The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Preview: A Study in Fun
I wasn’t expecting much when I sat down to check out The Testament of Sherlock Holmes at E3 2012, but it ended up being one my favorite games at the show. Developed by European studio Frogwares, the title is the sixth in a series of Holmes adaptations for various platforms. As a die-hard fan of the character and a long-time adventure game enthusiast, I left the booth feeling like I had been missing out on something great.
Testament… made a striking first impression with its beautiful, detailed Victorian environments, which provided the perfect setting for the world’s greatest detective to ply his trade in, and provide crucial immersion into the world of Sherlock Holmes. The character models were similarly well-executed — Frogwares’ Holmes is based on actor Jeremy Brett, who played the character in a successful series of adaptations for British television — personal favorites of mine since childhood. In general, the quality of the 3D graphics is far higher than what players have come to expect in adventure games, without compromising that genre’s distinctive strengths.
At various points in the game, players will control Holmes, Watson, and even the bloodhound, Toby, whose keen sense of smell is often useful. The writing and voice acting for the principals and the supporting cast was consistently impressive — no small achievement, considering the period setting. Holmes’ arrogance, Watson’s bluff innocence, the confusion of NPC’s not sure how to react to the great detective’s eccentricities — it was all there.
Two investigation set-pieces were made available in LA: a case involving a stolen necklace, and a grisly murder of an archbishop. Both crimes will be woven into a larger intrigue; according Frogware’s representative, Holmesians have provided a lot of positive feedback about the company’s contributions to the canon. That said, in Testament… the developers have opted for a more gruesome, gorey presentation than some fans will be used to.
Gameplay provides a mix of investigation, deduction, and puzzle solving. Investigating the environments for clues will remind some players of L.A. Noire — not exactly pixel-hunting, but more an exercise in carefully combing the scene until all the clues — signified by button prompts — are found. Players can use both a 1st- and 3rd-person camera, and some scenes of close scrutiny — the archbishop’s mangled body, for example — trigger their own perspectives.
Holmes will also occasionally deploy a tool like a tape measure or his distinctive magnifying glass to gather information — one sequence in the demo asked players to measure various footprints and then decide how many people had been in the room. Such revelations are then combined with the clues found through visual investigation and those divined through conversation with NPC’s on a “deduction board.” This is a gamified flow-chart that gives players a framework for arriving at the correct conclusions. Trial-and-error can yield some results, but overall, the deduction system is challenging, neither too simple nor too frustrating.
The game also includes a variety of puzzles, which are generally creative and satisfying. One sequence in the demo involving a kind of stylized chess problem almost made me late for my next appointment — I wasn’t about concede defeat. After finishing a particular set-piece, players can choose which leads to pursue, and in what order — a pleasant piece of branching storytelling that must have given the Frogwares writing staff fits.
Thanks to its AAA production values, unapologetic adventure gameplay, and its slam-dunk take on the source material, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a must-play for me when it releases this September. Now, I realize that in my case, Frogwares is preaching to the converted, but if you like adventure or mystery, consider picking up this underhyped gem.