Frogwares just keeps them coming with the release of this third game in the Sherlock Holmes series. This is not my first foray into the Sherlock Holmes games. I did play Mystery of the Mummy quite a long time ago. I never did get to the Silver Earring. Not sure why. Nevertheless, Sherlock is back in this depressing and twisty little tale that delves into the occult with the inclusion of a bunch of wackos…..oops…..I mean devotees of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is a monstrous human/octopus/dragon abomination created by H.P. Lovecraft in his 1928 short story “The Call of Cthulhu”
[Note: The game does contain some scenes of blood and gore.]
And so it begins….
Watson tosses and turns in bed. A horrifying nightmare plagues him. “Help me Holmes, I beg of you” he calls out. With a gasp, Watson bursts upright. What could this dark nightmare mean?
Ah, something a bit lighter. Lilting violin music plays as the camera takes us on a tour through the streets of London. Oddly, it’s a very pristine London, but no matter. We see Watson on his way to the home of the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes. As Watson and Holmes have a morning chat, Holmes is distracted. He’s bored. There hasn’t been a case for him to work on in quite a while. Watson assures Holmes that this can’t possibly last long. Something is bound to happen that will allow him to exercise his mental prowess again soon.
It doesn’t take very long. A certain Captain Stenwick is worked up into a twitter. It seems his manservant, Baowpa, has gone missing, although Captain Stenwick’s concern is more for himself than his servant. However, it seems that there have been other recent cases of immigrants from impoverished families disappearing.
This, of course, is much more interesting to Holmes than just the standard runaway. Perhaps there is more here than meets the eye. The trail begins here and takes Holmes on a journey to Switzerland, New Orleans (USA) and Scotland. This isn’t any ordinary missing person case. Delving deeply, the trail will ultimately point to a dangerous evil entity. How deep is the madness? It will be up to Holmes to dig up clues, question everyone and underestimate nothing in order to solve this mystery.
I chose to download the game directly from Frogwares. Now, usually I prefer to have a pretty little box on the shelf but I made an exception this time. Besides, the shipping time was too long and I can be quite impatient in that respect. I don’t recommend the download option unless you have high speed internet. The game comes in 4 downloadable sections. The first one is the installer and loads in a matter of seconds (quite deceptive). The next 3 sections take an extensive amount of time to download. Plan to walk away for a while. The 2nd download alone is 650 MB. You are given a serial number that can be used only 3 times. After that, you have to contact customer service for additional serial numbers. Some would consider this to be a severe downside. But, everyone is different. The choice is yours.
The load time has been masked with a very interesting technique. It is a fade-in starting from the original pencil drawing, then the first stage of color and finally the actual scene. It was actually a cool way to do it.
You have the option of using the mouse to control game play, keyboard controls or a combination of both. I’ve got to be honest here. I looked at the keyboard controls and realized I would never remember half of them: E for dialogues, N for Reports. Forget it. I used the mouse for most of the game. It takes a while to get used to, but it worked better for me in the end. I also used the arrow keys (instead of the WSAD) to back away from locations. It was a pain to accomplish this with the mouse. But, this is purely a personal preference. The keyboard controls can be configured to use the keys you prefer. I’d rather just get to playing.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a 1st-person adventure/mystery, although you will get to see plenty of Holmes as a lot of the longer conversations take place in the cut scenes.
The entire game is fully rendered in 3D which is certainly an undertaking in itself. This is a game that would most certainly fall into the “eye candy” category - you will want to take time and check everything out. The 360° view is not my favorite. Let me be clear. I’m not downing the 360° view. I fully comprehend the beauty of it and all the extra work it must take to have every crevice of the entire gaming environment detailed to the hilt. It’s just that I always feel like I should have taken a motion sickness pill beforehand.
In London, you’ll get a chance to visit the port. A confusing maze of warehouses awaits you there. You’ll have a great time trying to find hotspots there. Once you get past London, the locations become even more fascinating. The mental hospital in Switzerland paints a sad existence. Of course, what are the chances of finding a blissful one? The hallways are dark and the doors are formidable. You will be able to talk to some of the patients and see inside their depressing cells. There will be some stealth involved here. Getting caught means you have to start over.
In New Orleans, the port comes complete with a floating whorehouse. Isn’t that special? It’s interesting to see the difference between the rich and poor sections of town. Both are represented and you will be searching both. It is also
when a thief steals your bags. This is a tour you will not soon forget. This isn’t just running. You’ll need to solve a couple of puzzles along the way. Fortunately, it is impossible to lose sight of the thief. You’ll especially love searching through the swamp in a boat…in the dark.
A map is provided which will allow you to transport to other locations easily. However, you can only go to locations as the storyline allows. You also cannot leave locations until you have found everything you are supposed to find. I have to admit it was fun running through
all the various 3D locations (as long as I didn’t spin around too much). Double clicking the mouse and then holding the left mouse button down will cause Holmes to run. And, I must say that this is a decent running speed. It’s tricky to get the hang of at first and in the beginning I hit walls, people, and everything in between. But, once you have it down, the way the environment reacts as you run down a street is almost like being there. Granted, I haven’t actually performed the act of running since high school. I prefer to run only when chased. But, this is what I imagine running looks like. One problem encountered while working with Watson is that he always seems to be right in your way with that stupid “What do you make of this Holmes”? A great deal of time was spent yelling at Watson, “I don’t make anything out of it and get out of my way already!” Really! How can I run if he’s continuously glued to my back pocket?? Another downer was trying to get Holmes up the staircase in the mental hospital basement. It took me around 10 tries and I eventually managed it by running so close to the wall that I couldn’t see where I was going.
This brings us to the first frustration factor in the game. The 3D environment is great, but there’s a whole lot of environment to search for hotspots. The problem is that you have to be virtually on top of them in order to locate them. Sometimes you’re too close, sometimes not close enough. And, since you can’t leave until you find them all, it can make you want to scream. The 2nd frustration point comes when investigating clues. The game forces you to find clues in a specific order. You see obvious footprints. Ooh, a clue! You want to look at footprints. You can’t. Not until you’ve done other things first. And, you have no idea what you’re supposed to find first. This happens many times throughout the game. You may want to investigate a specific location that Holmes just commented on as being important. But, you can’t. Again…same situation. The final stinker in the frustration category was getting completely stuck near the end. I had neglected to pick up an item that would be necessary to make a torch. Once I passed that point and actually needed the torch, I was unable to return to that area. So, ultimately I had to load a previous save and replay again. Not Happy!!
With the exception of getting stuck, the puzzles are wonderfully varied and flow with the storyline. There is a nice mixture of inventory and logic puzzles (heavier on the inventory). You’ll get to decipher codes and symbols, pick locks, make bombs, create diversions, perform chemical analysis and locate hidden rooms just to name a few. The inventory screen can be accessed with a right click of the mouse at any time. Combining items can be done in one screen with a click and drag. Along with items and documents collected throughout the game, Holmes also keeps track of all conversations. These conversations are extremely important and will ultimately be scrutinized every time you get the TEST. Yes, a test. At random points in the game, Holmes will ask you a question. The answer must be typed in and the game will not progress until you get it right. All I’m going to say is that when it came to these questions, someone must have hit me with the “dumb” stick. I wish you all better luck.
The characters’ faces as well as the era appropriate clothing are quite impressive. How about the bodies? While some of the body movements seem to be okay, for others: open the little red curtains and let the puppet show begin. But, this really doesn’t detract from the game too much. You’ll just wish it was a little better, but still be happy overall. Having said that, one thing did stick out in the opening scene when Watson is having his nightmare. That has to be the most doggone ugliest set of feet I have ever seen. Can we get Watson some slippers?
Vocally, high marks should be given. The voice acting was truly enjoyable. Sherlock sounds sufficiently snooty without being overbearing. Watson and the rest of the characters were also voiced well. However, the paperboy did sound like a paper “man”. There is a lot of conversation, but the majority of it is completed through animated cut scenes. So, you won’t have a lot of options in this respect.
The story takes a lot of twists and turns with a whole lot of information thrown in. I didn’t completely understand all of what was going on, but Holmes’ summary at the end did clear up a lot. Overall, I found myself enjoying the game. More flexibility in finding clues and a better interface for finding those hotspots would have garnered this game a higher score. But, this is still a beautiful game (the 3D undertaking was impressive) that is worthy of purchase and your time. Just make sure your computer is up to the task first.