I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes; so when Frogwares’ The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was announced, I was fairly curious. The problem is that games revolving around the world’s greatest detective (sorry, Batman) tend to be point-and-click affairs. Testament sort of falls into that category; but it does so in such a way as to capture some of the magic of the series, and creates an enjoyable experience indeed!
Testament is not based on any existing story by Sir Artjur Conan Doyle; it is an extension of the existing legend “read” by some children who “discover” the book in an attic. There are references to other non-canon adventures (from previous games) that add to the mystique of our pipe-smoking hero. I’m not going to get into the plot to any significant degree, as that would spoil the adventure. Suffice it to say that it is told mostly from the perspective of Dr. Watson and contains all of the twists and turns that are the trademark of Holmes; that being said, there are a few oddities that don’t necessarily work; not game-breaking (to me, anyway), these flaws simply highlight the face that Doyle was a master storyteller who is hard to duplicate.
Giant Bobby takes on Fairly Hairy Jimmy and his gang.
Creating a game about Sherlock Holmes must be a daunting task. It is not a stretch to say that most of us do not possess the keen skills of deduction and observation of the iconic detective; thus, setting up the game to be realistic would be a pointless task – not many would make it very far. Of course, making it too easy tarnishes the spirit of the story, which would drive people away for an entirely different reason. To me, Frogwares strikes a great balance with this game: they give you the observational abilities of Holmes in the form of “sixth sense”; but they leave the puzzles for you to solve based on the clues that you find.
Part point-and-click and part logic chart, Testament will definitely put you to work. The game can be played from both third-person and first-person perspective – and I found that both were required to get the full picture. Discovering clues by using your mouse is only the first step, though. A deduction board, accessible through the menu, allows you to surmise the links between clues to come to the proper conclusion. In true Doyle fashion, you may not always get there right away (due to the twists that I mentioned), but with patience and logic, you will eventually get it right. To ensure that you properly fill your deduction board, the developers gives you access to the aforementioned “sixth sense”, which goes a long way toward helping you get all of the clues when you have reached a stalemate. Once you have put things together, Holmes will usually explain to Watson (and everyone else within earshot) what is going on.
Holmes rues the day that the thieves fled into a dog food factory.
The sleuthing element of game-play is broken up by logic and math puzzles (usually placed as locks to slow your progress). The difficulty in solving these is that most of them come with no instructions, leaving you to figure out not only the solution, but the nature of the problem itself! I am not sure how most people would feel about this; I am an avid fan of the Professor Layton series, so most of these puzzles were not too difficult to figure out. Some puzzle-phobic folks may be frustrated, though.
There are other mini-games in the form of tracking (my favourite is when you can take control of Toby the blood hound), operating lab tools and using other crime-solving doo-dads that are all in the inventory of Holmes and Watson. Again, these serve to immerse you in the adventure; but really, they break up the narrative so as not to make the game end in a half hour.
Some bits to watch out for: be thorough. The deduction board does not fill itself in, and it is not difficult to come to the wrong conclusion. Some parts of the board (and the game) are only unlocked after you experience certain parts of the story. Some items, too, are deemed insignificant by Holmes – but these same items may be important in the grand scheme of things. It is only with diligence and patience that you will be able to fully utilize the logic tool to its fullest extent. Like the stories, without Watson, there is a very real possibility that the mystery would not be solved.
It’s good to see that Ewan McGregor is still finding work.
The graphics are pretty good – especially the environments; however a lot of the time the models look like poorly-controlled puppets. At times they seem to lack emotion – but this is more than made up for by the great voice acting. Sherlock Holmes has always been an odd duck – and he is portrayed as such in this game. At times, it is easy to forget that the man has some of the tendencies of a sociopath; but these are dealt with in a very obvious way in the game – especially his obsession with getting the job done by any means necessary. I don’t necessarily agree with such a heavy-handed take on the character, but it is not horrible.
As a “budget” title, the game is worth picking up if you are a fan of the books or the characters. It is readily available to download on Steam for about $40 and will keep you occupied for a fair bit of time. The game-play is interesting for a point-and-clicker; the graphics are great (if you can ignore some of the odd modelling); and the story is pretty good (if you can forgive some of the plot oddities). Frogwares did a respectable job on a very respectable detective!