Me and Sherlock have a lot in common, you know. Just last week I was woken from my slumber at GD Towers by a terrifying tortured wailing, as if a tormented soul had torn free of Hell and was screeching its agony through the chilly stone corridors. After a crafty bit of detective work, I realised it was just Squee playing Agricultural Simulator 2012.
Which brings us nicely onto The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, the latest adventure starring everyone’s favourite deerstalker-clad detective.
What a Ripper
The last time we played with Sherlock, he was on the trail of infamous high-jinxer Jack The Ripper. While that game had plenty of great ideas, including the entertaining deduction boards that help you to figure out what went down at a crime scene, it was also bogged down with too much flaccid padding. When a serial killer is on the loose and you’re London’s only hope, it’s hardly appropriate to take time out to run an old lady’s errands and search for her bloody missing cat. Even if it is super snuggly wuggly cute (that’s a bad Mr Whiskers, don’t you run off and scare mommy!)
Thankfully, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes ditches the pointless side-quests and focuses on the main twisty-turny plot, which has to be the best we’ve seen in an adventure game for some time. It starts innocently enough with a missing necklace, then swiftly explodes into horrific gruesomeness with the discovery of a bishop’s mutilated corpse. You play as both Sherlock and Watson (and even as their dog, Toby) as you piece together the clues, solve brain-punchingly difficult puzzles, and track down the fiends responsible - with some shock revelations along the way.
Sherlock does Doom
One of the most innovative aspects of The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is the ingenious and flexible control scheme. You control Sherlock/Watson in one of three ways: our preferred method was the first-person control, where you walk around using WASD keys and click on objects to interact. However, you can also use a third-person view or a standard ‘point and click’ view, where you simply left-click to move and interact with the environment. Each method works well, although the first person view truly sucks you into the game and makes it great fun to hunt down clues.
It is simplicity itself
Gameplay is entertainingly diverse. Upon arrival at a new location you’ll generally have a crime to investigate, anything from theft to full-blown murder. Once you’ve hunted down enough clues, you’ll then be able to piece together events using the deduction board, which presents you with a series of multiple-choice questions and asks you to pick the correct scenario. However, there are plenty of puzzles to solve along the way too, from maths riddles involving roman numerals to observation tasks that have you picking out a suspect based on prior deductions. Some of the puzzles border on teeth-gnashingly hard, but there’s always a skip option (and the blessed internet, of course).
And just when you think The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is settling into a groove, you’ll find yourself controlling a Beagle as he sniffs out the trail of a suspect.
We don’t want to spoil any of the game’s other surprises, but some elements genuinely surprised us, not least the plot - we recommend picking it up without reading any blurb or even checking out the trailer, which divulges story elements well over halfway into the ten-hour story.
What a boggle
If we had to raise complaints about The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, they’d be pretty minor. Regardless, it’s a shame that Sherlock is such an arrogant chest-beater, which makes it hard to really root for him. Imagine all of Robert Downey Jr’s smugness with none of the charm and half the wit and you’re pretty much there. Watson isn’t much cop either, portrayed as a clueless bungling oaf who witters on at every opportunity. Whenever we took control of the moaner, we were dismayed to discover we couldn’t throw ourselves under the nearest horse and cart.
That said, Sherlock does get an interesting turn in this game as a brooding human enigma, allowing brief glimpses into a conflicted and perhaps even psychotic mind. Played a bit less stiff, he could make a truly intriguing protagonist.
Apart from the unnerving way that a character’s lip movements don’t even vaguely match their words, the graphics and animation are crisp and detailed and the voice acting is strong (barring a couple of kiddies, who frankly should be cut right out of the game). Any other issues would be tiny quibbles at best, so we’ll leave it at that.
As veterans of Sherlock’s PC adventures, we can safely say that The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is his best romp yet. Engrossing clue-hunts and puzzles are well mixed with an increasingly shocking tale, making this one of our most favourite adventure games of the year so far.