The previous Sherlock outing from
Frogwares saw the good Mr. Holmes lock wits with a fellow literary
creation from across the channel. A debonair gentleman thief couldnít be
more different than the protagonist in this, the fifth Sherlock Holmes
adventure from this development house.
The pairing has been seen before. I remember an old
British movie called A Study in Terror, in which Holmes becomes
interested in a news story about two similar murders in Whitechapel, and
canít help but go investigating. More recent (and probably more
well-known) was Murder by Decree, in which the royal conspiracy
thread was prominent. Wheels within wheels, it was based on a book based
on a television series, all based ultimately on some combination of the
fact and fiction and myth that surround Jack.
But not being new doesnít make it tired. Sherlock
has his own following, and Jack has an allure that is hard to resist. It
guarantees an intriguing confrontation.
Ah, The vanity of existence! It is but
complaints and smoke; the meagre panache of its sickly soul
The opening scenes are particularly good. We begin
within the elegant confines of 221B Baker Street, a bored and almost aloof
Holmes pontificating on life and death and cigarettes. We shift to the
grimy and dingy surrounds of Whitechapel, sweeping through the streets and
laneways that are typical of much of old (and new) London. Shortly and
inevitably, we come across the last moments of the life of Polly Nichols,
and then the much longer legacy of her death.
Much of what makes this game good is present in
these few opening scenes. The characterisation, the story driven nature of
the proceedings, the graphical detail, the ability to build and convey a
period that was essentially a clash of cultures, albeit only streets
apart. So too the cinematic perspective used in the cutscenes and the
crafted repartee. They are not all good all of the time, but they come
together to provide a strong and sometimes compelling adventure.
The way in which the game deals with the brutality
of what Jack did is also unveiled in the opening. Everyone knows the
ferocity involved. It is conveyed here, and is not shied away from, but
neither is it the centrepiece of the deaths and investigations. Another
Ripper movie, From Hell, almost wallowed in it. Here, it happened,
and is relevant, but is never allowed to dominate.
This stayed true throughout the game. Bodies that
must be examined appear as cartoon style drawings. The discovery of Mary
Kelly is almost fleeting, and the subsequent examination done via a little
clay model. The sound palette is used to enhance what is often not seen.
It creates a very effective Ripper feel.
It is like dipping your biscuit in a pigsí
The feel of old London is there as well. The sights
and sounds and the goings on of the times are part and parcel of the
enfolding events. Prostitution, sickness, poverty, vagrancy, class and the
underlying attitudes are all here. At times it provides some comic relief,
which may also seem a little out of kilter, but itís a rich world.
Itís a full one too. There are a multitude of people
going about their business. I can recall games in which cities which
should be teeming with life contain only the three or four characters
necessary to progress the proceedings. That is not the case here. Whilst
only a small proportion have a necessary role in terms of plot, you can
talk (albeit generally briefly) to just about anyone. Their presence alone
helps build depth.
Somewhat unfortunately, itís also very linear. There
is always only one thing to do at a time, and whilst you can go many
places early on, the signposts as to where to go and the constraints that
stop you going to some of the unnecessary places (e.g., ďI have no
reason to go thereĒ) add to the sense of linearity. It felt almost
pedestrian at times.
An upside is that it is not a difficult game, and
therefore the story keeps humming along and never gets bogged down. That
too is a big plus, as the detail befitting a Sherlock Holmes investigation
unfolds much like a novel would.
A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury
Dialogue can be clunky (and a little saucy) at
times, and isnít always delivered by top notch thespians, but across the
board I thought it was generally well written and acted. Sherlock and the
good Dr. Watson are the main characters, and fittingly they stand out.
Fittingly as well, you get to play both of them throughout the game,
although that control is not yours to decide. Some tasks are done as
Watson, some done as Holmes.
The tasks are many, but I found the juxtaposition of
the mundane with the Ripper investigation a bit grating. You are often in
search of things to achieve little chores for people in order for them to
tell you or give you something of importance. It isnít uncommon in
adventure games, but I thought it detracted from the Ripper mood. That
might have been the point, but this game would for me have been much more
powerful if I hadnít had to punctuate the darker side of things by
recovering lost canes and mending broken keys. That is not to say they
werenít usually integrated into proceedings, just that they took away from
the experience for me as opposed to adding to it.
However, the generally easy nature of the game did
mean that I was very soon back with the main action. Hotspots can all be
indicated by pressing the space bar, so if you want to make sure that
finding the parts to fix the cart wheel doesnít take too long, the space
bar will be your friend. Most necessary inventory items are found near to
where they are needed, so you wonít be hopping all over London looking for
the missing piece of rope. You will, however, keep and use a few items in
a number of locations.
You can choose to play first or third person, and
can switch back and forth at will between the two. I did exactly that,
finding that first person helped to navigate through the streets (third
person camera angles could at times frustrate locomotion) and helped the
sense of involvement, but used third person to explore a scene more
carefully. It was a nice touch, and shows the makers clearly had the
players in mind.
I donít serve justice, I serve truth
Conundrums are a mix of game-based tasks,
straight-out puzzles (safecracking, etc.) and the various investigation
tools. The latter might consist of timelines, linking clues on a deduction
board, constructing mannequins of suspects, or attributing possible
motives. Some you do once, others appear several times. You may have to
delve into your growing documents record to pull out the detail you need,
and some may have to be completed in stages.
The deductions board worked particularly well.
Having examined a scene, clues would then be placed on the board. They
would link together, and present you with a number of possible deductions.
These would in turn link with others to arrive at conclusions. If correct,
they are framed in green; if not, the conclusion is red, meaning you need
to revisit some deductions. Elementary dear Watson!
Again, they arenít hard, and can be done fairly
readily by trial and error, but that would defeat the point. I thought
they were nicely constructed; and done as intended, they helped distil the
salient points from the detritus of the many bits and pieces of
information that come your way.
The management of that information is excellent.
Right click brings up the inventory, within which are your documents,
dialogue records, items and a map, as well as links to the deduction
boards. When a document or other material is added, a relevant icon will
appear at the top right of the game screen. It handles a lot of
information efficiently and effectively, making access and revision easy
To use an item, click on it and an image will appear
again at the top right of the screen. Clicking the appropriate hotspot
will result in its use. Some items can be combined, which is done by
dragging within the inventory.
You have different options for getting around. In first person you can
use the keyboard, or hold down the left mouse key and steer by moving the
mouse. Just be patient; I didn't get an instant response to the left mouse
so assumed it didn't work. In third person you can point and click
anywhere with the cursor, or click when the footsteps icon appears. Double
click and you run. The keyboard probably works too, although I didn't ever
try. You can also remap some of the keys at the options screen,
and a full range of sound, video and graphic options are available.
Lies, infidelity, venereal disease, murder,
mutilation and cannibalism Ė a complete anthology of humans at their most
Murder is indeed most horrid, but in the face-off
between Sherlock and Jack, it provides the backdrop for a lengthy and well
constructed adventure game. Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper
could have been brilliant, but some of those things which I found
detracted from the final outcome (speaking of which, the end is a tad
surreal) may not be such issues for others. I doubt any adventure game fan
will be disappointed, and some may well be exceptionally pleased.
Oh, and did I mention the default icon is a bloody
I played on:
OS: Win XP
AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
Gx card: ATI Radeon HD 3850 512Mb