So, it’s back to the morgue where you drain liquid from the victim’s lungs and search his stomach contents. It’s gross, pretty cool, and - while the game tends to lead you around from clue to clue - it is pretty satisfying when all the magnifying glasses turn green and you get to go to your deduction board to figure out what the hell is going on.
The deduction board is where all the information you’ve collected is collated. Drugs taken from the fluid of a victim’s lungs may be linked to poison found at another crime scene. Or a serial number on a scalpel might lead you to a hospital in Whitechapel. You can then deduce that one dead man was linked to the death of the other, where he lived, and where he worked. Once you unlock enough clues, raise all the pertinent questions, and answer all the questions correctly, the board turns green and you can move on to the next lead.
As with most games, it’s all fun while things are moving along. Follow a lead, find all the clues, solve the deduction board, and move on. The problems start when you get stuck. Some items automatically go to your inventory when you first find them. Others you need to go back and get after an event is triggered. Talking to most characters is pointless and there’s no mini-map. So you often have to do a lot of wandering around new areas, and even then you still get lost.
Early in the game you take control of Holmes’ fat little Bloodhound. While it sounds cute, it’s poorly animated, and has awkward control issues, and looking up a dog’s butt - that’s a bit more anatomically correct than it needs to be - while it sniffs out a missing suspect, isn’t top of my list of fun things to do on a Saturday morning.
As well as giving us an old fashioned take on Holmes, and some old-school gameplay, the game looks dated. While Holmes and Watson are at best serviceable, many characters range from strange looking to freakish. And the animation when Holmes runs is laughable.
Of no laughing matter though, are the puzzles. And there are a lot of them. Every box in London has some confoundedly complex coded lock. While the game sometimes allows you to quit past them if they’re too hard, the puzzles range from chess problems, timing challenges, to all kinds of brain bending number puzzles. If you like puzzles, this is the game for you.
Every box in London has some confoundedly complex coded lock.
So, if you can get past the way the characters move and look, and you buy into the slow and thoughtful pace, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is an enjoyable yarn. If you have the attention span to sit through cut scenes that contain important information. If you enjoy poking around in the contents of a dead man’s stomach. If you like opium dens, dirt encrusted cockney urchins, and murderous conspiracies that lead you to hell and back. You could do a lot worse then step into the world of Sherlock Holmes, the way it used to be.