The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: Case of the Rose Tattoo

Developer:  Mythos Software
Publisher:  Electronic Arts
Year Released:  1996

Review by Gordon Aplin (November, 1996)
roset.jpgMurder and mayhem are once more stalking the streets of Victorian London, but this time the killer has struck too close to home, or should that be Holmes? An explosion has destroyed the Diogenes Club and seriously injured Sherlock's brother, Mycroft.

Inspector Lestrade and Scotland Yard are satisfied that it was a gas explosion, an unfortunate and regrettable accident, nothing more and, for want of evidence, even Sherlock Holmes is inclined to agree. Impossible, I hear you say, Holmes and Lestrade in agreement? Something must be wrong, as indeed it is. But Holmes is inconsolable in his grief and retreats, sulking, to his bedroom. There is nothing else for it, Watson must uncover that one, crucial, piece of evidence that will surely engage Holmes' interest.

So begins The Case of the Rose Tattoo, the second story from the Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes. Firstly as Watson, but largely as Holmes, you must follow the tortuous trail of clues that will, inevitably, lead you to the perpetrators of this heinous crime. Along the way you will uncover an international conspiracy involving the theft of a secret explosives formula, a kidnapping, a series of murders as the conspirators seek to cover their tracks and a sordid blackmail involving a member of the royal family, no less, (some things never change). All grist to the mill, of course, for the one and only, Sherlock Holmes.

Following the story
Those of you who played and enjoyed the first game in the series will, no doubt, be itching to get your hands on this one -- as I was, so I must point out that Rose Tattoo is a quite different game ultimately leading to a quite different gaming experience. Compared with the original Lost Files, this story is weighted much more towards conversation as a way of overcoming obstacles with correspondingly less emphasis on traditional adventure game puzzling.

This is not to say that there aren't items to pick up and manipulate, indeed, there are lots of things to find and use, and Holmes' trusty lab table is still there so that you can analyse suspicious items for clues. It's just that so many of the problems are resolved simply by careful observation and talking to people, making this game more akin to a story book experience rather than an interactive detective adventure with lots of 'hands-on' sleuthing.

Playing made easy
The new, simplified point and click interface must also take its share of the responsibility for this change in emphasis. It's very easy to use, of course, but it also restricts your options and contributes to the feeling that you are simply following the lead or following a story rather than 'doing' things for yourself.

Just click the right mouse button when the cursor is on an item or character and a small menu of actions appears. Often you can only look or talk but occasionally another action is permitted so an extra verb will appear. For example, when you click on the corpse in the morgue the unique command of 'turn over' appears allowing you to find a significant clue when you move the body. This means the interface is effectively pointing the way for you when, by contrast, in the earlier game it was up to you to choose the action you wished to perform from a verb list and if you failed to 'move' the body then you would miss the clue. The friendly prompts in Rose Tattoo don't allow such oversights, once you have found an object there is no mystery about what you should do with it, decreasing the difficulty level somewhat and again making it more like simply progressing through a story.

Watson is also very obliging and frequently gives a good deal of assistance. I would like to advise experienced players not to talk to him unless you are absolutely stuck, except that talking to him is an integral part of the game as it allows Holmes to share his reasoning and, ultimately, for conversational topics to emerge. You can't avoid it most of the time even if you would like to resolve some things yourself. And you will need to be really strong to avoid using Watson's recording of the investigation -- a sort of retrospective walkthrough -- that is included in the game package. Believe me, this does give the game away.

Lengthy investigation
Now I am not suggesting that the game is easy, far from it, it is a lengthy investigation and there are a number of places where you will probably get stuck. However, because of the nature of the game, at these times it is likely that you will be unable to move on because you haven't looked at everything or exhausted every conversation, rather than being stumped by a puzzle or not having the correct item you need.

Nor am I suggesting that this is an 'inferior' game. The story is engrossing and there are lots of locations to explore and many characters to interrogate, as befits a murder mystery adventure. Indeed, it has many fine features including well-developed characters and a strong plot that offers an involving and intriguing investigation to follow even though there is some repetition in the problems that are presented. Too often, for my liking, was I faced with the prospect of having to find a way to distract or dispense with one of the characters before I could move on.

As with the first game the dialogue is excellent, quite witty and, at times, biting -- Holmes is not one to suffer fools gladly. The voices are very clear, though you do have the option of on-screen text for all conversations which you can access at any time by pressing the F8 key.

Also, the text descriptions are detailed and knowledgeable as befits Holmes' keen observations and the full-screen graphics and sound effects contribute greatly to the atmosphere. It is a little unfortunate that the attention to detail didn't extend as far as proof reading the on-screen text where there appeared to be an inordinate amount of spelling and typographical errors, especially towards the end of the game.

Moving around
In the Case of the Rose Tattoo travelling between locations is, once again, made easy courtesy of icons appearing on a map of London, and new locations to visit become available as you learn about them during the course of the game. This works very well, though I do wish there was an option to speed up your character's walking pace, and to skip some often repeated sequences such as when Holmes and Watson return to number 221B and remove their coats.

Like the first Sherlock Holmes, this is a quality game with a well crafted story to unravel. It's certainly a game for those of you who enjoy tales of mystery and murder and very likely a must for Sherlock Holmes fans. But remember, it is different to its predecessor, it plays more like progressing through a book, you just, more or less, go along for the ride -- and have a good look around along the way -- rather than taking the wheel and doing things for yourself. Though not a game for puzzle fanatics, it will allow those who are inquisitive to poke around and examine everything. Here you can certainly indulge your passion for snooping. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
DOS 5.0 or higher, 486/66 or higher (Pentium 90 recommended), 8 MB RAM (16 MB recommended with 16 required for Win 95), 30 MB free hard drive space, 2xCD-ROM or higher, 256 colour SVGA local bus or PCI video card, VESA 1.2 video compliance, sound card, mouse.