The Testament of Sherlock Holmes relies on an age-old plot scheme: take a pop culture character that’s seen a spectrum of adventure so long and broad it’s become ludicrous, and add something to their mythos that doesn’t join the pile of uninspired cash-ins or convoluted stories that only detriment the intellectual property.
Regardless of your personal opinion on the various interpretations of the fabled Sherlock Holmes that have recently sprung up funded by the BBC, a suitless Iron Man, or whatever else comes to mind, there’s no doubt that they’re a little different from what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle originally envisioned. The same can’t be said about Frogwares’ latest effort.
While a psychologically degrading, incriminated Holmes might not have been on the drawing board for Doyle, Frogwares have crafted a story that’s enrapturing enough to feel like something in line with the beloved detective’s most famous adventures. The basic plot revolves around Holmes being the alleged hand in a string of abhorrent criminal activity, and the gradual declination of both London’s faith in him, and his own mental state, moves along with the weight and impact of a freight train.
Despite some laughable dialog and the need to suspend simple logic at infrequent points, the game’s story is emphatically enthralling, endlessly intriguing and an overall expertly woven delve into the fragile mentality that’s brought upon Holmes and the emotive corruption of the now infamous detective. There’s a constant, thriving sense of desperation, and it’s wonderful. While Watson’s moronic repetition of clues and some unfortunate points of blandness do annoy, it’s safe to say that the story is the biggest draw here. It’s not on par with some of film and literature’s greatest works, but as an interpretation of the world of Sherlock, it could be a whole lot worse, and as a video game, it does exceedingly well.
Of course, this should come as no surprise, seeing as The Testament of Sherlock Holmes falls in line with several other video game adventures from the developer (most notably the similarly-fun Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper). And, as you traverse seedy alleys, putrid sewers and other suitable environments, you’ll realize that the game is lucky to have such a strong story. While never reaching unplayable levels, the game falters in enough spots to have made me walk away in frustration, had I not been so enamored.
As a point-and-click puzzle adventure, the emphasis is largely on the puzzles you’ll face. While a fair amount of the presented conundrums are rather fun to triumph over, there’s also a number of them that’ll leave you scratching your head (or smashing your keyboard). For example, Sherlock’s “sense” ability will aid you in various tight spots, as it emphasizes important things in your surroundings, but it won’t necessarily point out all the things you need to solve an environmental puzzle (and often turns the game into a brick wall of scouring your premises several times over). Moreover, there’s no “hint” system for dedicated, one-off puzzles. You can skip these infrequent events, but that’ll certainly disappoint your immersive experience. Right, detective?
They’re not all so annoying, and though just one bad experience in a puzzle game can throw off that sense of accomplishment you get from successfully figuring out a real stumper, the game’s overall progression should help alleviate any anger accrued from getting stuck. The deductive solutions are consistently a joy to unravel, helping to balance frustration, and if you do get stuck, you can rely on an online walkthrough. Don’t feel badly about it; Sherlock would’ve done it too, had he the internet back then.
The game’s graphics aren’t anything revolutionary, but they’re certainly a leap above previous entries in the series. The cutscenes are of adequate quality (with some meme-worthy children designs), interspersed throughout the game. And, while character models are more than adequate this time around, the environments are the true point of graphical prowess here; the detail put into opium dens, sewers and 19th century architecture & interior design might not be historically accurate, but it’s damned pretty to look at.
I had the benefit of playing The Testament of Sherlock Holmes on PC, which from a purely speculative standpoint seems to be the most suitable platform control-wise. The standard third person view and methodical movement of the characters, coupled with the evaluation of scenarios, is relatively fluid with a mouse to click on everything, but could be cumbersome with a PS3 or 360 controller. There is a first-person mode which could aid those wielding controllers (though it’s a bit clunky to actually control), and of course the console versions could very well control differently, but it’s something to think about should you have choice of platform.
If you like to have some serious depth in your games, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes certainly packs a punch as far as overall puzzle quality and story, but the replay value is rather dependent on how much you enjoy progressing through the same story and puzzles continually. At roughly 8 hours long, counting time spent pondering the more pensive periods of play, you’re left with something that’s primarily an emotional, evocative experience. The $40 price tag certainly helps in this regard, and if you’re a fan of intrigue in your plot, Sherlock Holmes, or classic point & click games, your decision should be easy.I said earlier that The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was fortunate enough to have a great story. While this is by no means an insult to the rest of the game’s aspects, it certainly is the perpetuating point behind my experience. Some games of this nature simply aren’t worth putting up with when the occasional moment of frustration blooms into gamer rage territory, but the addition of a well-written plot can make a world of difference; that’s certainly the case here. I only emphasize this because it might persuade some gamers who typically don’t go for puzzle-based games (like me), and those who value a game’s story above all else (like me, again).
Much like the titular short stories involving the world-famous detective, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes shines as a piece of narrative, a profound and twisting tale of intrigue that will almost certainly entertain. The game’s mechanics and puzzle quality might falter on occasion, though its hindrance on the player is in many cases dependent on their patience and sharpness of mind. While TOSH won’t be winning any game of the year awards, nor will it draw in the average Call of Duty or Madden demographic, it’s hard to not recommend Frogwares’ latest sleuthing adventure to those who find themselves interested. With a palatable price point and an enjoyable experience to be had, it might be what you’re looking for just before the holiday season’s avalanche of video games.
Final Grade: B-
- Case Closed: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes out in September