The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Frogwares

Publisher:    Focus Home Interactive

Released:  September 2012

PC Requirements:  See review below

Walkthrough     Additional screenshots

 

 

by gremlin

 

What is it?

Gruesome murders. Complex plots. Shocking twists. Outrageous endings. Have I got your attention yet?

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is the sixth and latest in the Frogwares-developed series of Sherlock Holmes games. I've also played the fifth game, Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper, and I'm pleased to be able to report that the Frogwares team have maintained many of the same game mechanics in Testament. More on these later.

Of course, Sherlock Holmes is a character that has been played by so many actors, and his stories have been told in so many different media, that it is becoming difficult to stand out from the pack. However, my own view is that the Frogwares series is a very strong contributor to the genre.

Is there a plot?

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes begins with a short scene of three children playing in an attic, where they find a book from which they begin to read the words of Dr. Watson.

The game begins properly with a tutorial section based around a simple locked room mystery - how a Samoan necklace was stolen from a locked study. This introduces Holmes, Watson and Inspector Baynes of Scotland Yard. What? No Inspector Lestrade? No comment!

Once you've helped Sherlock solve this little starter-for-ten, the scene shifts to 221B Baker Street, and onto the main event: the first murder of the show. Unlike Jack the Ripper, in which we spent most of the time in Whitechapel, this game takes in quite a few more diverse parts of Victorian London: Kensington, Westgate Prison, the London docklands, a newspaper reporter's office, the sewers under London, a judge's home, a watermill outside London, a derelict funfair, and, of course, back to Whitechapel.

There are a number of threads to the overall plot. There is someone who is trying to discredit Holmes as a detective, and indeed attempting to turn people against him. There is someone murdering people with a madness-inducing poison. There is a famine in Whitechapel. There is a plot to replace Queen Victoria with some no-name upstart prince. Something goes dreadfully wrong in the relationship between Holmes and Watson, And finally there are those awful children in the attic. Plenty to get your teeth into.

How do you play?

If you're playing The Testament of Sherlock Holmes on a PC, you have three viewpoints from which to play the game: first person view, a second person view (mostly over the shoulder), or a fixed-camera, third person view (point and click). I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play on PlayStation 3 as well as on my PC, and can report that you only have the first two viewpoints on the console version. A single button or key press rotates between the available viewpoints, which means you can choose the one most suited to the current circumstances or stick with whichever one you prefer. Unusually for me, I largely stuck with the first person view simply because it performed more slickly on my PC. 

Whichever viewpoint you choose, for the most part, the game chooses which character you are directly in control of, be it Holmes, Watson or - in one of the odder sections of the game - a dog named Toby. There is a stage later in the game where you can choose between Holmes and Watson, but for most of the time there's no choice.

Navigating the locations (by mouse, or W, A, S, D keys) in the game brings hotspots into range, shown either with a magnifying glass or a hand. The former indicates something you can look at, the latter something with which you can interact. An interaction may require a specific inventory item to be highlighted in Watson's medical bag (which forms your inventory). You can access the inventory with the 'I' key, or by right clicking.

When there are multiple hotspots in view simultaneously, you use the navigation keys to highlight the specific hotspot of interest, and 'Validate' (I think they mean 'confirm') your choice with a left click.

The right click that brings up the inventory also gives you access to the log of all the spoken dialogue, the contents of all the documents you need (notes, newspaper articles, letters, etc.), the deduction board (one of my favourite features of these games), the button that allows you to switch between Holmes and Watson (normally disabled), the honours list ('achievements' in any other modern game), and the map of London, the little used method of navigating London's locations. I say the map is little used because there are only a few occasions when you need to decide where to go.

So now we come to the non-player character interactions, and the puzzles.

The Testament is reasonably light on complex dialog trees. There are a few dialogs where you have a choice of approaches to take in conversations, and some of these affect the achievements you score, but none truly derail the story. The dialogs themselves are well acted by all but the most minor of players, and give a good insight into the relationship between Holmes and Watson in particular. The actors for those two are definitely in the styles of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce or Jeremy Brett/David Burke partnerships in the roles. There's very little of the Robert Downey/Jude Law version about them which is, quite frankly, all for the best.

The puzzles in this game are widespread; some are simple exploration and observation tasks, others require inventory item combination to make the tools required to achieve something in the world, and still others are mathematical or mechanical obstacles. Fortunately the game provides an option to reset or skip any of the in-your-face puzzles (like puzzle boxes or locks). But be warned, there is a small maze to navigate. On the plus side, only one of the puzzles requires any kind of speedy hand-eye coordination, and that, as I say, can be skipped if it proves too difficult. The penalty for skipping puzzles is that you miss out on some of the honours available.

Notable Features

Both Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper and The Testament of Sherlock Holmes feature the deduction board mechanic. This is a tool that allows you to take observations that you've made at the various scenes, the results of Holmes's analyses at his desk, and information you've obtained from documents and combine them to find logical deductions, which in turn lead to more levels of deductions across the board. Each card on the board contains options for what you deduce from the observations to the left of them, and these lead to conclusions on the far right of the board. It's only ever four levels across (including the original observations and the final conclusions), and there are never more than three options on any given card. The game gives feedback as you get closer and closer to the correct deductions. I find that this mechanic gives a very strong sense of achievement when the conclusions all go green as you get everything linked up correctly.

Oddities

There were two areas of The Testament of Sherlock Holmes that bugged me. Firstly there was the inclusion of the scenes with the children in the attic in various places in the story. I feel these added nothing to the tale, and were clunky at best. The physical animation of those characters was also well below the standard maintained across the rest of the game, where it was quite outstanding.

The hardest element of the game for me to take was the entirely non-canonical ending of the story. For the bulk of the game, the style and content are very loyal to that of the original stories. These are two famous gentlemen solving brutal crimes in Victorian London, with certain recurring characters from the canon of those stories making appearances. However, the ending ruined that feeling quite comprehensively. The feeling at the end was of a Fu Manchu movie without the master criminal giving an evil laugh over the fading credits after his apparent defeat and destruction, when we all know he'll be back in the next movie!

A more minor rub was the places where the English language got away from the writers, with some clunky phraseology that I'm surprised the voice actors weren't able fix. Perhaps the script was set in stone in the game before the voices were recorded. A specific example is the use of the word 'validate' where an English native would probably have chosen 'confirm' when you have multiple hotspots in view.

Conclusions

Frogwares have done an excellent job of telling the Sherlock Holmes stories and, for the most part, the Testament of Sherlock Holmes fits that pattern perfectly. There are a few linguistic missteps in the dialog (and in the naming of the game itself) that bring the final grade down a notch, but the really impactful error is in the ending of the story. I'm so conflicted about this ending that I feel I have to split my final grade for this game. So it's B+ if you're a Sherlock purist, like me; or A- if you're a little more forgiving of interpretive storytelling, as this really is a very good game.

A final word of warning is that the high level of graphical detail in the environments and the murder victims absolutely justify the 'M' rating on the box. It's no joke. (Nor is the European PEGI 16 rating, either). The scenes aren't especially bloody, but they are clearly scenes of quite gruesome violence, and the designers haven't stinted on graphical detail.

Grade: B+ / A-

What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements:

OS: Windows XP SP3/Windows Vista SP2/Windows 7

Processor: AMD/Intel Dual-Core 2 GHz

RAM memory: 2048MB (2GB)

Graphics Card: 256 MB 100% DirectX 9 and Shaders 3.0 compatible

ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT/NVidia, GeForce 8600 GT or higher

DVD-ROM: 2x drive

Hard disk space: 14 GB

Sound card: DirectX 9 compatible

Controller: keyboard & mouse or Xbox compatible

Internet connection required for game activation

(I used a custom built 64-bit Vista Home Premium SP2 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card with mother-board sound card)

 

GameBoomers Review Guidelines

October 2012

design copyrightę 2012 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index