Game Review: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

You are Sherlock Holmes, and this is your investigation!

This is my 300th post (hooray!) and one of my Facebook friends suggested that I do something to piss off the Asshattru. Well, the thing is, I pretty much piss off asshats by existing, but I think I can manage to think of something for post 301, for now, a review of a game I just completed.

I would classify myself as a casual Sherlock Holmes fan, I haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works (though they are on my ereader) but I’ll happily jump on any adaptations of his works. My favourite show right now is undoubtedly Elementary, but I also enjoyed the movies with Robert Downey Jr. The Holmesian mythos is just one of those literary phenomena where one might never have read the stories and yet still has a vague idea as to the roles Irene Adler, Inspector Lestrade, and Professor Moriarty play in the grand scheme of things.

Apparently, Frogwares (a company I’ve never heard of until now) has put out a series of adventure games following Holmes and Watson as they solve cases in and around London. This game, billed as Holmes’ “darkest adventure yet” is actually the seventh in a series, but you don’t have to play the previous games to enjoy it.

I used to play point and click adventure games back when they were the only games in the bargain bin at Staples, and I didn’t like them very much but I kept buying them for some reason, maybe in the hopes that one of them was actually good. I would sit there for the longest time trying to figure out the puzzles, which seemed to use their own form of mind-bending logic (octopus + dollar bill = grappling hook?) and that’s if I could stand the mind-numbingly bad voice acting.

Having said that, there are good and bad things to say about Testament, but overall it was an enjoyable romp through Victorian London.

These two guys, you play as them. (Sherlock is the one of the right, FYI)

Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we? For those of you who are looking for something a bit more akin to the recent movies, this game’s got you covered. The developers aren’t kidding when they say this game is dark (and more than occasionally gruesome). It’s also interesting to watch how the relationship between Holmes and Watson develops through the game, particularly when Watson begins to question whether Holmes is really that trustworthy (to say Holmes comes across as a bit of an asshole in this game is an understatement).

As for the puzzles, there are a lot of them in this game, but few of them have the kind of bizarro logic adventure games are (in)famous for having. There were a few solutions that left me scratching my head, but that’s what walkthroughs are for (and even armed with a walkthrough, it will take you quite a bit of time to get through the game). I should note that if you get really stuck, many puzzles have the option to skip them, though you will miss out on an achievement if you do.

An example of one of the many puzzles you’ll find in this game.

Gameplay is pretty much what you would expect from an adventure game. You can examine objects (indicated by a magnifying glass), pick them up, and combine them to form new objects (although this is more common in later cases). A much-hyped feature of this game is the deductions board, where Holmes attempts to suss out details related to certain cases. Unfortunately, this feature really isn’t used much outside of a few cases, which is kind of disappointing. Occasionally, you’ll switch from playing Holmes to playing as Watson, in the early stages of the game, you basically do this so Watson can fetch a book while Holmes is at his desk, doing important detective things, but in later areas, you’ll have to switch between them in order to achieve your goal.

I also think that the developers did a great job of capturing the “feel” of a Victorian London where everyone and their brother is dropping like flies due to plague and the poor and hungry are everywhere. Frogwares paints a very bleak picture of London at that time, which, as far as I know, is entirely appropriate given the setting and the tone of the game.

Unfortunately, the game is marred by some issues. For one thing, it’s as linear as linear gets and the one point where there was potential for some non-linearity (the deduction boards) is wasted. The player isn’t allowed to make a wrong decision (unlike in say, something like L.A. Noire, which let the player continue trying to solve the case even if they failed at detecting whether someone was lying). I could be a bit more optimistic and assume that the devs wanted you to feel as if you were in the shoes of the legendary Sherlock Holmes, but I’m not feeling very optimistic so I’ll just call it a waste of an interesting game mechanic. The voice acting runs the gamut from tolerable to pants on head annoying (including an antagonist that I wanted to punch in the face every time he opened his mouth). I should have probably just muted the game and put on subtitles.

In sum, if you like Sherlock Holmes, mysteries, or adventure games in general and don’t mind references to madness, poisoning, and cannibalism (among other things) I’d give this one a shot, but if you don’t have the patience for puzzles that sometimes veer into WTFery or you want a bit more shooty gun action, I’d say pick up something like L.A. Noire instead.

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