metzomagic.com Review

Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Silver Earring

Developer:  Frogwares
Publisher:  Digital Jesters
Year Released:  2004

Review by Gordon Aplin (September, 2004)

I reviewed Frogware's first Sherlock Holmes game The Mystery of the Mummy nearly two years ago and I've been looking forward to solving this second case. And I must say I am not disappointed. Though not perfect, there have been some improvements since the first outing and it's encouraging that Frogwares welcome feedback from players and take it onboard.

In creating The Case of the Silver Earring Frogwares have enlarged the gameworld by making many more locations available, and have moved to a third person perspective which gives the game much more of a Sherlock Holmes 'feel'. They have also built in a greater role for Dr Watson, and the story is suitably convoluted presenting a challenge worthy of the 'great man'.

"How can we refuse a mission of such importance"
It all begins innocuously enough with the introduction showing Watson reading Holmes a letter from Lord Cavendish-Smith. It seems the government is planning an important gala event at which the renowned Italian diva, Gallia, is to sing. Cavendish-Smith expresses concern about Gallia's reputation and asks Holmes and Watson to check her out. Fortunately, she is to perform for Sir Melvyn Bromsby who is celebrating his daughter Lavinia's homecoming after six years absence. The famous duo are given tickets to attend the celebration and look forward to an evening of fine music and a chance to observe the diva.

All that changes, however, when Bromsby is shot dead as he begins his speech. Miss Lavinia Bromsby is suspected of killing her father and Holmes and Watson are ideally placed to ferret out the truth.

"Watson, you know my methods"
The characterisation that was lacking in the earlier game has been much improved here. In this tale the famous rivalry between the dismissively arrogant Holmes and the plodding Inspector Lestrade comes to the fore. And Watson, too, is frequently exasperated at trailing behind Holmes' line of reasoning despite intimately knowing his methods. Holmes has cause to remind his colleague of this on more than one occasion.

There are some excellent cutscenes allowing Holmes to 'shine' as he showcases his impeccable powers of deduction, and there are plenty of characters to interview as the investigation proceeds. Conflicting motives appear to muddy the waters but clues are there to be found, along with red herrings and false trails. It's up to you to put it all together and, along with Holmes, reach the only solution that fits all the facts.

"Watson, look more carefully ..."
Of course no Sherlock Holmes case would be complete without puzzles to solve and things to think about, and the Silver Earring is no exception. There is much happening and so much background interwoven you'll be left questioning the honesty and even the competence of some characters, and wondering about the motives behind the antics of others. And, of course, there are the clues to ponder over too.

With your help Holmes will take measurements of shoe sizes, pick up ash, hair, powder traces and other items. He (and you) will analyse some of these at his Baker Street laboratory, pit his deductive skills against logical conundrums, and weigh carefully the evidence of his eyes and ears.

Added to this there is the number board and Noah's Ark puzzles which I particularly enjoyed, but the automaton card sequence and a safe combination held me up for a while. Overall, I thought these puzzles were fair to devious for the latter two. You will kick yourself once you see the answer to opening the safe. I was disappointed, though, with Holmes' laboratory table which could have been used to better effect with more intuitive manipulation of evidence and less direction from Holmes. There were also a couple of other missed opportunities for more interaction. For instance, the player could have organised Holmes' change of wardrobe for his disguise, although it was good to see that this aspect of Holmes' character got a run in this story.

For me, however, the most frustrating 'puzzle' was the task of sneaking past a guard and guard dog at night, not once, but twice. I swear that dog had X-Ray vision and night goggles as it seemed to unfailingly spot me over large distances even when I positioned Holmes behind objects in its line of sight. Of course there is a knack to avoiding it but I failed far too many times before I worked it out. This episode involved tedious repetition and trial and error and it threatened to colour my perception of the whole game.

The vagaries of the navigation didn't help with this 'puzzle' either. Sometimes Holmes just wouldn't respond to my frantic clicking. Getting him to move quickly in the timed sequence in the small forest maze was another mild frustration. Surprisingly, I had much less difficulty here than I anticipated. I didn't even need to map the maze but overall the navigation could still do with some refinement as it is fiddly at times.

"We must have made an error Watson!"
During the course of the investigation you sometimes assist Holmes and at other times Watson. Watson gets the more mundane tasks, of course. The game plays out in five acts each one culminating back at Baker Street with a quiz to test if you've been paying attention. For each quiz you must answer a series of questions and support your answers with evidence that you've collected. The evidence may be an item, a conversation, or a case note.

I must confess I was held up for a time at the quizzes for two reasons. Firstly, there are one or two ambiguous questions and, secondly, sometimes more than one piece of evidence could fit the answer and you must choose the right one. Systematically changing my responses eventually got me through but I know that some players may find this aspect to be quite frustrating. Especially as you can't continue with the game until each quiz is completed successfully and there may be more than one question with more than one possible answer. The potential frustration level here could have been lowered considerably by indicating which questions were correctly answered.

Just before the lengthy non-interactive denouement there is a further optional quiz where you can test your deductive skills before Holmes reveals all. Unfortunately, I was no match for Sherlock though I console myself with successfully suspecting one character from relatively early on in the story. And I do think this quiz could have been made more prominent and turned into a puzzle finale, before being treated to Holmes' detailed and brilliant summation. Or it could even have been integrated into the summation allowing you to provide the evidence.

"It is simplicity itself"
The game is mouse controlled so you just need to left click on the screen to have Holmes or Watson move. Double clicking will cause them to run, but only in certain locations. Although the game is largely played in the third person perspective many screens allow a static close-up view through the eyes Holmes or Watson. Many clues that you seek are quite small so you will need to be diligent in your searching. Your cursor helps here and it will change to a hand icon if there is something to do.

A right click opens your inventory across the bottom of the screen where you can scroll through the items. You can't generally 'use' items on other characters to ask about them except when Holmes specifically tells you to do so. Most of the items will eventually become 'notes' in your casebook so your inventory is frequently purged. Here, too I noted some inconsistency as sometimes taking a document will send it straight into your casebook (indicated by a swishing sound) where you can read it. At other times a document will appear in your inventory for you to 'read', which then sends it to your casebook .This is a minor point but consistency always a good thing.

Your casebook sits to the left of your inventory and left clicking on it will cause it to open full screen. Here you can review your notes and conversations and view any documents and photographs you have found, as well as access your map. Your casebook is also where you will answer the quiz questions at the appropriate time. When doing each quiz you can refer to your notes and the evidence required is colour coordinated to help out.

The Case of the Silver Earring is a visually stunning game, the graphics are gorgeous with lavish and vibrant Victorian locations. The character modelling is equally impressive with the exception of lip synching and the glaring omission of face masks in the scene where Holmes and Watson are meant to be wearing them. The voice acting is generally very good and adds to the characterisations, and I was pleased to note that Holmes pronounced 'lieutenant' correctly, even if no one else did.

The music is excellent and features some familiar classic pieces including Dvorak's delightful 'Humoresque' but tends to be location specific and I had to turn it down at times when working on a puzzle. By pressing 'Esc' you can access the main menu to save, load, quit, adjust graphic and sound options and enable subtitles. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles for the many cut scenes, including the lengthy denouement, so deaf players will miss out. It is in the subtitles and written text in certain case notes that some minor problems with the translation into English are most noticeable but this didn't worry me too much. There are ample save game slots, I used 30 and there were still spaces available.

After a spectacular start at the murder scene the story really begins to develop as the investigation proceeds and new locations appear. And the story itself is intriguing and, on the whole, very well told with just a couple of stumbles due to the complexity. On one occasion Holmes was privy to information that I didn't have as he set out to investigate a subsequent murder. I replayed the scene a few times but didn't find the clue. Maybe I missed it but I thought that this particular transition needed a stronger statement to maintain the continuity. On another occasion Watson had access to information that wasn't in his possession, but overall the story knitted together well.

And the game is very much story-driven as you might expect in a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Despite my criticisms this is a case where Sherlock Holmes fans should have a lot of fun raking through the evidence and drawing conclusions. I did, and I'm hoping that Frogwares have another case waiting in the wings to challenge us.

Note: The Digital Jesters game ships with the DVD movie of Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

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Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, P III 500 MHz (700 MHz or higher recommended) 192 MB RAM (256 MB recommended) 32 MB DirectX compatible video card (32 MB DirectX compatible 3D Accelerated Video Card recommended) 8x CD ROM Drive (24x recommended) 1500 MB free disc space.