Despite what its main character might say, this point-and-click Sherlock Holmes mystery adventure from Ubisoft is anything but "elementary." Players begin by guiding the quintessential detective (and his faithful companion, Dr. Watson) through a large, interactive re-creation of a late-19th century mansion. It seems the mansion's owner has just turned up dead. The murder investigation leads through the streets of London, and on to such distant destinations as India, and even Brazil.
Players must search for clues and speak with witnesses in each location, paying close attention to details as they try to piece together the big picture. The game follows an original storyline inspired by the works of the sleuth's creator, Arthur Conan Dolye. Secret of the Silver Earring was developed by Frogwares, whose previous graphic-adventure credits include Journey to the Center of the Earth, inspired by the Jules Verne novel, and Mystery of the Mummy, another Sherlock Holmes game.
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Silver Earring is the latest game from Frogwares, a Ukranian based developer who previously brought us Sherlock Holmes: Mystery of the Mummy. So how fares their second foray into the world of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective? Let's grab a pipe and deerstalker and investigate.
Sherlock Holmes, accompanied by Dr. Watson, is invited to a party organized at Sherringford Hall by Sir Melvyn Bromsby, construction tycoon. All guests are invited to welcome his daughter, Lavinia who has just returned to England.
Rumors circulate that Sir Bromsby is to announce something very important concerning the future of his business. As the party starts, Sir Bromsby, accompanied by his right hand man Hermann Grimble, takes his place on the stage. As he prepares to give the speech, a shot rings out and Sir Melvyn Bromsby falls to the floor dead.
The story that follows is entirely original. Rather than basing it on one of the Conan Doyle short stories, Frogwares has utilized a story that was written by a fan. It has an authentic Victorian feel to it although if I could nit pick for a second there are some metric measurements used in the script when the UK didn't use metric measurement until 1963.
As you investigate, what initially looks like a simple case soon becomes very complicated with lots of suspects to question, clues to piece together and leads to chase down. The mystery will lead you to a number of locations in and around London from the mansion where the murder took place to a cement factory, an abbey and a theater as you try to connect the various loose ends.
The story is extremely linear and I often felt led around by the nose. However I found the story to be riveting and it had me hooked right until the end--constantly trying to figure out whodunit.
The characterization of the various characters is superb--especially the interplay between Holmes, Watson and Lestrade, all of whom appear faithful to the original stories. This depth of characterization further improved the storyline. The other characters all have a lot to say and the various pictures and letters you find enrich the atmosphere and provide a solid foundation for the mystery.
In particular the 20-minute final movie wherein Holmes lays out who killed Sir Brombsy is classic Sherlock Holmes. Using flashbacks he details all the evidence and shows how and why the murder was committed. Superb.
Silver Earring is a 3rd person game that uses the standard point-and-click interface with the cursor changing to indicate interactivity or movement to next screen.
Left-clicking on hotspots will interact with your surroundings and double-clicking will enable Holmes to run (but only outdoors).
Right-clicking brings up the inventory bar where Holmes or Watson can access the items they have picked up or use the standard sleuthing tools provided (magnifying glass, test tube or tape measure). More importantly it allows access to the journal which is the most important aspect of this game.
The journal automatically updates with all information you have collected so it is vital that you keep checking it as you play. Once opened you can access one of four pages:
* Conversations - Records all conversations with other characters
* Observations - Notes important discoveries and Holmes observations
* Evidence - Records all letters and photos discovered
* Map - Map of London and Sherringford Hall when in that location. Used to go to another location.
The majority of the puzzles involve interviewing witnesses and potential suspects, exhausting all avenues of conversation and searching all locations for potential clues.
Inventory items can be picked up, but they are usually treated as clues to read or analyze rather than items used to solve later puzzles. There are a few exceptions to this, but there are relatively few traditional inventory puzzles.
There are a few decent logic-based puzzles, but unfortunately they are all contained in the same location early in the game. The Checkerboard, Jester, and Noah's Ark puzzles are very well worked into the storyline and are moderately easy. Although if anyone says they can determine the clue in the 3rd picture they are lying. I still can't see it even though I know what to look for.
At the end of each day you are given a quiz where you have to back up your answers with evidence and witness statements that you have collected. This is an excellent way of making sure at the end of each day you are going back over your notes and evidence and trying to put it in perspective with the overall case.
Unfortunately there are a couple of stinkers that could potentially spoil enjoyment.
First, there is a stealth sequence where Holmes has to gain access to two locations without being spotted by the guard or his dog. This dog must have been born on Krypton as it has super hearing and x-ray vision. Get caught (which you will again and again and again) and it's game over-- necessitating a reload. Once was bad enough but making us do it twice is torture.
Second, there is a maze. The maze itself is no problem, but be aware once you find what you are looking for it triggers a timed sequence where you have to run through the maze and back again in a very tight timeframe (i.e. one wrong turn and you won't make it). Again failure means game over and reload.
The puzzles are probably the weakest part of what is essentially a story driven game. The game is more about deductive power and pulling together of disparate clues than physical puzzles.
As Holmes says at the end of each day the puzzles are "Simplicity itself," with prompts blatantly telling you what to do next at various points. For example when questioning someone Holmes might say "Maybe I should show them a clue item," prompting you to use the inventory. Also due to the linearity of the story, you usually cannot leave an area until you have collected every bit of evidence from the scene, no matter how small.
In the end of the game, it is not vital that you actually solve the mystery, although the finale does provide you with an optional quiz where you can select who you think is the murderer before you watch the final scene. Some people might feel cheated by this.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, the pre-rendered backgrounds are superb and really add to the Victorian atmosphere. Cutscenes are graphically excellent and sparingly used to good effect. The options menu has a host of choices that allow you to select the resolution, refresh rate and color depth of the graphics. I found that running at 1280x960, 85 MHz and 32bit color depth meant the game was gorgeous to look at.
Other options include the ability to turn on or off the anti-aliasing, subtitles and the excellent shadow effects.
I found the music in the game to be a tad repetitive although nice. However, I also thought it too loud--getting in the way of the conversations. I elected to turn the music down to a lower volume and found it a lot more pleasant to listen to.
One of the highlights of the game is the superb voice over for each of the characters. Each of them has a distinct voice--from the cockney accents of the maids to the "old boy" military officer, each of the voices are very well done. Without a doubt the voices of Holmes and Watson were the stars of the show. I thought they were perfect for the part and never once tired of hearing them.
There is a distinct lack of control over the investigation and you invariably feel you are just along for the ride and not actually solving anything.
However this is more than made up for by a riveting storyline, excellent characterizations and wonderful graphics which all lead to a rich Victorian atmosphere.
I for one look forward to further adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the future.
Come, Watson, this infernal case had haunted me for ten days. I hereby banish it completely from my presence.
Until Next time.
People who downloaded Sherlock Holmes: Secret of the Silver Earring have also downloaded:
Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes 2 (a.k.a. Case of Rose Tattoo), Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis, Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Persian Carpet, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume III, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume II, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume I
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