Three kids playing around in an attic stumble upon a book hidden in a puppet of John Watson. As they start to read it, they discover a lost journal of what may have been Sherlock Holmes’ final case, one which would push the relationship between him and Watson to the very brink. Thus begins The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, a game in which you guide both Holmes and Watson through a series of mysteries which will lead them down roads neither of them want to go to try and save the kingdom.
The promotional videos I had seen for this game really caught my eye. It was clear much of the game was going to center on a growing tension between Holmes and Watson, with Holmes becoming the prime suspect, and it looked to have the makings of a good adventure game. The question is does the game live up to the previews.
A Story Befitting Doyle
A good investigation style game must be built upon a good story, and The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is just that. After solving a case of a stolen necklace, Holmes and Watson head to meet with the Bishop of Knightsbridge, a meeting which Holmes seems quite eager to make. What they find there is horrifying: the Bishop has been tortured and mutilated, and for no reason either of them can determine. Investigating this murder leads to a series of plot twists and turns that will please any fan of the great detective, leading to a shocking conclusion that was indeed satisfying.
While the story itself is an excellent one, its delivery can feel a little forced at times. The scenes between Holmes and Watson are very well handled, with both voice actors performing admirably. Most of the other characters are well done as well, with the noticeable exception of the children in the attic. The game will keep cutting back to them, and their wooden delivery and poor animation is rather jarring when compared with the rest of the cut scenes of the game.
The children are not the only place where the story will seem to break down. While in game solving puzzles, the voice acting for Holmes and Watson is not nearly as solid. Sometimes, some of the things Watson says will seem like they were pieced together from other recording, filled with uneven inflections that are rather jarring. Holmes and Watson will also say the same thing over and over again when you are controlling them, which gets old. Trust me, you will get very tired of Holmes saying “It is simplicity itself” when he solves a puzzle.
Still, the story is more than worth these minor frustrations. This ends up being a very good thing, as the gameplay itself is another matter entirely.
Not Exactly Elementary, My Dear Watson
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is an investigative style adventure game filled with many different logic puzzles. If you are unfamiliar with the genre, the CSI games are similar, though they do not contain the same style of puzzles. Another way this game will remind you of those games is you will need to be able to find various clues around you to be able to solve the puzzles, and those clues can be difficult to spot. To aid you in this, you can activate a “sixth sense,” which will highlight for a limited time anything within the field of view of the character you are controlling which you need to inspect or acquire. This becomes invaluable as it can be very difficult to locate everything you need, something with which veterans of the genre will no doubt be familiar.
At various points in the game, you will come across logic puzzles you must solve to advance the story. While some of these are truly enjoyable if you are a fan of this style of puzzle, many of them do not give you much of a hint of what you are supposed to do to solve them. Sometimes you will stumble upon whatever it is you need to do. Sometimes you will find you do not have all the information necessary yet to beat a puzzle after trying more than a few times. Then there are times you will be very grateful for the ability to skip a puzzle after trying in vain to solve it. I must admit I had to skip a few even though I am a fan of these style of puzzles, and I would have much preferred something which would give me a hint as opposed to solve the entire puzzle for me.
You will also find yourself having to solve other “puzzles” in this game, such as distracting guards or gaining access to areas you cannot reach. While some of these puzzles have clear logical solutions, others hinge on finding exactly the right object and using it in combination with another object in just the proper way. You can combine items in your inventory, something the game does not do a good job of explaining, and while many of these combinations make sense. others take a leap in logic which even those who frequent games like this may struggle to make.
On top of all this, you have a deduction board mechanic which often leaves you guessing what the right combination of answers is as opposed to actually deducing anything and a third person view which can be abysmal for controlling your characters which you can switch to a first person view that works better but is not without its shortcomings. Granted, I was playing with a controller on PC, but part of the reason I chose that was this game is also available on the 360 and PS3, where you would have to use one.
The controls are not the only problems with the game. I mentioned the wooden animation of the kids earlier, and some of the other character models are not much better. At many times, the game just seems to be out of sync, which distracts from story. I also had some serious issues with the game nearly crashing on me toward the end, which was rather frustrating as it was just reaching its climax.
So is the gameplay all horrible? Certainly not. There is a certain satisfaction to being able to deduce the answer to the puzzles throughout, and there is one segment where you are controlling a rather unconventional character, leading Holmes as he tries to track down the Bishop’s nephew. While I do not want to give anything away to any of yo who might chose to play this game, I did find that part thoroughly enjoyable.
Not All Bad
As bleak as my outlook on it may seem, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is not a horrible game. It is just a flawed one, and I found myself on more than one occasion getting rather frustrated with it. Still, if you are patient and are willing to use a walkthrough (unless yo are a true veteran of this style game, I imagine you will need it), there is much to enjoy, including some great puzzles and a magnificent story that will more than satisfy fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary icon, the great Sherlock Holes. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes gets a 6 out of 10.