The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Review: The (5)7% Solution
By way of introduction, I should say: I am a massive Sherlock Holmes fan. Ever since “The Speckled Band” sent me to sleep terrified of the radiator’s hiss, I have been devouring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation and the many fictions it has inspired.
It was no surprise, then, that I was taken with The Testament of Sherlock Holmes when I saw it at E3. Now completed after a 15-hour playthrough, does the game live up to its positive first impression?
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Playstation 3, XBOX 360
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive, Atlus
Released: September 25th, 2012
The answer to that question, to put it with un-Holmesian inexactness, is “sort of.” That’s not to say that Ukranian developers Frogwares don’t get a lot right. For one thing, they have a fan’s love of the source material, which means they nail what had to be nailed: the characters of Holmes and Watson.
It starts with the writing, which is plausibly Victorian and occasionally quite funny. The line “it will fall as flat as one of Mrs. Hudson’s souffles” cracked my girlfriend up, one room over. Sure, they may have had five previous Holmes games to practice on, but Frogwares could still teach bigger, richer studios a thing about interesting dialogue.
I was also particularly impressed by the voice acting, which builds on the writing to capture Holmes’ Asperger’s arrogance and Watson’s earnest bluster, the latter played (cleverly) for laughs. The game also brought the pair’s unlikely friendship to life in conversation — their personality clashes are key to the characters’ long-time success.
You’ll control both Holmes and Watson before the game is through, with interesting results. Holmes is always telling Watson what to do, and when playing as the affable doctor, you’re always one step behind, trying to follow the master detective’s thought process. This sense of uncertainty increases the dramatic tension, but also provides a surprising video game parallel. Holmes’ penchant for giving orders and Watson’s unwillingness (or inability) to disobey them resembles the relationship between a game and a gamer. “The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!” games are always saying. “But…” we stutter through our mustaches, then do whatever they say. If Frogwares had had the gumption to make a game in which you control Watson the whole time, following Holmes around and doing his bidding, while trying to figure out his motives, what a game it might have been.