The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Review
A character study of one of literature’s greatest minds, with lots of brilliant puzzles.
A perfect choice for the cerebral gamer, almost all the puzzles are perfectly suited to the world—and intricate nature—of Sherlock. There’s not much else to the game, but then…does there need to be?
Puzzle games aren't exactly known for their versatility or depth. Any lunchtime gamer can attest that they typically amount to static screen shots filled with sometimes interesting, often frustrating, occasionally mindless puzzles that link a flimsy and poorly written plot. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, however, adds so much more simply by virtue of its source material. Arthur Conan Doyle's literary thoroughbred serves as the penultimate inspiration for a puzzle game: a genuinely compelling mystery serves as the framework for devious puzzles that need to be solved and gruesome crime scenes that need to be investigated. Sure, there isn't much else going on here—there is a small element of exploration, but it's little more than a slightly engaging means of getting you from one puzzle to the next—but remember folks: it's a puzzle game in which you step into the shoes of one of most cerebral literary characters ever created. It doesn't need anything else.
Puzzle games that require you to hunt for items in a field of random objects are a dime a dozen. Those gussied up "Eye Spy" tricks won't cut it for history's greatest detective, however, and the manufacturers are well aware of this. Since Testament is the sixth major release in this particular series of games, it's a rather elementary challenge for the developers to create a set of compelling puzzles that may not actually have been a challenge for Sherlock, but are a perfect fit for gamers trying to step into his shoes.
Some puzzles consist of relatively standard fare, such as elaborate locks that require you to shift tiles or group colored balls in order to get them to open. Others are more content-specific, such as the ever enjoyable deduction boards (which, in our opinion, occur far too infrequently). While we have no complaints about the simpler puzzles—in fact, many of them are encountered by Dr. Watson, and it makes sense that he would have a slightly more mundane set of tasks to tackle compared to the exploits his brilliant partner—it's the latter set that really makes this game shine. Deduction boards and their elaborate ilk are the things that will really make gamers feel as though they're stepping into the role of the greatest deductive mind ever to live. They tackle the challenge of translating a cerebral character's methods into an engaging, hands-on version that suits the gaming medium.
Some puzzles were unduly frustrating, as is the case with every game of this nature. We encountered a handful that simply didn't make it clear as to what we needed to do in order to progress. However, those annoying moments were few and far between, and in no way detracted from our overall enjoyment of the game as a whole. Unfortunately, there is no real in-game hint system dealing specifically with puzzles. You can initiate "Sherlock Sense" in order to find items in the environment that you're supposed to interact with, but actual puzzles are either solved or skipped.
After a certain amount of time and failed attempts have passed, you'll have the option of pushing a button on the controller that causes you to bypass any trouble spots. It's a decidedly unsatisfying approach to sticky situations, and we preferred to turn to a walk through in order to get a hint rather than just breezing past something without making an effort. On the whole, however, puzzles were satisfying, challenging, and perfectly suited to the methods of Sherlock Holmes.
The specific act of exploration is really a minimal aspect of Testament: it serves as a means to get from one puzzle to another. However, there are certain elements of it which can be differentiated from the puzzle aspect, enough so that it deserves a closer look. On one hand—and this is usually when the player is in control of Dr. Watson—players can roam around to interact with items that provide references to past cases. This is a treat for fans of the books and the games alike, and serves as a satisfying nod to the detective's pedigree.
The more substantial part of exploration involves certain environments more than others. While many locations are limited to a room or two, certain areas of the game require players to wander around larger locales such as the streets of White Chapel. Here, you can encounter NPC's which can be "interacted" with (you can get a canned line from each of them, nothing that comes even close to the scale of proper adventure games like Skyrim); they don't add much, but it is a nice touch compared to the barren landscapes of the Myst subgenre of puzzlers. These environments and the amount of exploration you can engage in within each of them not only sets the mood for that point in the story, but it also adds an engaging element that is often lacking in puzzle games. Rather than moving from one static screen to another, the developers have made a small effort to create an actual world that Holmes and Watson can—to a minimal degree—explore for a moment or two on the way to their next location.
The biggest issue here was the camera. Playing in third person is enjoyable at first—who wouldn't like to watch themselves controlling Sherlock Holmes when he's in his element—but the issues with navigation become a rather clunky detriment pretty quickly. Fortunately, the developers have included the option to view the game in first person, which makes everything infinitely smoother. If only they had made the default walk and run speeds just a little bit faster...
This is the first game in the Sherlock puzzle series that was designed specifically for consoles, and we're pleased to say that the developers have done a fine job crossing platform lines. True, we can't say as to whether it's a result of their engineering capabilities, or simply the fact that puzzle games don't have that many controls to deal with...but the point is, it all works. Everything in the game involves single button presses that allow you to interact with items, whether it's examining clues in a crime scene, adjusting the notches on a lock picking tool, or combining items in your inventory. Sure, what happens on the screen may defy the laws of physics (we're probably better off not knowing how Holmes managed to hide a large ladder inside his pockets), but as far as user interaction with onscreen activity is concerned, we didn't have any issues.
One of the major flaws in puzzle games is that once you finish...you're finished. There's no alternative difficulty, no post-plot open world exploration, no extra modes or randomized one-off puzzles to solve. Sure, Testament has the advantage of possessing a great story that you may want to go back and engage in again (people reread books for a reason, after all), but its a scant motivation at best as far as gaming is concerned.
At the time of this writing, there wasn't any substantial downloadable content available for purchase. We got the game the day it was released, though, so this is something that may change with time. If you really enjoyed the experience, keep an eye out for future content somewhere down the line. Given how often Holmes and Watson split up over the course of the game, we could easily see how some additional chapters could be created to flesh out the experience even further. Judging how tightly the plot is written, though, don't hold your breath too long.
Pacing & Flow
Let's be perfectly clear: this game is not for everyone. If you have a major dislike of cerebral, slow-moving Victorian crime drama (basically, if you don't like the books), don't waste your time. We absolutely loved it because it really was like acting out a Sherlock mystery, and hearing the somewhat stilted and flowery dialogue—perfectly appropriate for the style of the game and the source material—was like listening to poetry. We cannot emphasize enough, however, that this is not a game for those that like fast-paced thrills. If you have the patience needed to survive the deliciously tantalizing build up leading to Sherlock's big reveal and the exciting denouement, you absolutely will not be disappointed. You need a pretty sizable attention span, too; this isn't a game for folks who like to multitask, or for a gamer that wants to veg out after a long work week. This is Holmes we're talking about: the puzzles are definitely engaging, but the story involves explanatory cut scenes that sometimes can last for up to ten minutes, and the involved nature of the plot means you can't skip a thing if you want to make sense of what's going on.
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