Slowly but surely, ‘Sherlock Mania’ is sweeping the globe. Guy Ritchie’s films have already set the tone for a new age of expectations while current TV has elected for modern adaptations – Sherlock in the UK, and Elementary in the US (with Lucy Liu portraying Watson of all people). Recently we’ve been seeing a number of Sherlock games coming out of Frogwares’ woodwork with The Testament of Sherlock Holmes serving as their most anticipated series release yet, something that unfortunately is a bit of an overstatement.
The game takes place in a rather pressing time in Holmes’ life where journalists hold no quarry in their attempts to portray the detective as a magnifying glass carrying fraud, and Watson as a hapless accomplice. All the while, multiple cases arise, each demanding the duo’s full attention. Nevertheless, Britain’s greatest detective remains calm under fire and through careful deduction discovers that each of these cases are linked by a common denominator, one that has yet to be revealed.
The premise may be attractive but the graphics are anything but. The game opens with a trio of children in an attic – poorly voiced and poorly modeled (one sporting pigtails that appear as limp jalapenos) – who happen upon the lost notes of Watson that detail the game’s story. These abominable squirts continue to appear in intermissions and it’s always painfully awkward. There’s of course a point to their presence, but an omission of this side story would not have shaved much from the main tale.
As the actual adventure unfolds, it’s confirmed that the designs aren’t going to get much better than this. The environmental and character compositions would be best described as comparable to high-end PS2 graphics and even still it keeps getting worse. The game holds up like running a title that dropkicks an outdated PC’s capabilities, and often gets to that point where you actually begin to worry whether or not your PS3 is going to freeze. This tends to happen if there’s a lot going on in an environment, such as multiple NPCs, furniture, and even sunlight. Sometimes the game accumulates so much slowdown it pulls off that infamous moment where a sudden burst of recovery occurs causing everything to accelerate to catch up to your current position.
Sadly, research on YouTube has shown that the PS3 received the short end of the stick when it came to frame management as the 360’s runs silky smooth. So if you’ve been unfortunate enough to have purchased the former, it’s advised that you play the game in first-person view as having Sherlock on screen adds to the stutterings.
In fact, first-person view is the only way the game should be played. Despite the 3D details, pixel hunting occurs in the form of having to be fully aware of your surroundings and even still it’s possible to overlook details. As there is no mouse, the game is fitted with a ‘sixth sense’ feature that reveals all hotspots within a given line of sight. This also serves as a pseudo hint button, as after use some time is needed for it to recharge. While it won’t re-summon objects you’ve already investigated, it still identifies exits and already used doors which stirs feelings of hopelessness if you’re stuck after going through everything in a room. Later on, the ’sixth sense’ exhibits signs of glitchiness where the hotspots don’t show up.
The game also falsely advertises the option to ask Watson for help if you’re stumped, but in actuality asking the good doctor for assistance only has him constantly respond with “What do you think Holmes?” over and over. This tends to diminish his role in the game, only forgotten in scenarios where you’re given control of him. Until then, you might as well be walking a dog that has a tendency of getting in your way. Additionally, the game doesn’t even tell you about combining items in your inventory, something that isn’t a necessity until you reach the game’s midpoint. This is something you’ll have to figure out on your own and no, of course Watson doesn’t tell you squat.
But underneath it all, Testament still delivers as a game with some bite. In hindsight, the general story isn’t anything spectacular but the narrative steadies itself with controlled pacing, much thanks to the puzzles. If you’re the type of puzzle fanatic who was bred on Myst, Riven, and cult classics from Sierra, this is a title right up your alley. The challenges provide little-to-no instructions on how they are to be solved and you get zero hints. Undoubtedly, this makes Testament a very difficult game for certain players. However, as you progress, the puzzles do get more intriguing and enjoyable to solve, but if you’re just not having it the game gives you the option to skip puzzles entirely and continue with the story. Depending on the type of player you are, you may feel a slight bit of guilt in doing so but this is probably why Testament opts for manual saves.
To add on to the hardened wit motions of elite detective work, the game incorporates scenarios where you have to use ‘The Deduction Board’. Here, after Watson has noted all the points within a case, you have to uncover underlying truths. This is done in the form of mixing and matching multiple choice answers but there is no gray area to the assessment, rather you have to get the one correct combination of answers in order to move on, and these moments can’t be skipped. Some of the choices tend to be out of context to what you’ve witnessed thus far and eventually you may find yourself just going through every possible combination of choices to brush it all aside.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes isn’t so much a detective game, but a puzzle title, one that limits its audience given its difficult old skool approach. On top of that, its outdated graphics and terrible frame rate asks more of its players to swallow before taking things seriously. While its story may not take up too much of your time in order to spark interests, its immediate flaws can have a number of gamers consider the prospect of playing something else to be an elementary deduction.