“Elementary, my dear Watson,” said Sherlock Holmes, never.
Indeed, ladies and gentlemen, these famous words were never actually mentioned in any of the Sherlock Holmes adventures written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not exactly like that, anyway.
Of course, if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, then you already knew that. And if you’re Sherlock Holmes fan, you already know that this adventure game is probably right up your alley.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is the latest in the series of Sherlock Holmes games made by Frogwares, and follows the famed detective and his lover sidekick lacky good friend Dr John Watson as they tackle one of the darkest and more personal cases of their career.
The story is self-contained, but makes references to Holmes and Watson’s previous adventures – and even has a returning character or two – but gamers need not to have played the previous games to enjoy this one.
Holme is where the heart is
Set in an England of 1898, Holmes has by now built up a reputation as a top-notch investigator, having tackled and solved some high-profile cases, including the case of Jack the Ripper and that of the gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin.
In Testament, Holmes and Watson are faced with the case of a brutally mutilated Bishop, and must solve a myriad of devious puzzles and delve into a thickening plot that implicates the famous detective as a more sinister character.
The game does a great job of drawing you into the plot, and keeping you focused on actually finding out what the hell is going on – even though the strength of the performances that drive the story forward leaves a bit to be desired.
The game is played out in a semi-open world, where Holmes and Watson have the freedom to visit any of the given locations. Each location is a self-contained area and you cannot leave until you’ve completed that specific segment.
The self-contained structure to these “missions” narrows down investigations and makes it a bit easier to focus on the task at hand – this means that, effectively, the answers, items or triggers you seek to progress are always nearby.
The game gives you an option to explore and play in either first- or third-person perspective and allows you to switch between the two. (Spoilers: go with first-person perspective, it’s way better).
While investigating areas, you can pick up, look at and make use of various objects – though the game doesn’t try very hard to hide these.
Objects that can be used or picked up get highlighted with a hand symbol; people you can speak to get a speech bubble; and objects which need to be investigated are indicated with a blue magnifying glass symbol.
Once you’ve completed your investigations, the maginifying glass symbol goes from blue to green, showing you that you’re all done there – if it’s still blue, you missed something.
This makes investigations more basic – but at least you won’t waste several hours examining matchboxes, cigarette butts and bottles that have nothing to do with your objectives.
Also, in true adventure game fashion, you will encounter more than a fair share of perplexing puzzles.
If you can ignore the fact that everyone in 1898 London seems to have had access to immensly complex locking mechanisms (and if you can ignore an entire section later in the game involving a dog, which is outright ridiculous) each puzzle segment fits into the given environment logically.
While most puzzles present a clear method, and can be solved with a bit of lateral thinking, there are more than a couple that will tempt you to reach for a walkthrough guide.
Should a puzzle prove too much for your mushy brain to figure out, an option to skip it presents itself after the game takes pity on you for mashing the “reset puzzle” button.
Master of deduction
Aside from solving a puzzle every 3 steps, Holmes is also a master of deduction, and through the game’s deduction board, you’re able to map out what you think happened in any of the presented cases.
The deduction board gets updated in each case as you go about solving puzzles, investigating evidence and combing through every searchable space.
Of course, the game has no “losing” condition, so you can’t actually get anything wrong as you won’t be able progress without making the right deductions and picking up the necessary items. So don’t worry about doing something wrong and messing up the investigation – you just get to try something else.
If at any point you get stuck, the game has a “sixth sense” feature which points to clues or items you haven’t investigated yet, though it’s not always explicitly clear.
The puzzles and deduction board are by far the highlight of the game – even if it does sometimes seem as if Holmes (or the developers) tried to hard to make simple tasks unecessarily complex.
Speaking of complex, this is something the visuals are not.
While far from terrible, the game’s visuals aren’t exactly going to blow you away. Each location is remarkably different and thematically coherent, but lacks the super quality polish we’ve become accustomed to.
Character models for NPCs are bit of a copy-paste job and are otherwise unremarkable. Third-person movements are rather clunky, making it awkward to watch, but the first-person view is smoother and also more immersive.
The biggest visual gripe, however, comes from the lip-synching – or rather, the absolute lack of it. South Park’s depiction of Canadians has better lip synching range than Frogwares’ London of 1898.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Holmes’ acerbic tone will be lost on you. If there was ever a face for “posh douchebag”, Sherlock Holmes would be it.
Watson, on the other hand, comes across as a bit of a gullible ponce who is surprised by absolutely everything. Everyone else in the game world ranges from “ham-actor” to “so cockney it hurts”.
It’s a difficult marriage between the gritty visual approach and the almost comedic aural tone that upsets what should be a more coherent audiovisual experience.
But at least there’s a racist allusion in there about Chinese people and dogs – so swings and roundabouts, eh guv’nah?
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes will last as long as your own puzzle-solving capabilities allow it to. The game took me 12 hours to complete – because I choose crying and frustration, over game guides and cheating – but it shouldn’t really take more than a weekend to finish.
Aside from the aforementioned presentation issues, it’s difficult to fault The Testament of Sherlock Holmes as an adventure game – there’s enough going on in the game to captivate you as you delve deeper into the plot, and you’ll be second and third guessing right up until the big reveal near the end.
Getting through the game is reminiscent of the mental workout provided by Sierra’s classic “Dr Brain” series of old – only with more murder. All it requires is a little bit more from gamers than a lust for sexy graphics and blow-by-blow action.
If you can look past its faults, and can handle a good dose of out-of-sync cockney dialect, then The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is definitely worth investigating.