Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mark Hasley
In the four hundred years or so that writers have been writing what we now refer to as fiction, there have been only a handful of characters that have become so well known that they are actually part of the fabric of our society. Sherlock Holmes (from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) is one of those few. There were 56 short stories and four short novels about him. There have been dozens of films, at least two television series, and several attempts to copy Conan Doyle's style in modern Holmes novels. There are even vocabulary words based on the Holmes stories. So I would guess that anyone who decides to develop a game based on this well-known character must be at least a little concerned. The developers of the Secret of the Silver Earring took a risk, but it appears to have paid off reasonably well.
The game is based on a fairly simple premise. Sherlock Holmes is called upon to solve a murder and save the fortune and reputation of the sweet innocent young woman who seems to be everyone's obvious suspect. As in any good Holmes story, there is little visible violence. But that peerless detective and his faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson, continually stumble over bodies, dozens of clues, and a great many characters to interview. Eventually Holmes does solve the case, Watson takes notes, and poor inspector Lestrade is once again proven wrong. The tale is quite pleasantly typical of any Holmes story.
The game has a third person point-and-click interface. Generally the player controls Sherlock Holmes as he interviews, skulks, and does his detective stuff. There are a few short sections where the gamer controls Dr. Watson, but these are very limited. And the game changes from Holmes to Watson and back to Holmes when it chooses. The player has no choice here. Every move is made with the mouse and the cursor changes modes to indicate direction, action, etc.
The game's 'Options' section seems have an interesting collection of adjustments, but I didn't use them so I can't tell anyone if they work. There are unlimited saves, and subtitles can be used throughout (I love this option and wish all companies recognized that older players can't always hear very well, and sometimes they can't play the game loudly because it's two o'clock in the morning and other people are sleeping!). All in all, the interface is typical and complete.
As for all the other stuff that gamers want, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The graphics are beautiful. The story takes place in urban and rural parts of Victorian London and these are well done. Both the city and country scenery is rendered with a quaintness that seems to reflect the gaslights, railroads, and horse travel of the time. The building interiors are filled with big bright colors and complex wallpapers. And there are at least two exterior scenes (an old monastery and its surrounding woods) which rival Syberia for effective detail.
The sound effects are fine, but really aren't very important to the game and so don't warrant much comment. The music is, at first, quite entertaining. It often consists of some rather reedy violin music, and this works fine in the background because Holmes played a violin in many of the stories. The problem is that the music loop is sometimes so short that the sound, especially at the Baker Street lodging where our heroes live and spend a great deal of time, repeats itself often enough that both you and your dog will go crazy. The same music plays over and over, and so rapidly goes from entertaining and clever to gratingly irksome. You will need to get to your volume control often.
On the positive side, the voice acting is quite good. There are of course the usual stock Victorian characters... the obnoxious colonel, the drunken cab driver, the brave and protective young military officer, etc. But with thirty or so speaking characters, the stock ones are easily mixed with unique ones. There are lots of types, lots of accents, and lots of clever characterizations. More importantly, they all work as they should. Lestrade is the required well meaning but inept policeman. Watson is once more played as a brave and well-intentioned dolt (which is not at all what Conan Doyle intended!). Most importantly, Holmes has that perfect combination of arrogance, austerity, and genius that makes him so unforgettable. With so many characters and so much conversation going on, the voice acting makes the game work at several levels.
A rather unique element of the game should be mentioned here. In the inventory, the gamer can right click to access Watson's notebook. All the important details of witness interviews, documents, photographs and conversations are automatically recorded in this book. It's well done and quite handy because, as in all good mysteries, there is a large amount of detail through which to sort.
However in this game, the book and the sorting are also necessary because at the end of each of the five days of sleuthing, Holmes and Watson return to Baker Street to go over the day's information. And this 'going over' process takes the form of a quiz concerning who did what, what they found, etc. The quiz must be completed accurately before the game will allow the player to move on to the next of the five levels. This is fair because all of the pertinent information is in the notebook and can be checked. Finally, all of the quiz questions and answers are then recorded in the notebook for perusal later.
There are, of course, puzzles. Given the setting of the story, there are no electronic puzzles, but there is a thoroughly entertaining collection of old fashioned mechanical problems, coded problems, and locks to unlock. There are enough keys in this game to fill a high school custodian's key ring!
The puzzles range from mildly to slightly difficult and are usually a legitimate part of the evidence gathering process. There are only two timed puzzles, but one of them was thoroughly miserable for me, and one of them (with which I had no difficulty) caused a friend of mine to throw the game away as broken. In neither case does Holmes die. Instead a note appears that lists all of the characters who were victims of the disaster as a result of his failure. The player is then put back to load a saved game. So if you haven't saved often, lots of game play can be lost here. It should be stated that I am not a 'master gamer', but I'm not inept either. That said, it took me 71 attempts to cross the yard and enter the theatre! That was a difficult puzzle (note that I never did figure out what I didn't do the first 70 times!).
At the end of the game, there is a rather clever final quiz page that allows the player to solve all of the several murders himself... before moving on to a rather long cutscene wherein Holmes describes, with impeccable logic, precisely who did what to whom. I got most of my guesses wrong, but I enjoyed the final movie a great deal.
All of the above seems to indicate a pretty good game. And having thought about it, that statement seems correct. It is a pretty good game. There are, however, a couple of problems. When a player needs to move Holmes in some direction, he must look for these two little feet to indicate where the character is allowed to go. The problem with this is that the feet aren't always there, and so the gamer has to fuss around a bit to move Holmes (I also played the entire game thinking that I had seen those feet somewhere before. Anyone with an idea where could email me with the answer.). This is a minor glitch and can be dealt with, but between that problem and the music difficulty mentioned earlier, the game doesn't go at the top of my personal list.
It's a pleasant, lovely game of average length, average difficulty, and only minor irritations. I found it to be a very reasonable investment of time and money, as well as being fairly true to the character. It is also rather romantically set in an era that I have always liked. I do recommend the game. It's a game that anyone will enjoy. But once the person has finished it, he'll probably feel as I did... that if the company had been just a bit more careful, it could have been a good deal better.
© April 2005 Mark Hasley
Developed (2004) by Frogwares and published by Ubisoft Entertainment.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (mild violence, use of alcohol)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 600 MHz or AMD Athlon Processor (Pentium III 800 MHz or AMD Athlon Recommended); Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 256 MB RAM; 8X CD-ROM Drive (24X Recommended); 32 MB DirectX 8.1 Compliant Video Card (64 MB 3D Accelerated Recommended); DirectX 8.1 Compliant Sound Card; 1.5 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 8.1 or Higher; Mouse
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