Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened




Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Frogwares Game Development Studios

Publisher:    Focus Home Interactive

Released:  2006

PC Requirements:   Microsoft Windows ® 2000/XP, Pentium ® II 1.3 GHz or higher, 512 MB RAM, 64 MB compliant Microsoft DirectX®  9 vidoe card, 4x DVD-ROM , 3 GB free Hard Drive Space 


Additional Screenshots





by Becky


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 visible.  

“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 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 use.

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 storage.

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.

The Downsides

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 effects.

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

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 saved game.

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 challenges.

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

April 2007

design copyright © 2007 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index