Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered


Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Frogwares Game Development Studios

Publisher:    Focus Home Interactive

Released:  October 2008

PC Requirements:   Windows 2000/XP/ Vista, Pentium III 1.3GHz Processor,  512MB  RAM, 64MB  DirectX 9 compatible video card, DVD 4x speed, 3GBs hard disk space





by Becky


Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered*

*Editor’s Note – the original GameBoomers’ review of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, which can be found here, has been modified and supplemented below by additional comments about the remastered version. All additions are indicated in red.

Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulhu? It’s not the first time that the famous detective has investigated a supernatural legend. Nor is it the first time that he’s confronted a force so formidable that no one should face it alone. In Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, the intrepid detective encounters the power of pure evil. Will he survive the experience?

The Awakened opens with Dr. Watson in the throes of a nightmare. As Watson awakens, the gamer is swept into an extended flashback -- Victorian London with well tended streets, luxurious interiors, and 221b Baker Street. Here Sherlock Holmes laments the impoverishment of the criminal mind, which eliminates Scotland Yard’s need for his help. Yet Holmes will soon face a crime certain to challenge his talents, and perhaps even his sanity.

This game succeeds in several ways. It places the gamer in authentic, believable, late nineteenth century environments -- three locations in Europe and one in North America. It stretches the abilities of Sherlock Holmes to reveal a less frequently explored aspect of his character. It tells a shocking tale of murder, fiendish cruelty and horror that will keep you at the computer, transfixed, heart in mouth.

Remastered Perspectives

The Awakened Remastered encompasses a large 3D gameworld. You can choose to play from the original first person perspective or from the newly added third person perspective. Third person perspective is a welcome addition, particularly if you are the type of gamer who tends to experience “motion sickness” when moving through 3D first person environments. Watching Holmes and Watson move through the game’s environments eliminates a lot of the panning, and gives the eye something to focus on during movement. You can switch between first and third person perspectives anytime you wish by hitting the Escape key – the only exceptions are during animation sequences and cut scenes.

Third person perspective, however, does somewhat limit your ability to explore. You don’t see as much intimate detail and your movement isn’t as free as in first person perspective. In fact, movement in third person perspective is occasionally frustrating because the footsteps icon that serves as a guide doesn’t always appear, so you have to click around a bit to find the next set of footsteps. Also the camera angle shifts sometimes so that you may not recognize where you are after clicking on the footsteps. When this happens, continue clicking in the direction Holmes or Watson is facing, not the direction that seems logical when moving along from the previous screen.

Since the game offers the flexibility of both perspectives, you can explore in first person and switch to third person for actual puzzle solving, or vice versa. Playing in third person perspective may make the game a bit easier, as the footsteps icon usually shows you the important places to visit.

The only place where it was clearly easier to navigate in first person perspective was the New Orleans swamp, where Watson rows a small boat. I recommend playing the swamp section in first person perspective because it is easier to see where you are going, and Holmes remains ahead of you in the boat the whole time, reducing the panning effect even though the perspective is first person.

“It’s Rather Sinister Here, and so Cold.”

To start, you assume the role of Holmes. But occasionally you also play as Watson. Many cut scenes show Holmes and Watson during encounters with other characters, allowing you to observe Holmes as he investigates and as he reasons out loud.

Locations in the game literally drip with atmosphere; for instance, the waterfront area by The Cursed Mermaid pub. Boats glide soundlessly through the mist. The rusted hulk of a ship, a crane, and stained fishing nets loom in the fog. A veritable village of warehouses stands silently; one hides a loathsome secret.

Travel to New Orleans breaks the tension temporarily. In an unusual romp through the American “melting pot,” you find yourself sprinting through the dwellings of disparate cultures -- up and down rooftops, ladders, lifts, through various windows and doors. I laughed myself silly through this part, then returned and played the sequence slowly to take in all the detail. There is also one heartbreaking location in the French District. It’s a sunlit garden full of butterflies and vibrantly patterned blossoms. This small slice of Eden contrasts sharply with the trail of blood that is about to be discovered.

Water effects and reflections in the glass windows of the shops and homes are remarkably realistic. A graphical bonus – the load screen shows a sepia-toned sketch whose color and detail gradually increase as the progress bar moves forward. The only graphical quibbles – some of the vegetation, particularly in the swamp, looks distorted and collaged. Also, certain graphical elements are recycled and occasionally texture seams are visible.

Remastered Graphics

Graphical resolution in third person perspective seems sharper, and the gamer views the surroundings from a more distant, elevated, wider vantage point. This gave me a sense of the horizon being further away, and I could see more at a single glance than in first person perspective. Watching a figure move through the landscapes enhances this effect.

The transitions from Holmes to Watson and back again are smoother and more obvious in the remastered version. Furthermore, Watson doesn’t suddenly appear behind you wherever you go, as he did in the original version of The Awakened – instead he walks or runs behind Holmes in a more realistic fashion. Character movement is fluid and natural. Double-clicking causes Holmes to run. It’s a trifle strange to see a buttoned-up figure like Holmes sprinting across the screen, but I preferred that to the delay of allowing him to walk in dignified fashion throughout the game.

“A Nightmare Sleeping within the Sea?”

I could recommend this game solely on the basis of its immersive environments, which are alternately terrifying and exhilarating to explore. But there’s even more going on. The Awakened also contains a classic detective story with surprising twists and turns. There’s evidence to analyze and plenty of character interaction to further the story. Plus some new elements – the H. P. Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos and an unexpected cameo by another mystery celebrity.

The plot is rich in detail and intrigue. The game remorselessly builds a picture of the sect that Holmes is investigating, and then unites all the elements in the final sequence with Holmes, Watson, and an inexplicably localized, violent storm at sea. I played The Awakened twice. The first time through I was surprised by the revelation at the end. On the second playthrough, I picked up on a lot more of the clues. They are there, but camouflaged by an abundance of other information. It takes a sharp eye to select the important clues from the artful window dressing.

You should be forewarned that some events in this game are grisly and disturbing. One such plot element needs more explanation. How do some of the game’s characters become enmeshed in such a crazed, ecstatic form of nihilism? Tantalizing hints suggest the influence of certain artifacts. For example, while studying a book about Cthulhu religious practices during the voyage back to England, Holmes’ behavior becomes strikingly odd. Is he battling a deadly threat to his own sanity? Further clarification would have been helpful.

“Dey Just Don’t Take to the Smell of Gentle Folks, Specially Foreign Ones.”

Character development is another of the game’s strengths. Sherlock Holmes demonstrates the brilliant deductions we’ve come to expect of him. His flaws are also evident – in particular his impatience with human foibles. (My favorite Holmes “moment” is his reaction to the weeping servant girl.)

Holmes’ language is exacting and formal – perhaps a bit too much so – though overall, it does suit his character. He is also willing to take risks when the stakes are high. I had not thought of Holmes as physically courageous, but I enjoyed discovering that side of him.

Other game characters range from the grieving mother to the cynical river boat madame to the love-stricken scholar. I particularly enjoyed the New Orleans locals, who use colorful slang and view the impeccably tailored detective and doctor as bizarre intruders from a disreputable part of the globe. Voiceovers are professionally executed, including the voices of Holmes and Watson. The only exception – the voice of the newsboy, who looks like an innocent child and sounds like a cockney adolescent.

The faces of the characters in The Awakened are quite detailed. Camera angles show them in close-up, where you can see wrinkled foreheads, blotches and irregularities in the skin, circles under the eyes, even stubble on some of the men’s chins. Lip synch is pretty good. One drawback – some of the minor character “extras” have two or three clones of themselves. At one point, I saw four iterations of the same sailor, one sweeping the deck, one smoking a pipe, one dallying with a young lady, and one throwing up over the boat’s railing. While it is technically possible that quadruplets shipped together on the same voyage, the odds are clearly against it.

“It will be Up to Your Agile Wit to Set Things Right….”

Gameplay in the original Awakened was something of a mixed bag. On the plus side – a large variety of puzzles and a nice range of difficulty, including many challenges in the “tough” category. Some splendidly logical puzzles also fit well with the story – the bucket sequence inside the warehouse, for instance.

The developers at Frogwares are experts when it comes to designing inventory for use in unexpected ways. You also experiment with Holmes’ chemistry lab at 221b Baker Street. I don’t know whether the procedures and tools in Holmes’ chemistry lab are realistic or historically accurate, but it’s definitely amusing to use them.

Remastered Gameplay

Some of the original gameplay problems have been addressed in the remastered version. A few of the more difficult challenges have been simplified. In addition, the remastered version now contains a hint system that provides graduated hints so that the most precise help is reserved for the very last hint. Even the last hint is often not an out-and-out spoiler. The hint system is much appreciated; I hope that we see it in future Frogwares games.

Though helpful throughout, the hint system is particularly handy during the Question and Answer (Q&A) challenges. The Q&A challenges in the original Awakened could bring the game to a screeching halt. The hint system eliminates this problem.

Another design issue that has been partially addressed is the reliance on “triggers.” For instance, an object may not become “hot” until you’ve examined other evidence or performed certain actions. Some – though not all -- of these “triggers” have been eliminated in the remastered version, so that you can pick things up when you first see them.

In the third person perspective, hotspots are easier to identify than in first person perspective. You can move the mouse to search for them and don’t have to be right on top of them before the “hand” icon becomes visible. As a further aid, pressing the spacebar reveals all hotspots. This feature is available in both first person and third person perspectives. Revealing hotspots and using hints allows the gamer to customize the difficulty level to a significant degree. Even with the simplifications, hints, and the use of the spacebar, The Awakened Remastered is a very challenging game.

Housekeeping – Beyond Mrs. Hudson

The gamer uncovers lots of evidence and other information in the course of playing The Awakened. Once you’ve picked something up you can work with it by right clicking with the mouse, which brings up a combination of inventory storage, a book of documents, dialogs and reports, and a map. Below this is a task bar with icons on which you click to switch between categories. (You can also scroll through the inventory using the mouse wheel; working with the inventory involves a simple point-and-click.) Extensive texts can be scrolled through using a bookmark tab at the top and bottom of the page. This storage system works fairly well, especially considering the large volume of information that you process in the game. The map is a significant timesaver, as it allows you to leap to various locations once you have visited them for the first time.

Remastered Maps, Documents, and Movement

The remastered version contains additional maps, including maps of the interiors of the buildings. Once you have visited them, locations on the map are identified as you move the mouse cursor over them. The documents have been improved so that they are easier to read. Other problems have been fixed -- the sound stuttering during loading screens and the slowdown in the swamp are gone. All dialogs can now be clicked through.

In first person perspective, movement is identical to that in the original game, and can be accomplished using either the mouse or a combination of the mouse and keyboard. The new third person perspective uses a point-and-click interface with directional hotspots.

Cue the Fiddle Music

The music is almost entirely orchestral. It plays quietly (and ominously) in the background, subsumed into the ambient sound layer. Some exceptions -- the obstacle course in New Orleans, which features antic fiddle and banjo music to inspire you during the chase. Also, at a point later in the game, the sound of drums plays repeatedly in Holmes’ head. Ambient sounds are varied. For example, at the waterfront you’ll hear the sound of seagulls, a foghorn, a bell, and waves. These increase and decrease in volume depending on your location.

Not for the Squeamish

As noted earlier, the game’s themes are very, very dark; this may be a downside for some gamers. The corpse count is high, while a goodly portion of the living characters are (to put it bluntly) not in their right minds. This is not unexpected in a game that ventures into the Lovecraftian realm. Still, it seemed to me as though broken minds, bloody torsos, skeletons and severed body parts outnumbered the living, rational beings.

The images and sounds were so disquieting in one part that I found it difficult to play for very long and had to keep taking breaks. The knowledge that the torture these inmates endured was standard practice in some institutions at that time made playing the game even more gut-wrenching.

Although Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories properly address the despicable corruptions that lurk beneath the surface of Holmes’ world, I thought this game missed the right balance by dwelling too long and lavishly in the realm of the macabre.

Quick List for Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered

Courageous, ever-logical Sherlock Holmes takes on a ruthless Cthulhu cult. Full 3D graphics; expansive, atmospheric locations. Absorbing cut scenes, good voiceovers. Facial models reveal unusual detail. Plenty of character interaction, lots of reading.

A complex mystery plot with a satisfying ending. Themes are dark, ranging into horror, murder, torture and dismemberment. A game for mature gamers only – the PEGI (European) rating is 12+, but I would suggest 17+. If you aren’t put off by the shocking visuals, the game offers a rich experience, deep enough to reward a second playthrough.

Varied puzzle challenges fit well into the plot -- a few are easy, many are difficult. No sliders, one maze-like location, no sound matching or color discrimination puzzles. No timed puzzles.

An option to use either first person perspective or third person perspective. A very helpful graduated hint system. Pressing the spacebar reveals all hotspots. Overall, the remastered version’s difficulty level is lower than that of the original version, but this is still an elaborate, challenging game.

The remastering will benefit those who suffer from “motion sickness” while moving or panning, those who prefer the third person perspective, those who dislike pixel hunting, and/or those who enjoy the option of a hint system.

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered is aimed at gamers who like exploring detailed historical environments while following a dark, complex plot – especially those who are fans of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft. 

If you own The Awakened and haven’t played it yet, or plan to replay it, the download that upgrades your copy to the remastered version is available for purchase here.


My Computer Specs:

Windows XP Professional

Pentium 2.80 GHz

2046 MB RAM

Direct X 9.0c

512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX

SB X-Fi Audio

December 2008

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