The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Review: The (5)7% Solution

 

Unfortunately, the studio’s carefully crafted characters are marooned in a tale that rarely rises above mediocre. Starting with an ill-considered frame story, which involves a trio of incredibly creepy video game children, the plot manages to meander through a number of different set-pieces without ever really cohering. The grisly murder that kicks off the narrative is promising, though Testament… often lays it on too thick with the gore, which the original stories were just as effective without.

To channel the unique delights of Conan Doyle’s work, Frogwares would have been better served ramping up the game’s drama and suspense. Instead, the stakes feel artificially inflated, especially during the story’s limp final third. Any gamer smart enough to complete the game’s puzzles will see the various plot twists coming a mile away, and by the final hours I was looking forward to being finished more than I was looking forward to finding out what happens — events had strayed too far into Bond-villain territory.

The core gameplay will be familiar to those who played L.A. Noire — simply navigate your character around a location until you’ve investigated everything you can interact with. In Testament’s detailed locations, often full of Victorian bric-a-brac, it can be easy to overlook things, so the developers helpfully include a “sixth sense” button, which displays an icon over any hotspot within the current camera view.

Too often, however, this system boils down to “collect all the items to progress,” and you’ll usually know what you need to do before you figure out exactly how the game wants you to do it. This leads to a lot of walking around, hammering on the sixth sense button, and without L.A. Noire’s moody atmosphere and music, it quickly sucks all the dramatic tension right out of the game. The three included camera modes — 1st person, 3rd person, and cinematic click-to-move — show remarkable flexibility, though they also beg the question: why not just make do with one really well-executed perspective?

The game does include some interesting puzzles — mini-games that test logic, persistence, and basic math. Frustratingly, though, these mental challenges seem unconnected from anything happening in the game, existing in a kind of brain-teasing vacuum that ruins both immersion and any sense of urgency you can wring out of the plot. Every lock Holmes and Watson encounter, for example, has some unrealistically “ingenious” mechanism for opening it, powered by chess pieces, colored balls, or even miniature oars that must be arranged to spell out Greek letters. Hard puzzles can be skipped, although doing so feels like a particularly un-Holmesian thing to do.

These miniaturized marvels are also technologically out of place in Testament’s period setting; the game has more than its fair share of clunky anachronisms, which tend to cluster around the puzzles. On the other hand, some plot elements do bear the signs of careful research and historical creativity. References to the Boer War and Anarchist conspiracy reinforce the idea that you’re playing a game set in 1898.

When the game does bother with actual detective work, the results are impressive. Although only deployed three times during the game, a “Deduction Board” system asks players to draw conclusions from evidence by answering a series of multiple choice questions, arranged in a sort of flow chart. To succeed, one must ensure that each individual deduction is sound before moving on down the chain. Though it is no doubt a difficult and time-consuming system to design, I wish it had been more prevalent.

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