Sherlock Holmes is a tale that keeps on giving. Books, television, movies, and even video games entrance the public. Games are especially intriguing, as they allow the player to not only watch events unfold, but also assume the role of Mr. Holmes himself. Frogwares has been releasing these puzzlers on the PC, but The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is now available on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 for the price of $40. I had a chance to give the 360 version a whirl and came away with the impression that this game offers more than just an achievement surplus.
Our tale begins in the attic of a home where three children have decided to play. These children find a book, and as they read it, our game’s plot unfolds. I almost wish this part had been left out of the game, though, because these graphics are not kind to the faces of children. Overall the graphics are not bad, especially when rendering adult faces. There is a complexity and character that helps distinguish characters, save for when they are conversing. Facial expressions consist only of eyebrow waggles and mouth gapes, the latter of which spring off out of pace with the dialogue. It is jarring at first, but nothing major. That’s not to say all the graphics, created with the Nvidia PhysX engine, are sub-par. Backgrounds, objects, and clues are all given rich detail, providing a thoroughly engrossing setting. While we’ve left the era of puzzle games using direct photographic inclusions for their backgrounds, TTOSH does an outstanding job creating a resonant set from the ground up, even when there is a tiny, visible seam between a building and the sky.
Puzzle game mechanics allow for a maze-like, linear completion. Sandboxes are unnecessary, and the graphics and controls follow what works best for focusing on story and puzzles. The character is moved about in either first or third person, it’s entirely up to the player. First person mode is by far the most fluid and precise play mode, however. Third person controls are so clunky and unforgiving, it’s almost as if it were an afterthought. Much of the progress in this game relies on searching for clues. This can be sped up by enacting Holmes’ sixth sense, which causes nearby clues or paths to light up. This will help players in most cases, but there is still the occasional instance where not every clue can be routed so easily. One of the best aspects of the game is the usage of deduction boards, which allow one to gather all of the evidence and make an educated guess as to where the evidence will lead. This is paired with the help of context and comparative information. Deduction boards were one of my favorite parts of the game, but I feel they were sadly under-utilized.
As far as the puzzles in this game, they range from simplistic to hair-pulling. Most can be determined given the instructions, but there were a few times I felt the game gave too little information on what they wanted the player to do. Other times, the instructions were clear, but the puzzles themselves involved too much guesswork rather than logic or critical thinking. The best of the bunch were variations on common puzzle types that had been given a facelift for this game. There is also no hint system for the puzzles, so instead of nudging players with helpful advice on how to solve actual puzzles, there is just a timed option that appears allowing the person to skip the puzzle. This leaves players who don’t want to skip puzzles the choices of awkwardly flailing around ineffectually until something works, or heading over to a walkthrough. Another aspect of the game that surprised me was the radial allowing for different conversation advancements. This feature felt either hastily thrown in or sadly under-explored, as this, too, could become a process of elimination rather than a true attempt at manipulation or character assessment.
The game offers a substantial chunk of playtime, given it has a deliberate pacing that doesn’t rush or pressure the player. The content is mature, as you can be expected to lacerate dead bodies, enter an opium den, and witness some shockingly violent moments. Nothing is overdone in how grotesque it is, though, as it adds to the atmosphere and realistic gritty nature of the stories. TTOSH does a great job of alluding to previous cases and even includes characters from them. The story itself is fleshed out well and knows how to string along the audience.
I’d say that overall, fans of puzzle games, adventure games, and forms of entertainment that get you involved mentally rather than just testing your reflexes, should enjoy this title immensely. The small frustrations and less than polished details are overwhelmed by solid story and a vast library of challenging puzzles.
- Engrossing storytelling transports players into the life and times of Sherlock Holmes.
- Extensive array of puzzles to boggle the mind.
- A hint system and better fleshed conversation radial would be welcomed additions for the next installment.
Summary: If you're searching for entertaining story, puzzles, and a game that gives more than a few hours of entertainment, all clues lead to The Testament of Sherlock Holmes.
- Format: Xbox 360
- Developer: Frogwares
- Publisher: Atlus
- Release Date: 9/25/2012