As many of you may know, I’m always complaining about games having become too easy. I recently completed The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, I am happy to admit it has beaten me and I loved it for doing just that. The game is a celebration of the intelligence, mythology and genius of the world’s most famous detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
With Testament, the creators of the Sherlock Holmes adventure game series, Frogwares, have taken Holmes and Watson down a dark path of betrayal, disillusionment and death. The game opens with a seemingly straight forward theft, but near the game’s end, we find Watson alone and Holmes dead by his own hand; leaving behind a trail of murders and unexplained crimes.
Holmes is known for his unconventional methods, but has he gone too far? Have years of investigating the world’s most notorious criminals finally crept into his psyche, turning him from sleuth to perpetrator? A dark question echoes across The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, is Holmes innocent or is he guilty? A nagging doubt takes hold and continually whispers into your ear as you navigate through the game. What you finally discover is a plot so diabolical; so terrible; it seemingly justifies Holmes’s suicide when his part in the heinous crime is exposed. Betrayed by his most trusted friend, Watson spirals into a pit of despair and doubt. He sets out on a final mission to uncover the truth. Alone and filled with haunting accusations against Holmes, what will he discover?
I will not spoil the game’s end for you, but I will say this, it involves an elaborate orchestration of deception to overthrow the queen, control the royal army, drive London’s poor masses to madness, and ultimately, world domination. This is such a game of smoke and mirrors, it will keep you guessing all the way until the final act.
Holmes holding Watson at gun point, shortly before he takes his own life.
The good is also the bad
The game demands an unflinching attention to detail. This aspect fits well in playing the super sleuth Holmes, but it can also be extremely frustrating - if you miss one shred of evidence, the game punishes you severely. You will meander around in a loop for literally hours, or until you give up and make Google your friend to find a way out. Leave no stone unturned and no door knob untwisted; click on all the things and for the love of all that is common sense, look up!
Any decent adventure game needs its fair share of problem solving features. Testament is rife with puzzles and throws them at you from all angles, solve riddles, break open locks, apply science, do an autopsy, build a bomb, crack open a safe, understand chemistry, navigate a radar and follow the breadcrumbs, the list is almost endless. The puzzles are intriguing and challenging - none are boring or too easy.
Some of the puzzles are just good fun, others are extremely challenging, a few were way above my cognitive abilities. There were times where I had no clue what the puzzle was even about. Thank goodness I have Google as my trusty sidekick. If there is a person who has played Testament without running to the Internet for help, I want to meet them! Frogwares must’ve foreseen this frustration because some of the puzzles come with a “forward” button. I am proud to admit I only had to use it twice. Every time I unlocked a particularly difficult puzzle I was flooded with a sense of achievement, this makes the game extremely rewarding. The down side is the mental toll of exercising your brain power after a few hours of concentrated playing.
The puzzles will keep you bogged down at your screen for hours, possibly even days.
Sherlock Holmes’ uncanny deduction skills have always been his hallmark - be it in literature, film, or video games. Testament highlights this skill exquisitely by introducing the Deduction Board. This feature is a gem and one of the highlight of the game. It incorporates all the evidence, clues and assumptions you’ve collected and ties it together in a simple yet brilliant manner. It’s here where your detective skills come into play. Besides the puzzles, most of the game is about pointing and clicking on the right things, but with the Deduction Board, you have to apply your reasoning skills in order to solve a case.
It’s extremely rewarding to have gathered all the clues and then to stretch your mind even further by drawing the correct conclusion. My only criticism is there aren’t enough deduction board events in the game. I would have preferred a few less puzzles and more Deduction Board solving opportunities.
The overall gameplay is good (besides Watson bumping into you now and then), but how does the environment stack up? Let’s talk about the window dressing next: the graphics, physics and sound. Frogwares have definitely pushed the series’ graphics up a notch with Testament. The environment provides a deep, strikingly beautiful setting for the story to play out in. The game captures the heart of 1898 London masterfully; Holmes 21 1b Baker Street apartment is as untidy and filled with clutter as it has been since it was first penned in 1887. You can almost feel the dust and sooty grime of the London slums clinging to you as you deftly navigate through the streets from one crime scene to the next. The murder scenes are sometimes awash with such graphic detail; it makes you gag.
Unfortunately this same attention to detail is not given to the character animations; and the voice acting is totally out of sync with the dialogue at times.
The game also incorporates interesting achievements. Some of these will remind you of past cases, others hint at Holmes dry sense of humor and a few achievements will have to be earned by your display of detective genius.
A final feature that’s worth mentioning is the option to not only play Watson, but Holmes and Holmes’s hound as well – all in the first-person view. This added feature helps to immerse you into your game character. There is an option to play from a third-person viewpoint, but the gameplay feels clunky and you feel distant from Testament’s action.
Aside from the sometime clunky character animations, there is none.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a lesson in lateral thinking cocooned within a beautifully crafted turn of the century London landscape. It’s wrapped around a deeply layered storyline with more than a few surprises. The game demands a certain level of sleuth savvy from you and will keep its mysteries tightly locked away for those who fail to master the challenges set forth.
Should you buy the game? If you are a hard-core fan of adventure games, then definitely! You cannot afford to miss it. If, however, you only dabble in adventures games when you are bored with dull shoot’em ups, then I wouldn’t recommend it. It might just be a notch above your “intellect-grade.” ;)
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