“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
If so, now is your chance, because Gumshoe Online (www.gumshoe-online.com)
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
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
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
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.
that little thing of Chopin's she plays so magnificently? Tra-la-la-lira-lira-lay...”
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.
choose to be only associated with those crimes which present some
difficulty in their solution.”
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.”
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
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.”
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
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.