Posted: May 18, 2014
Graphics & sound are good, especially for an adventure game where you usually don't expect much. "Hunt the pixel" is mostly avoided, though you may have to seek around a bit sometimes. There's brilliant moments where you actually feel like Sherlock Holmes when you're deducting the true circumstances of a crime, but those are outnumbered by dodgy moments where you're confronted with unconnected puzzles that really have no reason to be there. Fortunately all such puzzles are skippable, so you won't get frustrated. The story is interesting enough to motivate and feels like classic Holmes, with a twist at the end that may not be everyone's cup of tea but is certainly original.
Snap this up when it's on sale, especially if you're a Holmes fan. It feels slightly overpriced at full ($20 at the time of writing).Long reviewThe Testament of Sherlock Holmes
is the latest installment (as of writing) in a series that I haven't played. No knowledge of events in the previous games is required, fortunately; there's some allusions but you don't need to know anything about them to play this one. Your very first investigation serves as a tutorial on the controls, and you can simply go from there. This game does not rely on you carefully scanning every inch of the screen with your mouse until you've found the hotspot; you don't have to do more than get close enough and you will get clear indications of what can be investigated. At the same time, this is not so obvious that it takes all the fun out of exploring, and sometimes you do have to backtrack carefully to see what you've missed.
For an adventure game in particular, the graphics are good. You won't fall out of your chair in amazement, but character models and environments are all well done and fit the atmosphere of the story. The soundtrack does its job, in that you hardly notice it's there, except for one notably bad case of it playing with an intensity that the situation doesn't warrant -- things only start to happen in that location later, yet the soundtrack is ominous and frantic right from the start. The voice acting for both Holmes and Watson is excellent and the characters come across just right. The other characters are mostly believable, with two notable exceptions: one character who is required to pass for another with a British accent has a painfully obvious faux German accent that shouldn't have fooled anyone, and the actor voicing the main villain sounds like he's taking his cues from cartoons, with the only thing missing being an evil laugh. Both of these break immersion quite badly and mess up what is otherwise fine voice acting.
Enough about the window dressing, let's get to the gameplay. Here we get to both the game's best and worst parts. As in all adventure games, you walk around, gathering information and objects, and occasionally apply one object to another. Especially commendable in this regard is that when you do have to combine objects, this makes sense and is easy to do (like combining pieces of rope to make a longer piece of rope) -- sounds obvious, but there are many adventure games where you have to combine unlikely objects in bizarre ways to solve puzzles in the most roundabout way possible. You won't find such puzzles here -- whenever you need to overcome obstacles by combining objects it feels perfectly natural.
Unfortunately, what you will find are puzzles that are generic brain teasers (like matching colored balls in some interesting sense or rotating tiles) that have no believable connection to the story and are just there to make you stop and solve them. To the game's great credit, all of these puzzles are skippable after some time has passed, because it would feel really frustrating to *have* to solve them if you didn't want to, or couldn't. Some can be solved by trial and error, some are impossible to do that way, but almost all of them feel like they don't belong in the game and they don't fit in with the narrative. Apparently everybody in Victorian England used intricate locks that can nevertheless be opened without outside help to safeguard their valuables, instead of, you know, keys. The lowest point for me was a series of puzzles in an elementary school that really break immersion by their sheer contrivedness and lack of justification for solving them at all (rather than simply forcing the issue). Elementary, dear player? Hardly.
If those were the only puzzles, I couldn't really recommend this game, but it redeems itself with the deduction puzzles. The game's best moments come when you actually get to feel like you're solving crime like the great detective himself, carefully observing for clues and piecing them together in a logical whole using "deduction boards", where you choose from several logical (and less logical) alternatives until both the clues and your deductions line up. Solving these puzzles with a minimum of guessing rewards you with the feeling that you're Holmes himself, coming to seemingly impossible conclusions by eliminating the actually impossible. Even the "chemical analysis" puzzles, which are not really about deduction but about memorizing colored blobs, tie in with the overall atmosphere of crime-solving. The game could have elevated itself considerably if it had more of this and less of the arbitrary puzzles -- in fact, if they ever make another installment, I'd strongly recommend that they only do these deduction puzzles and no more of the mechanical ones. As it is, there are only three or four in the game, with the regular puzzles padding out most of the playtime.
The story is the other selling point of the game. The flavor is excellent, and when it works, it's worthy of anything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has written, with both the mundane and slightly fantastical/unbelievable elements mixed together in a familiar way. The characterization is fine -- Holmes has his dry quips and stoic determination, while Watson is there to reign in his friend's unique brand of callousness where it's warranted, without coming off as a dunce (a common sin in other adaptations). There's nothing original here (except for the end, which we'll get to in a bit) and you've seen most of these elements before in other Holmes stories, but it's all well put together, with the exposition scene where Holmes recaps what's really happened for Watson before the final showdown being especially memorable. It doesn't quite exceed its source material, but it's a valiant effort nonetheless.
There's a twist at the end that might leave opinions divided on whether it's of benefit to the story (or whether it should be there at all), but I liked it. After all, this is only one of many stories told of Holmes, and if you don't like what this one's selling, you can always ignore it, but I thought it was a charming idea that I hadn't seen before. Not everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow and there are one or two spots that I'd consider plot holes, but I found myself intrigued and entertained. Overall the level is more "penny dreadful" than Shakespeare, but then, that fits the Victorian era nicely.
Bottom line: this is a strong recommendation if you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes as he appears in the Doyle stories. If you're just an adventure game aficionado in general, be warned that this contains some pure puzzles which have little or nothing to do with adventuring, and the remainder is probably not going to challenge you a lot. In either case, at the $20 that is its current asking price it's probably slightly disappointing, but this would be a good one to pick up on a sale.