The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Review
A character study of one of literature’s greatest minds, with lots of brilliant puzzles.
The story isn't based on any tale penned by Doyle, but it might as well have been. We were held with rapt attention as the story of Sherlock's disgrace unfolded before our eyes; not once did it slow down or meander through a pointless tangent. Like every element of the original stories, not one facet of what we witnessed lacked purpose...though what that purpose is may not have been clear at the time. Occasionally it felt as though certain parts of the plot had fallen by the wayside, but just a puzzle or two later, there was Sherlock picking up the pieces. At various points we were elated, horrified, dismayed...the writers on this game should be commended for their brilliant work that captures the essence of Sherlock Holmes.
Past games in the Sherlock puzzle series focused on a case or a prominent villain. The last game in the series had the wits of Sherlock pitted against the brutal criminal mind of Jack the Ripper. Testament takes a very different approach, however; sure, there's a solid villain working on a suitably devious plot (we won't spoil it by telling you who it is), but this game is really more of a character study on Sherlock himself. Breaking with tradition, gamers alternatively control Sherlock and Dr. Watson at different points throughout the experience. This conceit is what really allows the writers to shine. Watson has always been the more accessible of the partnership, and his involvement in the story adds an emotional core that resonates with gamers in a way that Sherlock alone simply cannot.
Forcing the player to tackle things from a certain point of view (Watson doesn't always stay with his illustrious partner) casts a shadow of doubt over the actions of the world's greatest detective. It's true that Holmes doesn't like to waste time explaining his actions, but the story in this game gives the man's introverted nature a sinister edge. Does Sherlock truly fall from grace? Is he a dangerous psychopath who only solves crimes for the personal pleasure of feeling superior to others? Well, we'll let other websites spoil it for you, but just know that by the time you get to the final act, Watson won't be the only person involved in this case whose feelings about the great detective will have been shaken to their very core. The story's brilliance is reason enough to play this game, even if you're not a very big fan of puzzlers.
The catch with the writing itself is that it's done in a way that makes it less than perfectly accessible. Not everyone can read a Doyle short story and understand what's happening the first time around. People speak in a way that may seem unusually stilted or formal, especially compared to modern speech. The writers have done a very good job of walking a line between matching the style of Doyle while making sure gamers can keep track of what's happening, but it's definitely a style that will take some time to get used to if you're not already familiar with it.
Plot & Player Choices
As much as we love the story, Testament is no Mass Effect. Sherlock's England is buttoned up, straight laced, and full of rigid backs and stiff upper lips. In that sense, the voice actors absolutely nail it. Sherlock is cool, sharp, and incisive, everything you'd expect from the classic interpretation of the detective. Watson, while maintaining the formality of the time, exudes an air of gentle compassion—both for his dear friend, as well as all the other people affected by the case—that serves as a perfect foil to Sherlock. In fact, it's Watson's emotional core which provides the root of the entire story; without his personal connection to everything happening in the case, Sherlock's downfall wouldn't have felt so wrenching. The supporting characters are all unique and fully realized vocally; our only complaint is that the primary villain's performance proved to be just a tad anti climactic.
There are two sets of cut scenes in Testament. Most involve Sherlock, Watson, and the events pertaining to your actions in the game. These don't just serve to move the plot...they are the plot. They detail Sherlock's actions and his explanation of events, but they're more than just exposition. Since the game deals so heavily with Sherlock's private motivations and his becoming a wanted man, the scenes involving Dr. Watson also serve to amplify the emotional pain that the detective's downfall has on those who care about him. While they did tend to run on for quite a while, we never felt the urge to skip anything since all the scenes served a very specific and pertinent purpose.
The game is framed using short, interstitial scenes that depict three small children reading Dr. Watson's account of Testament in an attic some time after the in-game adventures have concluded. While they seem silly at first, the importance of these small snippets is revealed gradually throughout the course of the game, and actually depict the long-term ramifications of the case. We took issue with the graphics, but the scenes themselves were always enjoyable to watch, breathing life into a game that's part of a genre known for thin, pointless plots.
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