Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened
A drop of water may well infer the Atlantic, at least to a logician with the talents of our Mr Holmes, and if those talents are brought to bear, that which is being awakened may well be put to rest. But not before Holmes has crossed the said Atlantic, and not without deducing which theory or course of action best supports his large and ever growing inventory of information and evidence.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is the latest in a series from Frogwares but is the first that I have played. Some strange disappearances soon plunge Holmes and Watson into a grisly search, taking them from Switzerland to New Orleans and on to the wild coast of Scotland. Opiates, asylums and the god Cthulhu are all tied up in a plot in which the supernatural challenges the rational, but which Holmes must unravel nonetheless.
We begin, of course, in more humble abodes, 221B Baker Street to be exact, and are quickly acquainted with the regular Holmes accoutrements, as well as the irregular ones. A visit to the bookshop soon follows and, somewhat surprisingly, people are few and far between. London is not a lively place, nor a noisy one, making for peaceful wanderings albeit a little unrealistic.
Wandering is by means of holding down the left mouse button and then steering Holmes as he moves forward. Or Dr Watson for that matter as you do get to play both. I have said before that this method of locomotion is my favourite when it comes to a first person perspective, so I was well pleased to find it here. However not all of the interface in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened gave me such pleasure.
I have to confess I did not warm to the fact that the little hand icon with which you interact with the world only leaps into being when you are in the right spot to interact with something. Why I don't quite know. It should have been a plus, as there wasn't this artificial object floating around in front of your nose the whole time. But it never quite won me over, and left me continually wondering whether I had missed something simply because the hand hadn't been quick enough to appear as I passed by. Which may simply mean that walking in this game is a much better idea than running, and that it was my own impatience at times that was really the issue. In the end though, I remained slightly less than ambivalent.
An aspect that was a plus, however, was the fact that you needed to notice things before the icon would leap into action. By that I mean that standing nearby but looking elsewhere was no good. If you want to use a door, look down and find the door handle, don't just stand in the vicinity. Sometimes the game or its characters would notice you in the same way. It added to the realism, although until I twigged it caused me to miss a hotspot or two.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a good length game and packed full of conundrums and puzzles. You combine and use items to solve many of them, and there are straight out puzzles as well. You must also forensically examine a number of scenes and locations to see what might be revealed, peering through a magnifying glass and collecting evidence with tweezers. Weighing, measuring and analysing substances play a part, and at times, Holmes will quiz Watson about an aspect of the case. The answer is typed on the keyboard.
There are about 5 or 6 of these quizzes and they do have the capacity to bring the game to a halt. If you don't know the answer, you can go no further, and I thought one at least was a little vague in terms of the answer you needed to enter. But any puzzle will cause you to stop if you can't work it out, and reviewing what you know will reveal clues, so they are really just a different sort of challenge, and one which is explicable in a deductive context.
I thought that the difficulty in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened was moderate at most, and Holmes will provide little clues to assist. You will also not be able to leave certain locations until you have done everything and Holmes might say something like: "I have no reason to go there", which indicates there is more to do in the current location before you are able to leave. Successfully completing everything in a location might also trigger a cutscene or reveal a hitherto unseen object (a safe for instance), which then allows you to move on, and 'everything' can include looking at all the necessary evidentiary items. So walk, don't run, and explore carefully.
I mentioned you get to play Watson, but even when you don't he follows along like a dog on a leash and converses with Holmes on a regular basis. There are quite a few cutscenes, some quite lengthy, and most involve conversations. There are no dialogue trees. Interacting with the character concerned will trigger the conversations, although you might have had to find certain evidence first, or have the right item in your hand to be able to talk about it. All dialogue can be subtitled.
Triggers are also important when it comes to certain items, and the game is a little constraining in that respect. I could see a note pinned to a box at one stage, even read it, but I couldn't interact with it until I had moved a certain way through the game, at which stage I could go back and remove the note.
Some items, too, cannot be picked up when you find them (eg a small potted plant) and Holmes says something like "that is no good for anything", whereas others (eg a giant funnel) he picks up with gay abandon, proclaiming, "that will come in handy". However there was no explicable reason why the funnel was, at that time, any more use than the lemon tree. Both are needed, so why not pick them both up, or reject both until there is a purpose to collecting them. Inconsistency is not a virtue in game construction.
The inventory is just a right mouse click away, and it is a wealth of information. Documents are kept separately from other items and can be re-examined at any time. A log is kept of every conversation, and a map enables you to jump to locations once they are accessible. A little jangle and an icon will indicate a new entry in the log or the acquisition of a new item. Using an item means clicking on it, and returning to the game world. The item will then appear at the top right corner of the screen, and clicking on a possible interaction (a character or an object) will result in the held item being used if possible. If not, Holmes might say "I can't do that" or something similar. Putting it away requires opening the inventory and clicking on the item once again, something I found a little less than user friendly.
The detail in the game world is good, if somewhat flat and nothing out of the ordinary, and the character modelling is much the same. Characters are a little angular and marionette like, and edges can merge and intersect on occasion. All up though, it's perfectly adequate for a current game.
The plot did lose me, and all the pieces didn't really ever come together until Holmes explained it to me at the end, but those little pieces were enjoyable in their exposition.
I did strike a few bugs. Twice Holmes got stuck and wouldn't move from the spot, although you could hear his footsteps walking away. The blue screen of death struck twice as well — why I don't know — and the inventory and options screen would on occasion fail to produce the necessary graphics. So you could open the inventory, but not see what was in it as the graphics weren't being drawn, the same thing occurring with the save and load graphics on that screen. The only thing for it was to reload an earlier save.
There is the occasional gruesome and therefore possibly disturbing scene.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a good length game (and awesomely long by comparison to some) and a solid bit of deductive fun. It represents a good investment for your gaming dollar.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2007.
All rights reserved.
Win 2000/XP, Pentium 1 GHz or AMD Athlon, 512MB RAM, 64 MB DirectX 9-compliant video card, DirectX 9-compliant sound card, DirectX 9 (included on disc) or higher, 8x CD-ROM or 2x DVD-ROM, 3 GB free hard drive space, keyboard, mouse.