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The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Frogwares
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Frogwares has spent a lot of time over the past few years producing a series of Sherlock Holmes adventures, but The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is the first game that is obviously designed for the console-gamers first, at least it has a much more console-friendly feel to it than the previous point-and-click adventures.

One drastic change is that locations in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes are full 3D environments where you control Holmes or Dr. Watson in a first-person or third-person style much like you would find in most shooters. The only difference here is that instead of firing on enemies, you are selecting points-of-interest to look at or apply inventory items to.

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes seems to boasts a pretty solid graphics engine featuring highly-detailed characters, textures and lighting that should make most gamers happy. I was especially impressed by the designs of Holmes and Watson. Both fit my mental image of the duo to a tee. Holmes reminds me a lot of Jeremy Brett's portrayal of the role of Holmes in the 10-year long British TV series that started in 1984. While Basil Rathbone might be considered the most well known Holmes, Brett is the one I grew up with, much like David Suchet as Poirot

While you can probably point to several other games on the Xbox 360 with more realistic graphics, considering Frogwares' previous games, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a pretty impressive jump forward for the company.

Audio is another place where The Testament of Sherlock Holmes does a good job. Both Watson and Holmes sound right and their lines are delivered well. The only times I had a problem with the dialogue was when the one-off comments made by one of the characters when looking at an item didn't fit the mood of the rest of the scene.This was typically one of the characters acting really excited by the fact that the item I looked at was there, even though that didn't have any real bearing on the investigation. I don't know if it was just a matter of the wrong sound clip being used in the final product or there was confusion in the recording booth as to what the situation called for. Either way, it was odd whenever it happened.

Outside of those occasions though, everything from the background music to the ambient sounds fit the feel of the game pretty well.


Gameplay:

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes puts our hero detective in an unusual spot. Like Frogwares' previous Holmes adventures, this is an original story, and in this particular case, it seems that Holmes himself is the prime suspect and he can't show evidence to the contrary.

The adventure starts when Holmes and Watson help to recover a rare pearl necklace, but after Holmes recovers it, the owner realizes that it is a fake and since Holmes was the last person to hold necklace, he is suspect. While this seems like an absurd idea, Holmes' inability to provide an alternate scenario and a newspaper reporting drumming up anti-Sherlock feelings causes everyone's trust in the famed detective to start to degenerate. To make matters worse, Holmes continues his business in a new investigation, but without Scotland Yard's support, or even knowledge. As Holmes's behaviour breaks more and more from the ordinary, not only do the police start to doubt his innocence, but Watson starts to question Sherlock's motives. So much so, in fact, that during a major portion of the game, you will control the good doctor as he tries to figure out what exactly is going on without Holmes' help.

Along the way, Sherlock and Watson will have to solve a fairly wide variety of puzzles, both inventory-based and logical above and beyond the deductive reasoning it will take to put all the clues together and solves the cases that are presented to you.

The logic puzzles come in quite a few variations, but seem to basically be complex locks put in the world in order to keep something secret. Most of these don't take much to work out once you realize the rules behind them, but you are typically left with absolutely no idea of what you are supposed to do. An early example of this is a safe that requires you to put pins in a chess-board looking grid. The problem is, you know nothing about what the right combination of pins is and it is only with a lot of fiddling and trial and error, not to mention keen observation, to realize what the rules of the game are. There are a lot of puzzles like this, and while most seem obvious right off the bat, many aren't. As for the inventory-based puzzles, console games don't typically handle that really well, but The Testament of Sherlock Holmes takes an interesting approach to the problem, but more on that later.


Difficulty:

Like other Sherlock Holmes games, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes puts the player in an odd situation. Holmes is supposed to be a brilliant mind that makes deductive leaps that is supposed to boggle us normal humans. So how do you give players the control to make the deductive reasoning while not making the player feel like they are being led by the hand to the conclusion. In short, how do you make them feel like Sherlock Holmes?

Well, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes gives players access to a deduction board that lays out the facts as you discover them. As you observe and perform experiments, certain known statements are put on the board. From there, the player is asked to draw conclusions, and those conclusions are combined with other conclusions and so on, until you reach a much bigger conclusion. In short, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes gives you the tools to make the step-by-step conclusions that Holmes rushes through.

In general this works, but there were a lot of times when I simply didn't draw the same conclusions that the game wanted me to. This is when I felt The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was the most difficult. Sure there are a lot of logic puzzles scattered throughout the game that make The Testament of Sherlock Holmes a challenge, but given a clear head and enough thought, I was always able to work through those puzzles. It was when I simply thought differently than the game wanted that kept me completely stumped. When that happened, I found myself wanting to put the game away for a little while and tackle the issue later.


Game Mechanics:

As said above, adventure games on consoles haven't typically done a good job when it comes to inventory-based puzzles. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes doesn't try to mimic the point and click behavior of the PC world though, at least not in the standard way. Instead of having the user delve into the inventory and select an item that is attached to your cursor to be applied to an object in the game world, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes lets you cycle through the inventory items with the controller's bumper buttons. If you have an inventory item selected, it shows in the upper right corner of the screen and if you interact with something that it can be used with, the game will react properly. If the item you are using the Action button on doesn't have anything to do with your inventory item, the game just behaves like you don't have anything selected. It really simplifies the process and seems to make game a much more console-friendly experience. I'm not exactly sure how well this feels on the PC version of the game, but this is one of the design decisions that makes it obvious the developers wanted to bring in more console gamers than they normally do.

When it comes to adventure games on the console, most fans of the genre typically shy away from such ideas, but Frogwares has shown that you can make a game that keeps all of the point-and-click adventure principles in place and still make it a fun experience on the console. Again, I'm not sure how well this game feels on a PC, but Forgwares has definitely made a solid console-based adventure game that anyone who likes the genre and Holmes will want to check out.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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