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.
“It’s Rather Sinister Here, and so Cold.”
The Awakened encompasses a large 3D gameworld, and you play from
a first person perspective. To start, you assume the role of Holmes. But
occasionally you also play as Watson. These transitions are abrupt – if
you suddenly find yourself looking at Holmes and realize that this isn’t a
cut scene, then you are playing 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
“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
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
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
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
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
“It will be Up to Your Agile Wit to Set Things Right….”
Gameplay is 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 comes
to mind. The developers 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 here
are realistic or historically accurate, but they are definitely amusing to
Problems sometimes occur because The Awakened relies on
unidentified “triggers” before progress can be made. For instance, even
though you know that you’ll need an item, you have to exhaust dialog
sequences before you are allowed to pick it up. Another example -- an
object that hides an important clue does not become “hot” until you’ve
examined all the other evidence in the room. I found myself repeatedly
searching areas for small items or hotspots – if I wasn’t extremely
thorough, I was stuck at that location without any idea as to why.
This game contains a handful of Question and Answer (Q&A) challenges.
These tended to bring the game to a screeching halt. Each one requires you
to type the right answer precisely (once I failed the challenge because I
typed “the” where I shouldn’t have). Synonyms and alternate spellings are
not always recognized. For the Q&A challenges, when I deduced what Holmes
was thinking and guessed correctly, I felt brilliant, I admit. But when I
guessed incorrectly, I felt stymied and frustrated.
Housekeeping – Beyond Mrs. Hudson
Movement in The Awakened can be accomplished using either the
mouse or a combination of the mouse and keyboard. I tried both methods and
found that the mouse alone worked best for me. After adjusting to the idea
of always pressing the left mouse button, I found that movement became
smooth and intuitive. Double-clicking increases your walking speed. The
combination of mouse control with first person perspective and
wide-ranging 3D environments worked well.
The gamer uncovers lots of evidence and other information. Items can be
picked up by clicking on the “hand” icon -- this becomes visible above the
items as you approach. 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.) As
you collect new inventory items or documents, etc., the corresponding icon
appears briefly at the top of the screen to alert you that something new
will be going into storage. When you right click, the most recently used
category will be “live.” 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. Still, the system has some
drawbacks. Scrolling through the page using the bookmark tab is
cumbersome. Dialogs and reports are easy to read, but the documents have
tiny, faded print. And if you collect several things at the same time – a
dialog sequence plus an inventory item plus a document, for instance -- it
can take awhile to find where each item went when it disappeared into
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.
There were a few minor annoyances in The Awakened, and one
glitch. The glitch occurred when I moved a bucket too aggressively and it
got stuck in the wall, necessitating a reload of a previous save. Other
issues – the music stutters at the load screens. Dialogs sometimes can’t
be clicked through. And in the swamp sequence the game gives the
appearance of having crashed, then finally resumes with no apparent ill
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
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
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. Access to the game’s documents and
reports can be confusing.
First person perspective, an interface that allows either full mouse
control or a combination of mouse and keyboard control. The Options menu
allows multiple graphic and audio tweaking.
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.
Unlimited saves. You cannot die, though a couple of times you can be
caught by an attendant/guard -- you are then returned to the point before
your capture. One glitch during gameplay that required reloading from a
Varied puzzle challenges fit well into the plot -- a few are easy, many
are difficult. Three of the hardest were the glyph puzzle that taps
visualization skills, the number code that taps observational skills, and
decommissioning the nurse/attendant, which requires imagination combined
with common sense.
No sliders, one maze-like location, no sound matching or color
discrimination puzzles. No timed puzzles. Some hotspot and pixel hunting
(for the latter, you use a magnifying glass). Frustrating Q & A
I downloaded the game from the Sherlock Homes: The Awakened
website. (It is also available on DVD.) You must create a folder for the
game prior to downloading (this is only necessary if you have purchased
the downloadable version). No problems with the download and installation.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is aimed at gamers who like
exploring detailed historical environments while following a dark, complex
plot and solving difficult puzzles. Also aimed at the many fans of Arthur
Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft.
Final Grade: B+
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
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