The puzzle genre is truly an under-appreciated one. They’re usually reserved for a more casual crowd and that’s why Frogwares set out to make a hardcore puzzle adventure game with their Sherlock Holmes games. Their most ambitious outing yet, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, sets to continue the trend while weaving an intricate tale worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. But is the latest adventure for the world’s greatest detective worthy of your hard drive space?
Sherlock Holmes is in trouble. After single-handedly solving the case of a missing set of rare jewels, an article runs in the paper the next day proclaiming that the jewels Holmes had saved were, in fact, counterfeit. Rather than chalking up the incident to the thief replacing the jewels beforehand, the writer accuses Holmes of being the source of the real crime, casting a shadow of doubt upon all of London that Holmes is still the vigilant hero he’s always been. Even Holmes’ trusty companion Dr. Watson becomes unsure of his partner’s intentions.
The developers took a big risk with writing an original tale for a character that has a fanbase built up over the past 125 years. Thankfully, the story holds up fairly well. Each little twist and turn and piece of dialogue make the player want to push forward and see what’s next. The voice acting and conversations might be incredibly cheesy, but they’re only worthy of the occasional cringe, rather than turning off the game.
The gameplay is simple. Over the course of several cases you’ll become involved in, it’s up to the player to lead Holmes across various environments and collect evidence. The evidence is fairly easy to pick up, as long as you’re paying attention. However for those that have a bit of a hard time, there’s a mechanic built into the game called Holmes’ “sixth sense.” This is a handy tool to highlight all the available things you can interact with in the world, including clues, people and other various set pieces. It’s an easy way to get around any confusion you might have with the overworld.
You’ll occasionally have to solve puzzles when it comes to opening a locked chest or finding a hidden piece of evidence. These are tricky, but for the wrong reasons.
You see, you’re presented with a puzzle and that’s it. No instructions, no hints, no anything. There came a few times where I got stumped simply because a puzzle wasn’t explained to me. Luckily the first time I was stumped happened to be the same level that was presented to press at E3 this past year, so there were plenty of videos on the Internet showing me where I got stuck. But the next two or three times I got stumped led to frustration for hours over a single puzzle. It’d be one thing if you could simply gain a different ending similar to if you miss out on evidence a la L.A Noire, but that’s not the case here. If you’re stuck, you’ve got a giant brick wall in front of you laughing hysterically while teasing you for missing out on what’s next in the story.
And the confusion doesn’t necessarily end there. Sometimes even finding what you’re supposed to do next is a chore. Watson can be helpful occasionally with saying simple things such as “Let’s head to the dispensary, Holmes!” or “We should talk to the Director,” but the absolute worst thing you can have him say in a time of need is “What should we do next, Holmes?” I don’t know, Watson. I was asking you.
Unfortunately, there’s no objective system in this game. I don’t need the game to point me like a child, but simply having a section on the multi-tiered menu for what you still need to accomplish would be helpful.
The confusion extends even further into the deduction board. I was concerned that the game wouldn’t allow the player to get a glimpse into the way Holmes actually solves things so I was delightfully surprised when the deduction board was introduced.
The deduction board carries information gathered from the evidence found at crime scenes. When you find enough evidence, they’ll connect with a question mark. You choose between three possible options, and it’s the player’s job to find the most probable solution.
This sounds like a good idea, and in theory it is, but this means multiple layers of answers that aren’t confirmed until the end means even more trial and error. Although, you’re at an advantage if you can manage to figure out the correct answer, it’s yet another wall for those who aren’t so clever, but still want to experience the Sherlock Holmes universe.
This is the biggest complaint I have with the game. I likened The Testament of Sherlock Holmes to the Professor Layton series what with the puzzle solving and the fact that you can eventually get everything right if you just try every combination. No actual skill is involved, just a bunch of patience and endless amounts of trial and error until you get it right. It makes you feel less like the world’s greatest detective and more like a person struggling to figure out what the developers intended with their game. It’s incredibly odd that the sixth sense feature is so adamantly displayed in the key features of the game, but is only offered during the part of the game that needs it the least.
The rest of the game is a noticeable overhaul over the previous Sherlock Holmes games as far as sensory details go. The graphics engine has a great deal of more detail than previous entries, although animations are a bit robotic and it’s incredibly irritating that the mouths aren’t synced with the words. I could do without the background music. It’s mostly just one track that loops over and over for the entirety of a specific area, meaning some somber conversations might have an oddly actiony backup with the music. It’s odd, but the developers put forth their best efforts. It’s not a game breaker, it’s just something that could have used a little more polish.
I consider myself a big fan of anything having to do with our friend Sherlock Holmes. Everything from the dozens of movies showcasing his tales to more distant tips of the hat like the TV show House.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is not a bad game by any means. However, some design decisions, or lack-there-of, make the game frustrating at times. I’ll certainly return to the game to hopefully vanquish the puzzle that’s kept me at bay, but the fact that these sorts of walls have been put in place to begin with is just unnecessary at this point.
Perhaps the game is truly meant only for those real-life Sherlocks we have in everyday life. If you consider yourself one, the game will be enjoyable to you. However, should you be easily felled by a brain teaser or a game that demands the utmost of paying attention at all times, you may want to take a pass.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided to us for review purposes.