Logic and reason are stretched to the limit as the world's most famous detective takes on a shady cult with a penchant for making people vanish in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. The third in a series of Sherlock Holmes games from Ukrainian developer Frogwares, Ltd., The Awakened sees Holmes and his constant companion, Doctor Watson, trying to get to the bottom of a series of disappearances. The trail leads to a mysterious cult that worships the god Cthulhu, and players must help the sensible sleuth navigate five different universes and decipher clues given to him by more than 60 characters. A traditional point-and-click mystery adventure, The Awakened features more than 50 items to pick up and combine, and gamers must collect hundreds of documents and clues before solving this far-from-elementary mystery.
Like many book and movie franchises, the fictional detective phenomena known as Sherlock Holmes has had much more success doing his thing on paper and on film than he has in interactive computer games. I don't what it is, but something about a 19th Century middle aged English detective that makes Tin Tin look like a roughneck just hasn't clicked with the gaming generation of today, well at least not so far. Focus Home Interactive and developers Frogwares hope to change this with the release of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened for the PC, and while this adventure/mystery title does make strides to bring 1894 London grade mystery solving to the PC gaming masses, ultimately if Holmes wasn't your cup of tea before, that probably won't change.
The Awakened begins in Sherlock's home in London after brief dialogue with his "dear" friend Watson about how tame and unexciting the London major crime scene has been, which one might consider to be a good thing for the citizens of the city, but alas Sherlock is an adrenaline junky, and he needs his fix. Luckily, after a few routine chores that delve into ordinary 19th Century London life, things start to pick up for Mr Holmes and the game is under way.
Without revealing too much about the storyline as to spoil it, The Awakened involves the world of Sherlock Holmes mixed with the world of Cthulhus - a dark God with many worshipers as made popular by H.P. Lovecraft writings, so as I'm sure you can imagine, Holmes ends up getting more than he bargained for. In this storyline, Holmes must deal with the supernatural, so while I may have poked fun earlier at the fact a typical Sherlock Holmes storyline doesn't translate well into riveting computer game storyline, at least with The Awakened the developers have somewhat met the gaming medium half way with a storyline that at least sounds interesting enough to captivate the general gamer.
Unlike a lot of adventure titles even in this day and age, The Awakened is a purely 3D game with 3D models, 3D environments, 3D characters and just about everything else in 3D except for the occasional flower and tree branch sprite. Basically, The Awakened works exactly like a first person shooter - it even revolves around the "WASD + mouse" control combo. Of course, the difference between a typical FPS and this game is, rather than a mouse click firing off a weapon or unleashing a stabbing motion with knife in hand, nothing happens as this game is not violent in that sense. Of course an action button is still necessary though - to pick up objects and investigate clues you find - which brings me to The Awakened first real gameplay issue.
Unfortunately, like a lot of adventure titles, The Awakened does fall victim to "pixel hunting", which is the phenomena where you know there is something near by that you need to collect or acknowledge, but you don't know exactly where to look, so you scan the scene with your mouse cursor, in some cases pixel by pixel, until it changes form indicating you just went over a "hot zone". This is a regular theme with the The Awakened's "scan an object closely with a magnifying glass" mode, and also perhaps to a slightly higher extent during regular gameplay, even very early into the game. Given that The Awakened is in a purely 3D engine environment, this only makes matters worse as you need to scan in all 3 dimensions rather than the usual 2D flat environments in adventure games. What this means is if you get stuck at some point - and you will - quite a lot of tedious scenery hunting will be required which can really test your patience. In a way, this game needed to make clues and objects hard to find for it to feel authentic, but a lot of gamers probably won't manage to fuel their enthusiasm based purely on the fact the game is keeping true to its subject.
With that said though, The Awakened will still almost certainly appeal to quite a few gamers. Anyone who double takes at the sight of a Sherlock Holmes box sitting on the shelf during a regular visit to EBGames will very likely enjoy The Awakened. Even gamers who are exceptionally patient with adventure games but have little interest for Holmes himself will probably find reasonable enjoyment from The Awakened as it quite a detailed and thorough game with a lot of challenging puzzles and riddles to solve. The storyline, as mentioned before, tasks Holmes with molding his superior wit and detective skills for the less than logical supernatural world and thanks to the fact the storyline is interesting enough to make you want to see what happens next, this does at least direct some attention away from the game's fundamental shortcomings, if only temporarily. On top of this, the game does at least try to mix up the puzzles, such as using physics based solutions, and even sometimes requires you to connect the dots entirely, such as answering questions by typing with the keyboard based on the clues you are given without ever being told directly what the answer is.
Another key area of The Awakened which tries to introduce some variation is the locations and environments you will be investigating in. Although you initially start in London, Holmes and Watson will find their way across the world, such as other parts of Europe and America. Each location has a distinct feel and style, although any freshness that comes from a new area is quickly made stale due to the sheer amount of back and forth movement required to progress in your clue finding, inducing enough repetition to rival the frustration from the hunting itself.
Being a purely 3D game, the graphics give The Awakened a platform to really separate itself from most in the adventure/puzzle genre but unfortunately it fails to do so. The texturing and modeling are both reasonably well done, but they're nothing special by today's standards that's for sure. However I guess on the other hand it is at least good to see an adventure/puzzle title have a crack at a proper 3D engine - it's not the first exactly but it's still not what I'd consider the norm for this genre. As outlined above though, perhaps a franchise of this stature and reputation for in-depth mystery solving would have actually been best served in a traditional 2D or at least semi 3D third person style engine as the extra space required to search for clues and objects thanks to being 3D is as much a burden as it is an advantage, and the fact your perspective is that of an FPS i.e. limited vision of your entire surroundings doesn't help either.
So while I wrap up this review without even once trying to cram in a corny Sherlock Holmes cliche like "It's elementary, my dear Watson" or "Victorian Colloquialisms motherf*cker, do you speak them?" (it's one of his lesser known sayings), I'll leave you with the following - if you are an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes or a very avid adventure/puzzle gaming fan and would enjoy seeing Sherlock take on a much different world than what he typically takes on, while at the same time you don't mind having to deal with gameplay more frustrating than perhaps the average title of similar concept and design, then Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is definitely worth checking out as there is certainly some quality gaming to be had, and it is certainly a game that feels very satisfying to complete. If you're like me though, and you don't really fit either of the aforementioned prerequisites, sometimes if not most times this said quality can be overshadowed by the frustrating nature of the game which is a shame, as it was a admirable effort. Definitely one for the Holmes and adventure/puzzle fans out there, but that's about it.
People who downloaded Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened have also downloaded:
Sherlock Holmes: Secret of the Silver Earring, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume III, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume II, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume I, Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes 2 (a.k.a. Case of Rose Tattoo), Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes 1 (a.k.a. Case of the Serrated Scalpel), Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy, Sherlock Holmes: Another Bow
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