Review

The Testament Of Sherlock Holmes

Elementary School

The Testament Of Sherlock Holmes’ simple frustrations hurt an otherwise solid detective story.

By Samantha Nelson • October 9, 2012

Sherlock Holmes is a dick. He’s so full of himself and contemptuous of those who don’t understand his bizarre leaps of logic that it’s not surprising when people suspect the worst of him. Plus, he can get up to some shady stuff: drugs, bribing the homeless, and tampering with crime scenes under false pretenses, to name a few. It’s a premise that’s been put to superb use by the BBC’s Sherlock, but The Testament Of Sherlock Holmes still does justice to the possibility of Holmes being guilty of the very crime he’s investigating. If he is, the game begins on a very unsympathetic note, as the crime du jour is the brutal torture and murder of a beloved member of England’s clergy. Still, the Holmes of The Testament is magnetic despite himself, a charismatic mess of a human who, like the game itself, manages to salvage bad behavior with a bit of charm.

The Testament Of Sherlock Holmes

As usual, without permission from Scotland Yard, Holmes and Watson get on the case. Players investigate by jerkily walking Holmes around to look for magnifying glass and hand icons, indicating objects the detective can interact with. The control issues, along with a hideously written and animated (and unnecessary) story involving some kids reading a Holmes story in the attic, beg the question of why this wasn’t just a point-and-click adventure. It uses that genre’s standards of having you pick up random items that must be combined and used creatively to solve problems MacGyver-style, whether its picking a lock or poisoning a man to cause a distraction so you can sneak around an opium den.

The process of gathering clues is pretty dull, and the deduction board used to piece them together is only marginally more fun, asking the player to answer multiple choice questions about what’s going on before Holmes can give one of his monologues explaining the situation. Everyone from criminals to secretaries seem fond of concealing their prized possessions with puzzles, with a wide variety of tests based on math, spatial reasoning, and timing. These range from almost insultingly simple to genuinely challenging and clever. Some, like a numerical cypher to open a combination lock that requires you to figure out that you need to perceive it as a spiral and use negative numbers, are so bizarre and difficult it’s good that the game offers an opportunity to skip them after enough time has passed to prove you’re stumped.

The Testament Of Sherlock Holmes

Solid voice acting and character design bring the story to life, which is particularly important since you’ll need to listen closely to the dialogue or regularly consult the script to figure out what’s going on. Unfortunately, the writers couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with poor Dr. Watson. He has a few moments to shine, but largely spends the game following Holmes around questioning his motives and chiding him for morbid activities—like threatening small children and digging up graves. Holmes periodically orders him to pull a book down from a shelf, or find something in his room so he can sit at his workbench. It just shows how little Holmes values his partner’s time and, since you control Watson in these situations, in turn how little the game values yours. Still that’s better than when Watson’s doing outright stupid things, like tossing cell keys to a “prison guard” with a thick German accent. His one occasionally handy function is to remind you what you’re supposed to be doing next, since the complicated story can make that hard to figure out.

The game is especially fun for serious fans of the detective who will appreciate all the scattered references to Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. It also avoids some easy missteps a Holmes game could make, like adding fights. Instead, it gets to the heart of what’s made Sherlock Holmes one of the most popular fictional characters of all time: his wit and the really great mysteries he’s embroiled in. Like Sherlock himself, The Testament Of Sherlock Holmes has some serious flaws and abrasive qualities. But both manage to be charming anyways.

The Testament Of Sherlock Holmes
Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: Atlus
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $39.99
Rating: M

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1,275 Responses to “Elementary School”

  1. GhaleonQ says:

    It’s always annoying when series that you don’t have time for but want to experience don’t have definitive entries.

    Just play this one and you have your Frogwares experience for the decade.  (The others are fine comfort food for fans.)

  2. Fluka says:

    Damn good day on the Gameological society for those of use who like us some men in frock coats!

    Also, it’s too bad this isn’t a better game.

    *Runs off in the possessed body of a rat.*

  3. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    I would imagine that it’s hard to create a game around a character with superhuman abilities.  An adventure game where you play Sherlock Holmes has to both A) portray your character as a genius, and B) not make the character so smart that you have nothing to do but watch.  Where Holmes would look at an item sitting on a shelf and know what it is, where it’s from, who touched it last, etc., if the game developer gives you all that info right away, the game would last 15 minutes.

    I was trying to think of a way to mention this back in the article about game controls.  Playing a superhero is fun, but if the controls or gameplay don’t make you FEEL like a superhero, the game fails.  (How many Superman games have been totally useless, for example?)  That would be one of the biggest potential downfalls of motion-capture technology.  I don’t want to control a martial arts expert with my pathetic arm-flailing, for example.

    Back to this game – I think a game like this might benefit from keeping you in Watson’s shoes for the entire time, and have Holmes be one step ahead of you but (patronizingly) only offering you assistance when you ask for it.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Selective amnesia has to be my favorite excuse for justifying why the player isn’t as cool as the person to start. Or games where the tutorial starts you off as a total badass, then suddenly you wake up and discover it was all just a dream. The Witcher, in which you’re a badass monster slayer, starts you off by forgetting apparently everything save your name and occupation and your friends and family and…basically, you got wounded, forgot the last couple of days and all of your skills. It (and its sequel) also go out of their way to deprive you of your magic-defeating silver sword (the sequel handles it really poorly). 

      The first Assassin’s Creed started you off as an overpowered killing machine, then somehow the Grand Master (or whoever) was able to strip you of your abilities, because I guess Assassins are just able to lose their muscle memory, should their Grand Master will it.

      • I was amused by how the Ace Attorney sequels dealt with this, giving Phoenix amnesia for the first case in the second game, and traveling into the past and future for Phoenix’s mentor and mentee’s rookie cases in games three and four, all for the sake of a tutorial in case people hadn’t played one of the games already. Ace Attorney Five will probably have Phoenix show up to court naked and, in a fit of embarrassment, forget how to be a lawyer all over again.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        UGH, now I remember that from AC.  Probably one of the reasons I stopped playing it so soon after purchasing.  “Poof!  You no longer know how to do most of the things you’ve spent the last decade of your life learning, until I say ‘Poof’ again!”

        • HobbesMkii says:

          “But, you can relearn all of it slowly over time, and eventually use these skills to defeat me, because apparently I have not thought this through very hard.”

      • Girard says:

         I remember being kind of annoyed how in each new MegaMan X game, X had somehow lost all of his armor from the previous game. My disappointment quickly evaporated, though, because OMGNEWMEGAMANGAME.

    • caspiancomic says:

      As I was reading the review, I was actually surprised myself that the game didn’t put the player into Watson’s shoes. He was the audience surrogate in the source material for a reason. Holmes is supposed to be this unknowable eccentric genius, by making him the player character it means he can only ever be as smart as the player. Since this is a game about Holmes apparently being a suspect in the crime du jour, why not have Holmes on the lam, acting vicariously through Watson because he can’t show his face in London? He could provide Watson with guidance and the sorts of hopelessly vague clues which are obvious to him but puzzling to the rest of us. If you were feeling particularly ambitious, you could even make it so Watson could ignore Sherlock’s advice and attempt to suss the thing out himself- with success dependent on the sleuthing abilities of the player.

    • EmperorNortonI says:

      “Playing a superhero is fun, but if the controls or gameplay don’t make
      you FEEL like a superhero, the game fails.  (How many Superman games
      have been totally useless, for example?)”

      Yes, exactly.  I’d actually pose the negative form of that in a question – how many games have let you play as a superhero who actually feels like a superhero?  How many times have games let you be truly stronger and more powerful than your environment, and not constrained by stupid obstacles like doors or walls?  If I have godlike strength, why do I need a key?  Why should I crawl through the corridors and beat up goons one by one when I can just flatten the whole building from the outside?

      As usual, laziness is probably the best answer.  My own personal example of this comes from the best shooter ever, Red Orchestra.  You can drive a tank, and tanks are awesome machines of destruction.  Except, the engine didn’t support destructible terrain.  So, in my tank, I couldn’t drive over wooden fences, and saplings blocked my progress.  Not only could I not crush small shacks with the immense weight of my awesome tank, it would not even allow me to destroy them with cannon fire.  Utterly ridiculous. 

  4. Colonel Mustard says:

    I know I’m in danger of my entire Gameological presence boiling down to just me pleading with game companies for a decent murder mystery game, but I’d really, really like one.

    • L.A. Noire wasn’t that bad. It’s plot caves in on itself in what has to be the biggest anti-climax ever but in can be pretty fun interviewing people and putting clues together.

      • Colonel Mustard says:

        Yes, I was one of the few people who really enjoyed that game, more for the clue-tracking than the driving or shooting challenges.

    • Army_Of_Fun says:

      Well, if the game companies won’t listen to Col. Mustard, they aren’t going to listen to anyone.

  5. Molemaniac says:

    Aw, dang- just average. I was kind of hoping this one has something as wonderfully weird as the Watson “bug” from one of the earlier frogware games, where Watson only changes position when you’re not looking at him, like a friendly, mustachioed weeping angel.

  6. For some reason using my real name makes me feel more okay about being annoying instead of less (it might be a sad comment on the fact that my internet-persona has a slightly better reputation than I do in real life,) so here goes: that’s not the correct usage of “begs the question!” Oh no! 

    • Girard says:

       I think we need to put that phrase out to pasture. When you use it correctly, it feels wrong, and when you use it incorrectly, you’re using it incorrectly, so no matter what it sounds inelegant and awkward.

      • Electric Dragon says:

        I would argue that it’s no longer incorrect, simply because it’s now the most popular usage. But as you say, it raises so many hackles that it may be easier (and clearer) to avoid it. Similarly one might avoid split infinitives (even though there never has been anything wrong with them), to avoid a cascade of peevish commenters who’ve had fake rules inculcated into them.

        • Girard says:

          The split infinitives thing is a non-issue that doesn’t really compare, I don’t think, at all. There’s certainly no reason, nor has there ever been a convincing reason, to avoid them.

          What’s closer to this is something more like common malapropisms such as “baited breath” or “for all intensive purposes.” Usages which originate in an error, misuse a term as a rhetorical flourish because it “feels” appropriate, and may even make a certain denotative sense, but are still, fundamentally, made in error. Even as a fairly descriptive grammarian, I would consider it an incorrect usage.

          In any case, any usage sounds pretentious, either because you’re using fancy words incorrectly, or because you’re using fancy words in an awkward, affected way (which the ‘correct’ usage invariably becomes). It’s best avoided – not for fear of assault by pedants, but for fear of not coming across very well.

        • Dunwatt says:

           I literally snapped two xylophones in half with my bare hands when I read that line.  I don’t know what for.  What is this world coming to?  All of the sudden, I could care less.

        • Fixda Fernback says:

          I know I’m late to the semantics party here (and there ain’t no party like a semantics party, ’cause a semantics party DON’T STOOOOOOOP!) but I was wondering recently, where do we draw the line at “general usage” equating to “acceptable”?

          My most loathed example: “Irregardless”. I accept that language evolves and changes, but, in this instance… people are taking a word which exists (i.e., “regardless”), and adding a superfluous prefix (one which somehow turns a single word into a double-negative); then incorrectly (According to etymology and the inherent meanings of the prefixes, suffix, and root) using it as if it means the same thing as the original, EXISTING word.

          Can’t we just say, in instances such as this (see also: “Guesstimate” *Fixda’s head explodes at mere thought of word*): “NO. FUCK YOU. YOU’RE MAKING THE ENTIRETY OF HUMANITY DUMBER EVERY TIME YOU UTTER THIS ABOMINATION AGAINST GOD (IT)SELF.”?

    • Electric Dragon says:

      The definitive article on “begging the question” is, as with many matters of grammar and usage, to be found on Language Log.

      • Fixda Fernback says:

        Ah, Language Log. My Sherpa through the dizzying, confusing–and often, scary!–lands that are “The English Language”.

  7. GaryX says:

    SHIX!
    I’m kinda upset this game is released because it means no more Justin McElroy stories about it. Alas!