In a world where Sherlock Holmes is more commonly known from modern-day crime dramas and Robert Downey Jr. movies than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, European developer Frogwares wants to try the noble thing and bring the famed detective back closer to his literary roots. As such, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes--Frogwares’ seventh entry in its Sherlock Holmes series and the first one for consoles since 2008’s Sherlock Holmes Versus Jack The Ripper (opens in new tab)--eschews gunplay and ‘splosions for some good ol’ fashioned clue collecting and mystery solving. And while this adventure game suffers from some typical genre woes in the puzzle and presentation departments, its engaging plot and interesting spin on the Holmes character make it a solid entry in the longstanding character’s legacy.
Watch The Testament of Sherlock Holmes launch trailer
On the surface, The Testament’s story is usual Holmesian fare. A prominent figure is murdered, so Sherlock and his partner Watson are tasked with getting to the bottom of the shenanigans. But things are not as they first seem, and a relatively simple case soon becomes a complex conspiracy that not only puts England at risk, but also causes friction between the detective and his best bud. Along the way, you’ll gather clues, make deductions, and solve a variety of puzzles as both Holmes and Watson (and even their helpful hound Toby at one point) until the case is cracked for good.
It may all sound familiar, but the enthusiasm and maturity with which Frogwares tackles the Holmes lore is undoubtedly the best part of The Testament. Sherlock is arrogant, condescending, and eccentric, but he remains ingenious and altogether likable throughout. Watson, meanwhile, plays the ordinary, everyman foil readers have come to know, love, and identify with. Both of these icons are fully-formed and well-acted, making your time with them a satisfying one.
One of game’s biggest (non-spoiler) twists, for instance, finds Holmes himself becoming a primary suspect in the case. The resulting sections, which find Holmes blackmailing suspects, threatening rowdy kids, aiding escaped prisoners, and even sedating people with opium, among other things, will more than successfully keep interests piqued. When Watson’s faith in his partner begins to waver as a result, it gets even better. These are 125 year-old characters that have appeared in dozens of pieces of entertainment, remember, so the fact that Frogwares has managed to make them feel relatively fresh again is a commendable accomplishment.
But alas, when you actually get to play as the detective duo, some all-too-familiar issues begin to appear out from underneath the magnifying glass. The many puzzles you’ll solve from scene to scene are varied, sure, and the returning “deduction board” feature--where you take the info you’ve gathered for a particular happening and piece together your various conclusions--is fun, but completing them is often more frustrating than necessary.
Watch this teaser trailer from The Testament of Sherlock Holmes
While it is nice to have your intellect challenged from time to time, the game omits a useful hint system in favor of a “Skip Puzzle” option that lets you bypass the mental gymnastics altogether. This lack of assistance results in more than a few instances where you’re left staring at your screen, frantically tapping the game’s sort-of-but-not-entirely-helpful “sixth sense” button (which allows Sherlock and company to see what objects in the environment can be interacted with), and wondering what you’re supposed to be doing before declaring yourself too dumb to understand what’s going on. You may be playing as a world-renowned detective, but chances are good that you won’t always feel like one.
You won’t always move like one either. The Testament offers both first-person and third-person play, but good luck if you decide to go with the latter. Movements are clunky, stiff, and awkward, oftentimes making the simple act of looking at object a minor challenge. First-person control may sacrifice a better view of your surroundings, but controls considerably smoother by comparison. The game’s decidedly average looks, lacking production values, and handful of annoying bugs--there was one where Holmes would frequently walk into a door for 30 seconds before opening it--don’t help either.
It’s definitely not perfect, but The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is still worth a look if you’re ever in the market for a new point-and-click-style adventure. Its portrayal of the world’s greatest fictional detective does the license justice, and its narrative intrigues up until its satisfying conclusion, even if getting there can be a pain sometimes. In other words, it’s all elementary, my dear friends.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.