A Fitting Testament? [The Testament of Sherlock Holmes – Review]

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The newest installment in the Frogwares series of Sherlock Holmes adventures is upon us. The Last Testament of Sherlock Holmes has been released for all major systems (NOT the Wii). Does it live up to its titular namesake or should it be thrown over the falls at Rickenbach?

When I was in High School, I was slightly obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. Scratch that. I was in full-blown super-fan territory. I would quote lines from the books like others would quote song lyrics, I carried around a dog-eared copy of an anthology with me wherever I went, and I even made a misjudged choice in college by choosing Criminal Justice as a major to become, I thought, more like my literary hero.

There is still a sizeable part of me that can’t get enough of the logical methods and cryptic puzzles that were so prevalent in those masterpieces of serial literature. Like an addict I buy every game I can find with even the hint of a Holmesian puzzle, and since the genre of adventure games is now very much a niche, that has left a gaping hole for a good, challenging logical puzzle game to fill.

The most recent addition to this genre is Frogwares’s new game “The Testament of Sherlock Holmes”. It promised an undiluted experience: the great detective himself and his Boswell. The advertisements promised a more dramatic, action-filled installment of the series with Holmes on his biggest case yet. Such lofty, and frankly clichéd, claims are hard to live up to, but there was hope. Frogwares has produced multiple titles in this series, which were more than satisfactory. They all filled the need for a good puzzle game nicely, so this game, one would assume would have been more of the same.

It wasn’t. Well, it was, but not in the right areas.

The story was weaker than in previous installments. There were some moments of truly intriguing story-telling, but it was fairly clear early on what direction the story would take, and a few of the logical lines Holmes made were so flimsy they couldn’t hold water in the form of ice in a bucket. It might be the norm to accept whatever explanation Holmes eventually gives in a tedious and long cutscene, but when you actually start to think about the logical leaps involved, the story falters.

The player is given the option of of three camera angles: First-Person, Third Person, and Fixed Camera.

The gameplay feels like most other point-and-click adventure games. While you do have the option to change camera angles on the fly – a nice touch which has been expanded from its predecessors – the core elements of play are just like any other in that genre: find items hidden in the world, solve a puzzle in which they vaguely, tangentially may fit, go to next puzzle or watch cutscene. The puzzles in the game are an odd mix of ideas. While some are well designed and fit well in the world, others are just tedious or too abstract. One of the more enjoyable parts of the previous games was puzzles based on the scenery (like searching for clues in paintings in an art gallery, for example). Disappointingly, that category is all but absent. The puzzles are so hit-and-miss that most of the time you are trying to figure out what the developer wants not what the solution to the actual problem at hand is.

There are memorable parts that almost make up for a few of the rough edges in the rest. In an unexpected section of the game, you play as Toby, Sherlock

In an unexpected section of the game, you play as Toby, Sherlock Holmes’s dog from “The Sign of the Four”.

Holmes’s dog from The Sign of the Four. During the sequence, you are tracking down a suspect, following his scent through factories and warehouses. It’s a bit odd. In the scene, it felt as though Toby did more problem solving than Sherlock Holmes and Watson did for the remainder of the chapter.

It should also be noted that many puzzles are artificially difficult by leaving out crucial UI instructions. I had to resort to walkthroughs to find out that a certain object was rotatable or that some items can be combined in the inventory. Neither of these actions is fully explained to the player, and since they are rarely used, you would forget often that the puzzle might involve combining your items and not solving it some other way. In short, the puzzles were inconsistent and unclear and the user interface was more a jumble of parts than a cohesive structure.

The graphics in the game are enjoyable and include interesting character models and well-textured environments.

Graphically The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is fairly impressive. The characters are well modeled and look convincing enough and the settings are vastly improved from previous titles: more details, better textures, enhanced lighting, etc. The animations are still a weak element, though. Most movements appear awkward and mechanical. Lip-syncing is also non-existent; the characters’ mouths move, but not to the words in the script.

The voice acting is – like the rest of the game – an odd mix of both good and bad. Both Watson and Holmes seem to sound authentic enough, but the delivery of lines is off. It’s not just bad acting, though that is there, it’s almost as if the actors are not fully in control of the words they are speaking. Odd mispronunciations and mis-stressed words are only occasional occurrences, but they are noticeable gaffes.

The soundtrack is reminiscent of Frogwares’s previous titles in the series. While the music is good, it’s ever present and rarely changes. The same, high-tempo song loop was used for a chase through the docklands as for sneaking past guards or looking for clues. For sanity’s sake, I turned off all music early on once it became evident that it wasn’t going to cooperate with the mood of the scene.

It may sound like this game is horrible after branding every facet of it as “sub par”, but the ultimate detail to remember is the point-and-click adventure genre is starving for content. Any game like this is like water to a man dying of thirst. If you’re a fan of the adventure genre looking for something new, there is not much choice out there. It was a great concept of a game, but the previous installments were more fun, had better puzzles and more cohesive storylines. This one didn’t give me my puzzle high.

Sherlock Holmes is out now on PC/Steam, Xbox 360, and PS3. It was reviewed on the PC version.

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One Response to “A Fitting Testament? [The Testament of Sherlock Holmes – Review]”

  1. Joe Layton Says:

    Reblogged this on 9-2-5 Test Site.

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