Sherlock Holmes, the name brings to mind mystery, adventure, and more recently, Robert Downey, Jr. In this case, thankfully, we have Sherlock Holmes in a more traditional sense, no Mr. Downey in sight. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is the latest in a series from French developer, Frogwares. It is also the first of the series to be developed with game consoles in mind. Did they "solve the case" on the first try? Let us proceed with caution dear readers, the game is afoot.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes opens with children exploring an attic. Upon finding a marionette puppet one child pulls it down to find a book hidden inside. The older of the children takes the book and starts to read it to the others, detailing an untold mystery of Sherlock Holmes.
The mystery starts with solving the disappearance of the Samoan Necklace. Dr. Watson, surprised at how quickly his old friend has come to a conclusion, asks him how. Sherlock walks him and the police through the steps the thief took; ending when he produces the necklace from where the thief lost it. After having the owner, the Marquis of Conyngham, verify it is THE Samoan Necklace Sherlock places it in the Marquis' safe and locks it away. Case closed.
The next morning, as Dr. Watson is eating breakfast, he reads a story that accuses Sherlock Holmes of swapping the Samoan Necklace with a fake. He informs Holmes of the news article. Holmes believes it to be sensationalizing journalism and points out that the Marquis himself verified the necklace before it was locked away. None the less Inspector Baynes of Scotland Yard arrives to ask Holmes to help verify that the current necklace is a fake. Holmes informs them he does not have time to as he has an appointment with the Bishop of Knightsbridge. The Inspector produces the necklace to which Holmes grudgingly agrees to verify it. After careful observation he declares it to be a fraud. The Inspector asks Holmes to come with him to Scotland Yard to further help with the case. Holmes again tells him it will have to wait as he has an appointment to keep with the Bishop of Knightsbridge.
Upon arrival at the Diocese of Knightsbridge a pastor mistakes Sherlock Homes and Dr. Watson for the police. He informs them he has just found the Bishop murdered. When the pastor finds out that they are not the police he insists they be called, to which Holmes says no. Holmes wishes to survey the crime scene before the police, while Watson is uncomfortable with this at first, he relents and assists Holmes.
As they investigate the murder they find that the Bishop has been poisoned. As the case continues, more people are found dead. Soon Dr. Watson sees a pattern and all the clues point to one man behind it all, his long time friend, Sherlock Holmes.
Controls and Gameplay
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a point and click adventure with an emphasis on puzzles and logic problems, a perfect setting for a Sherlock Holmes game.
While the gameplay is perfect, the controls are not. The movement controls are all done using the left thumbstick, moving the stick in any direction makes the controlled character turn and move forward in that direction. It's a control scheme that has long since been left behind by other companies for better systems of control. While not great, it is usable and functions well enough for what is needed here. You are searching for clues and solving mysteries, not dodging enemy fire and taking cover.
The real trouble maker here is the camera controls. Set on the right thumbstick, for most folks it shouldn't be too much of a problem, unless you are an inverted control person like me. Most inverted control people need the Up/Down or "Y" axis reversed from norm. When we push the stick forward the camera noses down; pull it back the camera noses up. Fewer still need the Left/Right or "X" axis reversed. Most games at least give you the option of setting the "Y" and/or "X" axis as you want, regular or inverted. In The Testament of Sherlock Holmes they offer an invert option, the problem is it is an all or nothing option. Ticking the Invert option makes both the "X" and "Y" axis inverted. In the end I unchecked the invert option and ended up fighting with the up and down the whole game. Thankfully there were no sections where I had to dodge or otherwise rely on quick action.
Graphics and Sound
Because The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was being developed with consoles in mind Frogwares felt it was the perfect time to upgrade the graphics engine. Here the graphics overall shine with a realistic style of art that captures Victorian England nicely. Again there are some minor faults. When the characters speak the facial animation is puppet-like. The mouths open and close, but not in the shape of the mouths that match their words. It's like watching a dubbed kung-fu movie.
In the sound department things go a lot better. The soundtrack is subtle and reminiscent of Victorian England. The ambient sound and sound effects are wonderfully done to make mood and setting fit. The voice acting is for the most part done well with many actors returning from prior games in the series. There is one actor that stands out as odd and it is the gentleman who does the voice for the German criminal genius, Hans Schielman. His performance stands out for its clichéd, over the top style. To say it was stereotypical is an understatement.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is something of a test for developer Frogwares. Can the classic point and click adventure game style be brought to consoles. It is a genre that is sorely underserved on consoles. The Sherlock Holmes series that they have done on PCs has been successful in no small part to solid stories and wonderful puzzles, which they have here in spades. The story is unique and explores the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The puzzles are challenging and make you sit back and think, yet accessible enough that they won't have you obsessing over them for hours. If at any time a puzzle becomes too hard you can easily skip it, allowing you to continue the story.
The thing I think may be holding Frogwares back is lack of time developing for consoles. All the prior Sherlock games were developed first for PCs. The last title, Sherlock Holmes Verses Jack the Ripper, was ported to consoles after the fact. I think they did a good job for their first game with console development in mind, but there is room for improvement. I look forward to seeing what they do next.
With a good story, formidable puzzles, but serious problems in control I give The Testament of Sherlock Holmes a 3.5 out of 5.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is rated "M" for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Use of Drugs by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is available now for Windows PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. For more information see The Testament of Sherlock Holmes web site.