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Phil Larsen
29 Dec, 2006

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Review

PC Review | It's elementary.
Adventure games haven’t received much recognition in the mainstream gaming world of late, and perhaps rightly so. The traditional point-and-click interface seems fairly outdated, and pre-rendered backdrops are moving aside as improving technology allows 3D environments to appear far more realistic. The actual genre is somewhat vague – what classifies as an “adventure?” Almost anything, really – but for the sake of tradition, when one refers to adventure, it’s a nod to the pointing, clicking mind-benders of yesteryear. It’s good to know many developers are still keen on exploring the genre, and Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is evidence of a decent, if primitive, inclusion to the adventure library.

Awakened plays like a conventional adventure title, only from a first-person viewpoint in a three dimensional world. Alas, no array of weaponry for headshotting foes is available; your only tool for success is that big, pink, mushy ball in your head. You’ll progress very slowly through the environments, examining every nook and cranny of the world in great detail, and piecing together some sort of mystery. It just so happens that mysteries are Holmes’ speciality, so the genre fits the character perfectly. Converse with the locals, pick up various items and solve puzzles to advance through the storyline that unravels at the same pace as which you play. You can’t “die”, and there are no quick reflexes required, but your mind needs to be razor sharp. A photographic memory wouldn’t go astray either, lest you want to keep delving back into your records for clues on how to advance.

What do you make of this, Holmes?

What do you make of this, Holmes?
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The records allow you to keep track of the story, which is relatively interesting. There have been some odd disappearances of some young immigrants around London, and Holmes was just beginning to lament the lack of scum and villainy in the city when he is thrust to the very core of the devious plot. You’ll play for several hours without having much of an idea what’s going on, but it all boils down to a strange cult who execute dastardly plans in worship of Cthulhu. It’s a good mix of traditional, merry-ol’-England sleuthing and the thwarting of primitive, evil organisations.

It’s a little difficult to become accustomed to the first-person gameplay mechanics normally associated with a pre-rendered adventure. Instead of walking through the environments as if reading a picture book, you become immersed in the realm and need to examine everything from 360 degrees. It’s certainly more realistic, but sometimes frustratingly so – often you may miss a tiny item required for advancement, simply because you failed to look up further or at an angle just that little bit more intently. 2D adventure games also have the mouse pointer as an on-screen cursor at all times, which would change to a different icon depending on the different interactions available. With Sherlock, no cursor or cross-hair is constantly on screen, meaning it’s required to move up very closely to any object capable of interaction for the hand or eye icon to appear. A perpetual centre-screen cursor which reveals interactivity, even from a distance, would be far more realistic and lessen the frustration of near-missed items.

The glory days of N'awlins.

The glory days of N'awlins.
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This isn’t the first adventure game to be played from a first-person view; far from it. What makes Awakened seem outdated is the fact that it plays exactly as a 2D game would, and doesn’t really use the 3D environment to create any unique puzzle gameplay. Well, it isn’t entirely true, as some puzzles (including a stunner using a giant hanging water barrel) rely on your movement and physics to proceed, but the majority of progress is founded on scoping out each environment for various items and figuring out how to use or combine them correctly. The problem is that this gameplay can be achieved just as easily with pre-renders. It isn’t that we’re simply pushing a return to adventure roots, but rather a complete, no holds-barred attempt at a massive, realistic 3D adventure.

You can only hold one item in your hand at one time, and that item is used in conjunction with the object you select with the hand icon, be it a person or complex mechanism. It isn’t the most intuitive of interfaces, and this results in far too many right-clicks to scroll through the records and pick apart the pieces of the mystery. Data ranges from past dialogues, various written reports and inventory items. Patient puzzlers will have a blast, but those in any sort of hurry will become extremely stuck, extremely fast.

A number of quirky “minigames” have been added to break up the wandering, including a chemistry set and question-and-answer sessions. The chemistry isn’t much more than methodically putting each item through its paces with a variety of chemicals and apparatus’ to discover the hidden clues within. The questions are asked periodically, usually to determine which destination Holmes and Watson will travel to next. It’s a fairly decent mix, from humble beginnings in London, a mountainous Swiss adventure in a mental institute, and the swinging streets (and swamps) of New Orleans.

For instant ambience, just add fog!

For instant ambience, just add fog!
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While trying to capture the artistic and extremely detailed quality of graphics seen in many adventure games, Frogwares has succeeded in a number of areas. On many occasions, one needs to do a double-take, simply to admire the realistic quality of some stairs, or a bookcase, or another relatively inanimate object. Nothing wrong with fussing over the little things. The art direction is superb, giving a very authentic atmosphere when wandering the foggy streets of London, or riding a carriage up in to the Swiss Mountains. There is also a spectacular graphical showcase during a chase scene in New Orleans – despite the chase being extremely long-winded. The largest areas of concern include some drab textures, and rather clunky character animations. The pacing of some scenes is rather erratic, and due to the somewhat lifeless character movements it leads to some very anticlimactic instances where one would expect to be enthralled, given the serious nature of the disturbing goings-on.

Expect to be suitably creeped out by the atmospheric soundtrack, but it isn’t particularly memorable and pales in comparison to the voice acting. Well, most of it – the highlight is Holmes himself, who accurately gives a strong impression of credibility. It’s extremely neat to hear him give a precise and confident rendition of events that have taken place, sometimes after an extremely brief glance of the clues.

The real question – is Awakened any fun to play? Short answer yes (with an “if”), long answer no (with a “but”). Yes, if you have the patience to truly think matters through and also the brains to figure it out. No, but even the slow-paced gameplay can be hastened by using a handy guide, giving at least some measure of satisfaction to those only interested in hearing another Sherlock Holmes story. No new ground for the genre is broken, but plenty is covered well enough to warrant a playthrough. It’s a good adventure game, and a worthy addition to the legacy of Sherlock Holmes - and even completely accessible to those previously unawares about the greatest detective of all time. Don’t go telling that to your friends – he is a fictional character, after all.
The Score
The very mention of Sherlock Holmes is enough to award some merit, and the gameplay isn't half bad either. Players thirsty for a classic adventure should give it a shot.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 Comments
7 years ago
Is there any professor Moriarty?
7 years ago
Yes, but perhaps not in the capacity a Holmes fan would like.
7 years ago
Sounds great. The first game I played on my 486 was a Sherlock Holmes game (on the then fledgling CD format). The game's format was similar to Phoenix Wright as I understand it. This might be the first PC game I've bought in a long time.
7 years ago
They had me at Sherlock Holmes+Cthulu. This has been done before by Neil Gaiman: His "A Study In Emerald" short story available here:
http://www.neilgaiman.com/exclusive/shortstories
7 years ago
Phil wrote
Yes, but perhaps not in the capacity a Holmes fan would like.
Oh, icon_sad.gif I always thought Professor was cooler.
7 years ago
EvilHayama wrote
They had me at Sherlock Holmes+Cthulu. This has been done before by Neil Gaiman: His "A Study In Emerald" short story available here:
http://www.neilgaiman.com/exclusive/shortstories
Thankyou. Obs would probably want a heads up on this one too.
7 years ago
EvilHayama wrote
They had me at Sherlock Holmes+Cthulu. This has been done before by Neil Gaiman: His "A Study In Emerald" short story available here:
http://www.neilgaiman.com/exclusive/shortstories
Neil Gaiman = literary love. Thanks a tonne for the link icon_smile.gif
7 years ago
Finding some unexpected Neil Gaiman fans here it seems icon_lol.gif His blog (or its LJ/RSS feed) is good reading too, he's a super busy man:
http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Ascaron Entertainment
Developer:
  Frogwares
Players:
  1

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