Reviewed by Mark Hasley
O.K., so Iím a bit over involved in Sherlock Holmesí games. I very recently finished playing Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened and have just now finished Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsine Lupin. I have also just become the proud owner (at a ridiculous price) of The Case of the Rose Tattoo and have long been the owner of two other Holmesí games from Frogwares. But I have to tell anyone reading this review that the people who have created these games have really figured out what theyíre doing. This Sherlock Holmes series has been fairly good in the past, but ...The Awakened was virtually perfect and ...Arsene Lupin may be even better. It is a truly fine, and fun, game.
As do all Sherlock Holmes tales, the story involves the famous duo of Holmes and Watson. It also involves all the details and personages that are part of the Holmesí tradition. The player will again hear about Mrs. Hudson, meet Inspector Lestrade, and become reacquainted with the entire minutia that Conan Doyle placed in the rooms of Holmes and Watson. He will also revisit and become reacquainted with Mr. Barnes, who runs the local bookstore and whose store also serves as an excellent device by which to handle any exposition. Itís a rather clever idea and one that was well used in these last two games. All in all, the story of Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsene Lupin has a rather high and much appreciated comfort level. Anyone who has played adventure games for a while knows that the MYST games earned their fame and helped form the genre by developing concepts and characters that continued from one game to the next. This series of Holmes games is beginning to do the same thing. These games are becoming quite a tradition in themselves.
As seems usual in a Holmesí story, the tale begins with Holmes bemoaning the fact that he is bored. It appears that there have been no imaginative crimes committed in the entire city of London. In true Holmsian tradition, no sooner does Holmes complete this statement than he receives a letter from that well known French criminal, Arsene Lupin. (What adds to the interest here is that there was a French literary character by that name. He was, in fact, a French version of the famed English Gentleman Bandit, A. J. Raffles.) This individual informs Holmes that he (Lupin) intends to commit a series of criminal acts and dares Holmes to catch him. Holmes immediately accepts the challenge, somehow decides that the honor of England is at stake, and off he, Watson, and the gamer all go. There is little of great significance in the story, but it should be noted that the entire plot is rather lighter that the last game. In ...The Awakened Holmes has to save the planet from the re-emergence of an ancient evil. Here he is simply defending England from a rather mischievous Frenchman. There is less foreboding, less dread, and virtually no bloodshed here. The story is pleasant and fun, but of much lighter weight that some of the other tales.
The type of interface used here is of understandable concern to anyone who has not yet played this game. Be assured that it is the old but reliable point and click, mouse driven approach to game play. The game is generally a linear one. A player can wander around the various areas at his own pace, but certain goals must be accomplished before the next section of the game can be attempted. The startup screen offers the usual Load, Save, Credits, Options etc. The player can adjust the various volumes and can use (or not use) subtitles. There seemed to be limitless saves available. I used over a dozen and there was no indication that there was a limit.
The game is a first person game wherein the player usually takes on the character of Sherlock Holmes. The player should be aware that there are a few times in the game where he becomes, and does the work of, Dr. Watson. There is even one section where the game is played as Inspector Lestrade. I realize that this sounds awkward, but be assured that it is in no way a problem. The character changes are so easily made and are so excellently fit into the context of the game that the player makes the transition with no difficulty. I did find it a bit strange that all of the excellent cut scenes were presented in third person. This meant that at times the player stopped being Sherlock Holmes so that he could watch Sherlock Holmes. At first it was as confusing as it sounds, but I got used to it rather quickly.
There is an inventory at the top of the screen that is easily accessed by right clicking. Items are clearly shown and can be readily combined to form other items. Holmes is moved by left clicking, and can be made to run with the application of two left clicks. All in all there is little thatís new here. (Indeed, much of these two paragraphs is taken from a review that I had written previously.) The inventory also contains virtually all of the conversations, all of the documents, and all of the records that Holmes and Watson discover as they proceed through the various geographies. As the player proceeds, there is also a series of the usual and very helpful maps that allow the gamer to click from one place to another rather than walking all over the place and then back again. Obviously, as the game draws to a close there is a great deal of material to be found in the inventory, but every item and document can be easily located and readily utilized.
One situation that makes this game different from most other games is that there is no cursor per se. Holmes (or Watson or Lestrade) goes in whichever direction that he is facing when the left mouse button is clicked. He can be turned a full 360 degrees simply by moving the mouse. When he (the player) is facing in the direction that he wants to go, a simple left click moves him forward. There is no arrow or other item to indicate direction. However, when an item can be picked up, used, or examined, then a hand cursor simply appears. This takes a bit of getting used to. Several times I came upon and attempted, without success, to open a door or pick up an item. I then looked down, and when the door handle or the specific item came into view, a hand cursor had magically appeared. Once that cursor appeared, then a simple left click opened the door or picked up the clue. All in all, the developers of this game are to be congratulated for accepting that old premise that goes "If it ainít broke, donít fix it". The interface worked to perfection before, and it works to perfection this time. How lucky for any adventure gamer that they didnít alter anything simply because they could.
There are, as there should be, the usual ambient sounds available in the game. The game is, of course, set in the Victorian Era. (Indeed, without spoiling anything, I can safely say that the game features a scene wherein Queen Victoria actually appears.) This means that the player is immersed in a wonderful collection of sounds from that era. There are horsesí hooves, various bells and whistles, paperboys hawking papers, and all the sounds that anyone with even a minor interest in history has long connected with Holmes and his times. Hanson Cabs and wagons abound. There are even unarmed British Bobbies with high hats, nightsticks, and whistles. And while all of these sounds add to the depth of enjoyment of the game, there is also a virtually perfect musical soundtrack of mostly violin solos that weaves pleasantly throughout and constantly adds to, but never interferes with, the telling of the tale.
The voice acting is consistently consistent. Holmes is the arrogant genius that he always is. Lestrade is the intrepid, well intended, but sadly inept detective that he usually seems to be. Watson is the usual Boswell to Holmesí Johnson, but in this game the developers have fallen prey to that most vile tendency to make the good doctor something of a dolt. Iíve always disliked that portrayal of Watson, whose only sin in the entire Holmes collection is that, while he is brave, wise and reasonably bright, heís simply not as smart as Holmes. Well who is? I will now climb down from my literary soapbox and state that the voice acting is as good as the sound. And that means that it is quite good indeed.
But the visuals... here is where the Frogwares people have really outdone themselves. The attention to detail in the gameís scenes is superb. Baker Street and its surrounding area seem to be perfectly represented. The bricks, cobblestones, windows, and the Victorian accoutrements are exquisitely done. Another thing that struck me is that all of this game takes place in various urban areas. That being the case, there is little of the natural world available to add scope and texture. However the people who made this game donít need any help. The city of London is full of different types of brick, different colors of stone, many kinds of paving blocks, and lots of interesting signs. This place looks like a city. Not only does it look like a city, but it looks like a clean city. London itself is a bit romanticized, and quite lovely to look at.
As the game moves along, Holmes and the gamer go to several of the most famous places in London, and each of these locations is virtually perfect. In fact, it seems to me that if the Tower of London, the National Gallery, and even Buckingham Palace donít really look as they appear the game, then the English government should just change the buildings to match the game. To my American mind, all of the locations look just fine. The other thing that makes this game so special is that all of the scenes are well lighted and can be clearly seen for a change. There are no "dark backstreets of London" in which evildoers might lurk. Since this game is lacking in grimness and foreboding, there is little darkness and gloom. Itís all well lit, clearly visible, and quite impressive. And as an added bonus, there is one Easter Egg in this game that is the most intriguing visual joke that Iíve ever seen in a game. I knew it was coming and still laughed at it.
Of course, a great many adventure gamers donít wax poetic about the graphics in, and the visual elements of, a game. They want to solve puzzles. Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis has more than enough variety to keep most gamers happy. There are lots of different types of problems and puzzles here, but they are rather cleverly divided up. As Holmes and Watson go from location to location, each specific area has its own particular kind of difficulty with which they must deal. There are all the usual keys to find. The player will need to combine all kinds of items from his inventory in order to make some very strange things. (I donít ever remember having to mix up a special dog food.) There are codes, safe combinations, and even a few secret weapons. However, each of these is only part of a bigger puzzle that must be solved in each location, and each of these Ďbigger puzzlesí is driven by some sort of riddle. Virtually every different location to which Holmes travels is covered in various hand-written notes from the strikingly smart Arsene Lupin. These hand-written clues lead the gamer to the next series of puzzles. The whole thing is cleverly original, structurally different, rather witty, and a lot of fun. The player should be aware that while most of the puzzles are in the medium to easy category, there are a couple of problems that will cause some significant anxiety, and could even force a glance at a walkthrough. There are no timed puzzles, and neither Holmes nor Watson can die.
Like everything else in the game, each puzzle seems to fit the spot in the game in which it occurs. There are Ďpainting puzzlesí in the National Gallery, guardroom puzzles in the Tower of London area, and even Ďjunk in the basementí puzzles in the Palace. They all fit the context of the game very, very effectively.
I assume that by now anyone reading this has noted that I liked this game a lot. However it must be admitted that there were a few very minor things that caused me problems. While the characters and the voice acting for those characters was virtually perfect, all of them seemed to wear clothing that was made out of Teflon. I donít mean that it was slippery. It was just that every personís clothing had a dull, smooth sheen to it. Even the guard and police uniforms were weirdly smooth and shiny. This didnít come close to ruining the game for me, but I did find the lack of clothing textures to be rather strange in a game so otherwise visually excellent. There were also a couple of places where the player, as Holmes, had to jump from one spot to another and then back so many times that I got tired while simply left clicking on the map. Poor Holmes, even with his rugged constitution, would have been exhausted. Finally, the game was originally released as Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsene Lupin. However when released in this country it was called Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis. For no clear reason, it irks me when they do this. These three things were very minor, but they were, at times, quite irritating.
But other than those little flaws, this was a virtually perfect game. Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsene Lupin was visually excellent, aurally fine, and had all the requisite items that make it an adventure game. To really differentiate it from the previous (and probably the next) Holmesí game, this was lighthearted fun, with no blood, no gore, and no real danger except to the "honor of England". The people at Frogwares should be quite impressed with themselves. Iím already looking forward to the next Holmes adventure, which has been announced as Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper. If that game is nearly as entertaining as this one was, it too will be worth the wait.
© June 2008 Mark Hasley
Visit the Official Adventure Games of Sherlock Holmes Website to learn more about this game and the other Sherlock Holmes Games, download video trailers or demos, see other fantastic screenshots, and much more.
Developed (2008) by Frogwares Game Development Studio and published in the US by The Adventure Company.
Rated: E - 10+ for Everyone from 10 and older (alcohol reference, tobacco reference, language, mild blood, violent references)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 1.3 GHz Processor; Windows 2000 / XP / Vista; 512 MB RAM; 4X CD-ROM Drive; DirectX 9.0c, 128 MB Video Card; DirectX 9 Compatible Sound Card; 3 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0c; Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers
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