The Testament of Sherlock Holmes – Review
While it could be said that Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective is very much in vogue at the moment, with numerous new books, films, and TV shows eager to either revive Holmes and Watson as was, or else present a modern twist on the characters, developer Frogwares are well-established veterans in this space, having produced no fewer than six PC titles focused on Holmes, and have cultivated a dedicated fanbase. The latest game in their popular adventure series takes Doyle’s most famous creations and places them seamlessly, once again, into a new story, while remaining faithful to the style and characteristics of the original canon. With The Testament of Sherlock Holmes being specially developed for the consoles for the first time, rather than the middle-pack of the PC market, the devs have been able to make full use of the aging might of this console generation and employed a whole new game engine.
Set in 1898, things initially appear to be business as usual for Holmes and Watson, as they set about solving the case of a missing necklace. This initial investigation eases the gamer in gently, allowing controls to become familiar and new features to be introduced. All is not as simple as it first appears with the case, however, and Holmes begins to find himself the target of suspicion. His world slowly descends into darkness, with accusations of theft, fraud, corruption, and murder hanging over him as he tries to unravel the web of mystery spun from the investigation of a gruesome death. With the press spewing vitriol, the police on his tail, and a far greater danger lurking in the wings than any had imagined, Holmes is more isolated than ever, and his dark, suspicious behaviour leads even the hitherto faithful Watson to begin to doubt his best friend.
The game sees you in the shoes of the great detective and, sometimes, those of his companion, Dr John Watson, as they set about solving the mystery unfurling around them. The player is tasked with examining crime scenes, tracking down and analysing clues, solving puzzles, and gathering evidence, which is then pieced together on smart deduction boards where you draw conclusions from what you have uncovered. While it may sound like CSI: Victorian London, the gameplay is incredibly enjoyable, and even though some puzzles have the unswerving ability to induce apoplexy, it is oddly relaxing, with the game setting a comfortable pace throughout.
The Holmes games have always been heavy on the puzzles and Testament is no different, although some might be relieved that the insane difficulty of previous titles has been somewhat brought to heel and the game has been made more accessible. A new Sixth Sense mode – akin to a ‘show-all-hotspots’ button (now thankfully prevalent in the point and click genre) – is a boon and ideal for when you think you have exhausted every clue or avenue of investigation. Those worrying about dumbing down, however, need not worry, as the ability to skip large puzzles (at the cost of some achievements, I may add) and use Sixth Sense are optional, and the game will more than give you a run for your money, regardless. More than once, I ended up staring in frustrated rage at the screen/inventory/puzzles, muttering at my controller, the TV, and whoever came near me after becoming stuck, but that is par for the course.
While most adventures enjoy a blend of inventory and large puzzles, the Holmes games are more tipped towards large problems. These take the form of various safes, boxes, locks and mechanical devices which need to be cracked in order to progress. For the most part, once you have assembled all components or knowledge needed, they aren’t too bad, but they can (thankfully) still be skipped if you can’t manage them… but not always, as many lost hours on my part can testify. Most puzzles are unique, although there are several repeats, most notably the locks, of which you’ll find three – skip one and no achievement for you, so be warned.
With Frogwares finally having the chance to take advantage of the graphical might of a new engine, the game looks gorgeous. The chequered life of Victorian London is painted in fine brush-strokes, its absorbing detail sucking the player in from the get go with detailed, well-realised locations. The whole feel of the game and, thus, the immersion, hinges on how it looks, and Testament never once disappoints, even if the locations are actually rather small. From the warm, cosiness of the Baker Street rooms, to the tawdry, crimson confines of a Chinese opium den, creaking dockyard, or abandoned funfair, Testament grabs hold and yanks you, body and soul, into its world. Perhaps none more so than the sobering streets of Whitechapel, where poverty oozed from every decaying brick.
The place was truly evocative, showing the worst face of the city, in stark contrast to the pomp and wealth so prevalent elsewhere. Homeless people slumped in dark corners, while others scavenged for food or sat cradling children, forgotten and irrelevant to the outside world. The stained walls, and dark alleyways of Whitechapel were in turn both sinister and sad, while tattered awnings heralding boarded-up shops spoke of broken hope and the desperate plight of the area’s inhabitants.
The grim face of Whitechapel wasn’t the only standout location, however, and was easily rivalled by the abandoned funfair, with its worn grandeur and dilapidated rides and carnival exhibits presenting a fascinating environment to explore. The colours may have become faded and the brass tarnished, but this rich location, even in disrepair, was easily one of the most memorable environments Testament had to offer. The locations are helped in no small way by the lighting, which is well executed, adding character and atmosphere as much as the faithful Victorian styling.
With the visuals and atmosphere riding so high, something had to pull the game down. The biggest issue with the game was the small handful of frustrating technical problems, which largely consisted of sticky movement in doorways. More often than not, after opening a door, I couldn’t walk straight through it; being able to pass necessitated turning around, stepping away and then retrying. It was a frustrating niggle that persisted throughout and wasn’t helped by some iffy collision detection. At one point, in the dockyard, I managed to get trapped in a room when another character refused to move, and although the scenery would suggest that there was more than ample room to pass, I just kept walking into a glass wall, effectively trapped. This necessitated retreating to an earlier save, meaning I lost a chunk of progress – not ideal.
I have to admit to not noticing the score a great deal throughout, but when it came to the end of the game, however, all that changed and the fantastically presented end-credits came alive. The voice acting and effects were also of good quality and there was nothing to jar the player out of the adventure, which can’t always be said for titles in the adventure genre.
With any adventure game, the story is really where it is at and here, Testament shines. Things start off relatively simple and swiftly become serpentine, twisting and splitting into various strands, all of which plait together to pull the narrative to a close. Through it all, the characters are well presented – Watson as noble, compassionate, and faithful as ever, while Holmes displays far darker traits than we would have believed, although spoilers prohibit me from elaborating further. It wasn’t until the end, however, that the story knocked my socks off. What had begun as a crime thriller employed a neat twist and delivered a touching payoff that I truly wasn’t expecting. For me, it elevated the game beyond the smart puzzles and detailed locations to something that lingered long after the Xbox was switched off.
Despite a few technical issues, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a truly engaging title, proving that adventures can hold their own on the consoles and providing a relatively smooth gaming experience. Overall, Testament delivers an absorbing story with a rich visual punch to pull you in and immerse you until the final curtain falls. It may have given me more than a few moments of frustration and no small amount of pad-mangling irritation when I became stuck, but Frogwares have woven a fine tale that sits among the top adventures of the genre and proves a worthy addition to the vast, fictional melting-pot surrounding Doyle’s greatest legacy.Pros
- Great gameplay
- Deduction boards were a good touch and fun to use
- Richly detailed visuals, with…
- A number of eye-catching and evocative locations
- Enjoyable story, with a truly memorable and surprising ending
- You get to play as a Basset Hound. Seriously.
- Groovy-as-fuck end-credits. Loved them.
- Technical issues entering doorways are a pain
- Getting trapped in a room by another character, thanks to, what I can only assume, was poor collision detection, was frustrating
- Only three deduction boards
- Conversation options seem to only have been there for effect – they appeared to have no overall impact
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is the sixth major adventure from developer Frogwares to feature the great detective and, for the most part, it is a grand success. The story begins with the simple theft of a necklace and swiftly takes a turn for the sinister when Holmes and Watson investigate a grisly murder and are pulled into a web of corruption, deceit and death.
The gameplay is absorbing, with the task of investigating, examining, and deducting proving to be enjoyable, despite the often tricky nature of some of the game’s many and varied puzzles. While the puzzles are one of the keys to a good adventure, the true heart lies in the story, and here, the game succeeds admirably, producing a twisting yarn with a truly surprising payoff. The detailed, beautiful locations – even the dilapidated, poverty-stricken streets of Whitechapel, in its own, haunting way - add to the immersive qualities of the game.
Sadly, a few technical issues with movement and glass-walling mar an otherwise great adventure, and early on, Watson is little more than a gopher, but, problems aside, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a fine tale, weaving its mystery around robust puzzles and well-presented locations to deliver a memorable experience. You might want to keep the headache tabs on standby though; even though the puzzles aren’t insanely difficult, it won’t be easing up entirely on the spanking you’ll receive.
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