Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (Vol 1) DVD

Developer/Publisher:  Infinite Ventures
Year Released:  1999

Review by Steve Ramsey (April, 2003)
If you are the sort of person that enjoys the challenge of system specifications such as DOS 3.3, CD-ROM 150KB continuous read transfer rate and 380ms minimum access time, VGA card and monitor, Tandy Sensation compatible soundcard and 640K RAM with 520K available conventional memory, then you will probably feel cheated by this release. For the rest of us, a system specification that consists simply of "insert into ordinary DVD player and press play" is far more appealing.

Like the recently reviewed Dracula Unleashed, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is an old pc game reconfigured to work on a standard DVD player, using the remote control to play. It is a great way to breathe new life into older (and cantankerous) pc games.

It particularly suits FMV games, and this trio of three short stories (The Case of the Mummy's Curse, The Case of the Tin Soldier and The Case of the Mystified Murderess) all use FMV to a large extent. Whilst some nice line drawings are littered throughout, and whilst playing the games utilises a number of static screens, the majority of the character interactions and your progress towards solving the crimes occurs through FMV.

As with Dracula Unleashed, one of the beauties of this approach is that the videos are as big as your television screen, and the quality is as good as an ordinary television broadcast. This is in contrast to the very small and somewhat murky videos that are present in the pc versions.

Another positive aspect, particularly of the Sherlock Holmes games, is the fact that a number of members of my family found themselves sitting around the television screen with me providing all sorts of advice as to what to do next. It was a far more sociable event than any pc game I have played. I do not mean to suggest that the latter cannot be sociable, rather that sitting around the TV is simply a more common and naturally occurring shared activity (at least in my house).

All gameplay is done by utilising the ordinary remote control of your DVD player, and is as easy as navigating the setup screens on any DVD movie. All of your gameplay controls and menus can be selected by using the arrow keys on your remote control and then pressing "enter" to select your choice. You can even save your game; a sequence of 4 objects will be shown to you when you wish to save, and restoring the game at that point is a simple matter of entering that same sequence of objects by choosing them from an initial menu.

So what of the games themselves?
As stated above, there are three short mysteries to be solved. Each is self-contained, and each starts with a short FMV scene which sets out the crime committed and results in Mr Holmes and the good Doctor being retained to investigate.

At the completion of the initial video, your desktop appears. It is from here that you conduct your investigation. A pile of newspapers can be searched for further background detail on the crimes in question, as well as associated clues. Eventually, though, you will have to leave your desk and start visiting crime scenes as well as talking to potential suspects, witnesses, and other sources.

You do this by utilising your notebook and your address book. Your notebook contains a list of personal contacts who might provide useful information: Hogg the crime reporter, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, or Mr Meeks the barrister, to name but a few.

Your address book contains a vast array of persons, who may or may not be able to shed light on your current investigation. You can also visit places such as banks, shipping companies and hotels.

These books also give you access to Holmes' personal files. These may contain information that Holmes knows about a particular person.

Whether you select a person or location from your notebook or your address book, you can choose to visit them by sending Holmes and Watson, or alternatively one of your trusty street-wise "irregulars". Simply highlight the desired person or place, press enter, then choose who will conduct the visit by selecting the appropriate icon.

If you decide to send Holmes, a FMV scene may well result from which you may gather meaningful clues and information. You might, however, simply get a line drawing of a front door and a voice-over that "no one is home". It seems that the more unrelated to the case that particular individual or location is, the more likely you will be presented with the latter rather than a FMV scene.

If you choose to send an irregular - one of a bevy of helpers - you get a note telling you what they learnt. This can, in fact, be more useful than sending Holmes. On one occasion I was shown a list of persons in a FMV scene. I had to watch more than once to record all the names. When I played the game again, I sent an irregular, and they gave me a note with all the names already recorded.

The aim of the games
The gameplay is entirely as described above. That is, you gather information from people and places and articles and files. You don't collect or use inventory items, or solve puzzles along the way. The objective of each game is of course to determine whodunit and why, and also to do so in the shortest time and by visiting the least number of people. 

Sending an irregular will save you time but you may miss details gleaned from the conversations that Mr Holmes will have if he visits himself. This is not a timed game in any way shape or form, but certainly the extent to which Holmes himself traipses about town as opposed to sending someone else seems to be a factor in the final outcome.

There are two aspects to that outcome. First you have to successfully solve the crime. To do this you will have to send Holmes before the judge (select the gavel on your desktop) and successfully answer his questions as to the perpetrator and the motive. Only when you have gathered sufficient information will you have access to the judge. If you try and visit him too soon he will send you away. If he agrees to hear you and you give a wrong answer, he will send you back to the beginning of the game.

If you do successfully solve the crime, you will then see a video scene in which Holmes explains to Dr Watson the reasoning and rationale for his conclusions. Then the judge will return and tell you how well you (as the gameplayer) did as a detective. On the occasions that I played I fared as well as any other armchair detective, a police constable, a Scotland Yard detective, and on one occasion I did as well as the renowned Mr Holmes himself.

Clues and red herrings
Solving the crimes is not too difficult. The clues tend to be fairly overt, and incriminating evidence often comes in biggish chunks. Beware of red herrings though. There are some occasional jumps in reasoning but on the whole all of the threads leading to the conclusion come together quite nicely. You could eventually solve them all just by randomly visiting everyone and everywhere, but there wouldn't be much point in that and your final rating would be miserable. Each crime is not terribly long, but your powers of deduction and reasoning will obviously have a bearing on that aspect.

The tone is nicely in keeping with the traditional Sherlock style. Many things are "elementary" and the pace and feel is suitably understated. The quirks and trappings of upper class London society 100 years ago feature prominently; butlers abound, the upstairs and the downstairs don't mingle, and a weekend away playing cribbage is a jolly good time indeed. There is even some nice laconic humour.

The acting is all quite good, with Mr Holmes in particular standing out. A few of the video scenes utilise superimposed backgrounds but not generally. As you would expect, mood music is used, but is used sparingly and well. There are no subtitles.

In keeping with the simplicity of "insert and press play", you can take a "tour" of your desk which will explain its operation. You can (and should) also listen to the introduction to each of Holmes' personal contacts.

I enjoyed my outings with Sherlock Holmes. They were bright and fairly breezy, gently thoughtful and not terribly taxing. Infinite Ventures should be congratulated for their efforts in reworking these older games, and I look forward to further such efforts. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
TV and DVD Player! (DVD is not regionally coded)