Publisher: Focus Home Interactive (PC)
Atlus (console versions)
Platform: PC, XBOX 360, PS3
Release Date: September 25, 2012
ESRB: M for Mature
This review is based on the PC version of the game
London, 1898. The scenery is bright, sunny, yet overcast from the grime and filth of the streets of Whitechapel. The famed Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson patrol alleyways, hunting for an opium den. Finding the downtrodden location, Holmes and Watson investigate for evidence of a mind-altering poison. While they don't find many clues, they do find two crooks related to the tangled web of conspiracy and murder. Without hesitation, Sherlock draws his pistol and prepares to brain one of the bad guys in cold blood. Wait, is this really the Sherlock Holmes, about to commit murder?
In The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, you'll find yourself asking many similar questions. Holmes regularly resorts to unorthodox and questionable methods to obtain the information and items he needs. Breaking and entering a judge's house are among the less-savory practices Sherlock has seemingly fallen into. Investigating Holmes's character and his ulterior motivations is just one of the many facets to Frogware's ambitious adventure-detective game. Testament is the sixth entry in the venerable line of SH games and is Frogware's largest yet. Players can freely explore the locations across London available at any time during their investigations. Testament has also been built on a brand new game engine, allowing for better visuals and environments than was possible in previous games. But do all of these changes make for a compelling experience?
I won't lie; Testament is quite a difficult game. While it can be completed on the Normal difficulty in around 10-12 hours, I only managed to accomplish this with a few cheats. Since this is an adventure game, you can expect quite a few puzzles to pop up. Some of them are quite obvious but still fun to solve. Others will have you scratching your head for 10-15 minutes before the solution finally hits you. And then there are the puzzles that need a manual for explaining how on earth you're supposed to solve them. I ran into plenty of situations where I simply had no idea what to do. While I don't consider myself a slouch in the brain-teaser department, Testament regularly made me feel stupid for the number of puzzles I struggled with. In many ways, this is actually a good thing, because it makes the reward of solving a puzzle that much greater. At other times, this can seriously frustrate when you have three such puzzles in the same room.
The other side of Sherlock Holmes's sixth romp is the investigation part. This was easily my favorite element, as I could sleuth around and make keen observations about my environment that actually mattered during puzzle segments. A box of alcohol, for example, might come in handy when Sherlock needs to distract a guard. Sherlock (and whatever characters you control) also has an inventory where he can combine items to make ropes, ladders, and more. The same inventory menu also leads to a dialogue transcript, deduction notebook, and character switch feature. Yes, you will play as other people (well, a dog too), including Watson. It's functionally the same as playing Holmes, albeit with different dialogue. Searching rooms for text-based clues also reveals much of the intriguing, complex narrative. The well-written journal entries, letters, and book pages all help to develop a certain mystique about Sherlock. Is he really a good detective, or the greatest criminal mastermind to have ever lived?
You'll definitely want to see the conclusion to this dark chapter of Holmes's life as the writing is absolutely stellar. Whoever penned this plot did a great job of making it feel like classic Doyle. It's a creative and involving story that's paced quite well, especially considering this is a slow-moving adventure game. Every scrap of information recovered during investigations supplements the plot perfectly, and no major story threads are left unanswered. The gameplay elements work in conjunction with the excellent narrative to make Testament a gripping experience for hardcore SH fans and newcomers alike.
While the story and gameplay are both great, Testament doesn't fare so well on the technical side of things. The visuals are a great step-up from previous entries, but the animations aren't that great. Watching a man's eyebrows randomly raise during a conversation is quite amusing. The lip-syncing is also hit or miss. I must praise just how good the environments can look, though. The district of Whitechapel is appropriately dirty and the attention to detail is quite good, considering that this was likely made on a smaller budget.
The voice-acting, while decent, can grate on one's nerves. I liked the voice-overs for Holmes, but sorely wanted to hit the mute button on Watson at times. Some of the other voices are a little hammy, but it never bothered me enough to be more than a distraction. In fact, I felt immersed enough to ignore the sometimes-stiff line deliveries because the dialogue was so interesting and content-rich. Testament definitely holds your attention regardless of who's saying what. There are plenty of interesting backstories that are often revealed through dialogue with side NPCs and central plot figures.
In my playthrough, I did encounter one or two glitches. The most prevalent was the random control switch when I played in first-person. I also had the ability to change to point-and-click and third-person view. At unspecified times, my interact key would also become my walk key in first-person, similar to point-and-click mode. While moving, I couldn't interact with any clues or doors. While this was easily solved by pausing and unpausing the game, I had to do it quite frequently. Hopefully a patch can resolve this annoying control issue.
If none of these presentation issues concern you and you're an adventure games fan, then there should be no reason why you don't pick up The Testament of Sherlock Holmes. Many of the puzzles, while head-crackingly difficult, are rewarding to solve and come with achievements. Coupled with solid gameplay mechanics and a strong story, Testament is a great entry into any Sherlock Holmes's fans library. It's dark, mature, and perfect for those who want to delve deeper into the life of the famed detective.
+ A superbly-written narrative
+ Lots of puzzles and investigations
+ Immersive and dark plotline
+ Strong visuals from the new engine
- Some of the voice-acting is weak
- Animations are somewhat rough
- Puzzles can be incredibly difficult
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
An adventure fan's delight! Sherlock Holmes fans won't be disappointed.