Sherlock Holmes: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Review (PC)

Sometimes developers, publishers and so on do actually listen to criticism. Maybe not enough, but the very occasional moan or bleat of complaint filters through and strikes a chord, makes them realise the error of their ways and improves their next product in the process. Such is the case with Frogwares and their most recent Sherlock Holmes game, "The Testament of..."

Of course, they sometimes have a reason to be obstinate and ignore the unwashed and their journalistic mouthpieces, as criticism of adventure games and Frogwares’ in particular can often verge on the unfair. A lack of understanding of what companies with non-AAA budgets can and do try to achieve? Perhaps. An unwillingness to look beyond the freeware indies and the top tier big names? Arguably so.

"John, dinner's in the oven, XOXOXO Sherlock."

Whatever the rights and wrongs of modern adventure game critique, it’s completely fair to say Frogwares had to think hard about why their last Holmes game, featuring Jack the Ripper as the villain, was so terrible, a culmination of a slow decline in quality since the halcyon days of Silver Earring.

Thankfully, what they ended up producing is of a far greater quality than Ripper was, even if the sight of three ghastly and hideously voiced children struck a premature note of terror into your reporter’s heart. Again thankfully, these abominations only pop up on a few occasions, so generally you’ll be in Watson’s or Holmes’s shoes attempting to solve the mystery of, well, Holmes himself.

The story goes that Holmes is coming under fire from the media for apparently being complicit in various crimes, some original and some taken from the Conan Doyle stories themselves. Even Watson’s beginning to doubt his bosom buddy and things definitely build-up quite well to the big ‘twist’ towards the end.

Considering how mind-numbing Ripper was, the first of the series I failed to complete, large credit has to go to Frogwares for turning things around and creating a far more compelling puzzle adventure to play through. Locations are varied, the swapping between Holmes and Watson keeps things ticking over and there’s even a bit where you control faithful Toby the sniffer dog, though that goes on just a bit too long and isn’t executed as well as it could have been.

Nevertheless, there are significantly fewer occasions when you feel like you’re just doing pointless busywork in the place of puzzles or plot, one of the major flaws found in Ripper. There are even less annoying leaps of logic required to solve the puzzles than usual, though that’s not to say you won’t sometimes be scratching your head at just what you were meant to do.

Watson always fell for the old wood planks and rope trick.

Luckily, for reviewers who are pressed for time and the downright impatient, there’s a limited hotspot indicator that’ll nudge you in the right direction every so often. Press it (space) and it’ll highlight something to look at or interact with, though sometimes it just shows you the thing you already know is there. Still, good to know it’s there for when you’re out of ideas. There’s also a “skip this puzzle” option for when the brainteasers are too obtuse. Kind of defeats the point a bit, but better that than leave you stuck forever (or reaching for the walkthrough).

Perhaps the best thing about the game’s technical side is how you can switch between third, first and point-and-click viewpoints on the fly. It’s a brilliant idea and I can’t, off the top of my head, remember seeing it in any adventure ever before. If you’re in first person you can look everywhere, but that sometimes makes it easier to miss vital clues, so going back to a static point-and-click view narrows your search parameters a bit. Truly it’s a great addition and you’d like to think other adventure developers will take it up as an idea and keep using it.

Of course, it’s got its faults. While Frogwares have gone a long way to salvaging the series’ battered reputation, it can’t gloss over the sometimes comical voice acting, the sometimes utterly baffling logic puzzles (on the whole these are better done than in previous games) and some truly strange plot devices.

In the background, Matthew Kelly prepares to make a dash for freedom.

Without wanting to spoil things too much, questions have been raised about elements of the plot and how farfetched things can get. If you heard the words “magic mind control ink” or “Holmes’s grandchildren”, would you be nodding with approval or sadly shaking your head? If the latter, the game’s ending will be a mind-shattering experience, the very definition of a ‘WTF?’ moment. Seemingly random and pointless, it ties up one thing that didn’t need tieing up and only serves to leave the player with an overwhelming sense of “Eh? So... that’s it then?”.

So yeah, madness lies at the end, but the journey to said madness has, in series terms, been generally satisfying and compelling. Fans of the Frogwares titles will be satiated, even with the lack of Creepy Watson shadowing your every move. Inconsistencies and plot, er, ‘quirks’ aside, this is a pretty solid adventure with some neat ideas and a dog jumping onto a series of wooden pillars.

Top Gaming Moment: Using three viewpoints to complete a puzzle.

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By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Oct 12, 2012
is it me or does Watson look more like Watson than Sherlock Holmes does Sherlock Holmes. I love that mustache so much
By Chuilopo (SI Newbie) on Oct 16, 2012
They are fictional characters, how do you know Sherlock Holmes look like?