Gumshoe Online's: Something in the Water



Genre:   Online Mystery adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Hiding Buffalo

Released:  2005

PC Requirements:   Internet connection





Gumshoe Online’s


By Looney4Labs

“With two such men as yourself and Lestrade upon the ground, there will not be much for a third party to find out.” Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes!  Sam Spade!  Columbo!  Looney4Labs?  Is there a great detective lurking inside you, just waiting for the right moment to come out?

If so, now is your chance, because Gumshoe Online ( exists just to give the budding detective in you a place to come out and play.  It’s a very original concept, aiming to provide an all-purpose forum for detectives of varying levels of expertise.  Its striking homepage provides links to all areas including discussion, hints forums and, of course, to Something in the Water, which is just one of several online cases/games found there.  To play, you must register, which is free.  There is one free tutorial game available.  The other games range in price from $5.99 to $7.99.

“Crime is common. Logic is rare.  Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.” Sherlock Holmes

Something in the Water is a third person, point-and-click detective mystery done in a ‘film noir’ style.  Set in the fictional Wheaton City in the 1930s, it is played entirely online.  The player creates their own persona, has their own office at 16 Sycamore St., and sets off to investigate (and hopefully solve) the crime of the moment.  This 1930’s theme is nicely carried out throughout the game.

There has been quite a crime wave in Wheaton City lately, and the Richmond Water Plant is now being threatened.  You are called in to determine if this is a real threat or a hoax and to bring the perpetrators to justice.  You may succeed, but you may not.  It all depends on your skills.  Game play revolves around looking for clues in many locations, interviewing suspects, collecting inventory, determining the guilty party and proving your case, and solving some very interesting puzzles along the way.

“It is art for art's sake.” Sherlock Holmes

In keeping with its ‘noir-ish’ theme, the graphics in Something in the Water are simple and clean.  Colors are subdued, mostly browns, blues, and greens.  The graphics in your office are especially good, with the light filtering beautifully through the blinds onto the far wall.  Each location has its own design, but there are many similarities in each location.  Plants, buckets, bookshelves, and paintings abound.  Most locations show good attention to detail, but all are static.  For instance, the pipes in the water plant have valves and are different colors.  The buildings have numbers and plaques and certificates hung on walls.  However, I was amused to see that all the clocks throughout the game always read 12:15. 

Character graphics are reminiscent of those in graphic novels, but are not as detailed.  They are a bit blocky, but there is a nice variety of characters with which to interact.  Among others, I enjoyed the bewhiskered and embittered miner and the hay chomping farmer.  I did not become attached to any of them, but I enjoyed seeing them.

Characters, with the exception of your avatar, never move.  Your avatar is a trench coated, Fedora wearing detective of the Sam Spade variety only seen from the back.  His movement is fluid, though it can be slow. (This can be tweaked from the options menu.)  Since my character was female, I would have enjoyed a female avatar. 

Cut out the poetry, Watson.” Sherlock Holmes

Dialogue in this game is all text.  Sometimes a click on a character results in a quick bit of information.  Other times, it produces a box with subject choices for your interviewing pleasure.  There is a tolerance line below the dialogue box, and once the interviewee has reached the end of his tolerance, he will cease to cooperate with you.  I was always able to ask about each topic once, but I was not able to repeat the information.

The dialogue reveals clues you need to solve the mystery.  Usually, it is direct and to the point.  Your detective can also comment upon objects in the game world, and while this game is not howlingly funny, some of his remarks about his environment are amusing.  

“What's that little thing of Chopin's she plays so magnificently?  Tra-la-la-lira-lira-lay...” Sherlock Holmes

While there is no voice acting and no ambient sounds in this game, I was pleased to discover there was a choice of background music.  There are four choices—piano and bass, jazz mood 2, jazz vamp 3, and no music.  I found all of Jim Paterson’s music pleasant, and appropriate to the setting and mood of the game.  However, as I was often stuck and the music was all short loops, I often chose no music.  I wish more developers would incorporate this great feature. It allowed me to customize the game experience to suit my mood. 

I choose to be only associated with those crimes which present some difficulty in their solution.” Sherlock Holmes

The sixteen puzzles in this game are amongst its best moments.  They are all very well crafted.  I enjoyed them, even the ones that kept me working for hours.  The graphics for these puzzles are clear and well designed.  Movement is intuitive, and the puzzles can be reset.  There is a nice variety of puzzle types including combinations, mechanical assembly, jigsaw, logic, switch and lever, a slider that I enjoyed (and I hate sliders), and a timed lock-picking puzzle that challenged me for several days.  I did not encounter any sound or color puzzles.  Difficulty levels range from easy to very challenging. 

There is a lot of inventory to collect in this game, including keys to open locked areas.  Since to successfully conclude this game, you must pinpoint the perpetrators (which may be one person or several), their motives, and correctly order the top five pieces of evidence used to come to this conclusion, this whole game can be considered a puzzle.  Unfortunately, this was one puzzle I did not correctly solve, but not for lack of trying.  Sherlock Holmes, I’m not!

“Here is my lens. You know my methods.” Sherlock Holmes

Something in the Water has an excellent interface.  The game is played in a window that opens in your browser.  Most of the popular browsers are supported, including Firefox, Internet Exlorer, Mozilla, Netscape, and Opera.  The complete list is on the website.  There is a free test game you can play to see if your browser is compatible with the game. 

The game is played in your browser window.  On my 19 inch monitor set at 1280 x 960, the game play window measures 7 ½” by 5 ½.”  You can increase the size of the game window by decreasing your monitor setting to 800 x 600.  Outside of that frame, are file folders which allow you to access the map, return to your office, or to open your note pad.  Descriptions of the areas you are exploring appear underneath the folders.

Icons across the top of your browser allow you to change your folder view to save games, read news, and see available cases.  You can also access the options menu which allows you to change the frame rate, change the background music, alter your user details, and sign out.  These options are available anytime during game play.

The help menu is next to the icons.  It links you to a truly wonderful online manual.  It is available during game play and contains great puzzle information and hints about how to manipulate them.  It also has answers to most of the questions a player might have. 

You begin the game in your office.  From there you can check and send messages, save games, begin new games, read the mail, and it is here that you solve the mystery via an interactive bulletin board.  When you are ready to leave your office, just click on the map and your detective is whisked to his location of choice.  New locations appear as you uncover clues.  You will need to return to your office from time to time during the game to check messages.

“… I have sometimes thought of writing a monograph.” Sherlock Holmes

As you investigate, you will use your notebook quite often.  The notebook is a most helpful and elegantly designed item.  It appears in a separate pop-up window, so you will have to allow Gumshoe Online pop-ups to appear on your computer.  However, doing so did not result in any extra pop-ups on my computer.

Clues discovered, items picked up, people interviewed, locations available and visited, summary of possible motives, and personal notes are all entered automatically within this notebook.  It is necessary to have it working in order to play the game.  I loved the notebook.  Because it automatically recorded my progress, the only real notes I needed to take were the location of items I thought I might need later, and these notes could be deleted as I used the items. 

“The horse is a very gregarious creature.” Sherlock Holmes

Something in the Water is an easy game to navigate in.  Your sleuth is moved by clicking on the spot you want him to walk to.  There are large arrows on the floors to show possible direction of movement. 

“It is the second most interesting object that I have seen in the North.” Sherlock Holmes

Using inventory is very simple, which is good, as you will have lots of inventory.  Left-click on an item to pick it up.  The item zaps to your notebook, where you can click again to see more details, or open a window to combine items when necessary.  Left-clicking on a hotspot will use the correct inventory item.

The save system is equally simple.  The game auto saves when you leave.  It even auto saved for me when I closed it by mistake.  In addition, you can do a manual save from the filing cabinet in your office.  In fact, I recommend this before you try to solve the case, as once you offered your solution, you can’t try again unless you have a save to start from.  There are three save slots.  The saved games are on the server, which meant that I could log in and play my game from any computer with online service and a compatible browser.   

“Dogs don’t make mistakes.”  Sherlock Holmes

Because it is an online game, there were few glitches, though I did have one inventory item that would not appear in the “combine area” of my notebook. 

Not a glitch, but still unfortunate -- many of the hotspots were very hard to find.  I spent long periods of time pixel hunting and still missed many of them.  There are hotspots within hotspots too, which can cause a problem if you don’t realize this. 

The aspect of this game that caused the most problems for me was the hint system.  I was often at a loss during the game as to what I should, or could do next.  There is no walkthrough, at least not that I could find.  Nor is any help available at any of the hint sites I normally use.  I am sure this is because there is an active hint forum at Gumshoe. 

The people on the Gumshoe forum are friendly and helpful.  They just were not always timely.  The forum is easy to use and can be searched for a particular problem within a particular game.  My complaint is that more often than not, though I found my problem on the forum, the answer given was just a direction to the previous questioner to “See your PM”  (private message).  That helped me not at all. 

Too often, the time I had allotted to playing on any given day was spent walking in circles trying to figure out why I could not progress further, and what I had missed.  Once convinced that I was indeed stumped, I would then go search the forum but find only PM notices. This was not always the case, but usually.  Then I posted my query, and waited.  Sometimes I received help within 20 or 30 minutes, and sometimes, sadly, it was far longer.  I can understand the reason for this method of getting hints when the mysteries were time limited as they were when the site first opened, but solving a mystery is no longer time limited.  So, other than frustrating the player, I don’t see the purpose of answering with PMs. 

“Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.”  Sherlock Holmes

Something in the Water is a game with wonderful, challenging, and fun puzzles, straightforward dialogue, an easy to use interface, and a great online manual.  It can be played from any computer with internet access and a supported browser that allows pop-ups. The developer advertises 7-9 hours of game play.  However, due to being stuck frequently and to the time involved in solving some of the harder puzzles, I played for much longer than that.

The “solve the mystery by deduction and prove your case” approach is certainly original and tests the player’s skill at laying out her logic.  Unfortunately, if you are a “must finish a game no matter what” person, this can be frustrating.  I was never able to get to the “real” solution in spite of many, many tries.  My logic worked for me, just not for the game.  I don’t mind that my logic did not work for them, but I would really appreciate knowing theirs. 

In spite of this, Something in the Water was an interesting experience.  If you are that person who always knows who-done-it before the end of the book or the movie, you may well enjoy testing your deductive skills in this interesting arena.  However, if a walkthrough is a must for you, this game might not be your best choice.


Short list:

Online game playable from most but not all browsers

Excellent online manual

Point and click

3rd person perspective

Interesting, fun, and challenging puzzles

Some timed puzzles

No color or sound puzzles

One slider

Easy to use interface

No walkthrough available

Hints available at Gumshoe forums

Some dialogue

Options customizable

Automatic, online saves

No violence or mature themes

No dying

(Quotations in boldface in this review are from various works of Arthur Conan Doyle, featuring Sherlock Holmes.)



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