Lost In Time
All this is pretty old hat for French develop Frogwares and their Ukrainian subsidiary. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is their SIXTH game in this series, a follow up to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. When it comes to Holmesian adventures, these guys are the experts. The only thing is… they seem to be as stuck in the past as Sir Arthur’s ace investigator.
It’s worth noting that Testament was originally slated for a 2010 release. Despite the 2-year delay, the game still feels like it could have been released in 1998 as easily as 2012. The story takes some interesting twists and puts a whole new spin on the Holmes-Watson relationship while giving the (false) appearance of being open-world with different consequences. In reality though, it’s a bit of a muddled mess of a plodding puzzle game gussied up with some Sherlock fan service.
Hey, do you fondly remember those old early-90’s adventure games that had you poring over the background of every environment, pixel-hunting every inch until you found something to click on? And 90% of the time all you got was some lousy flavor text? Yeah, sorry, those games were the pits. The fine folks at Frogbites probably don’t share that opinion though. While they’ve made a bit of a concession by letting you use “sixth sense” to highlight hotspots on each screen you’d still have a hard time pointing out differences between Sherlock Holmes and Altered Destiny. You’ll make your way through a dozen or so locations, some more sprawling than others, clicking your way through a few conversations and an awful lot of gravestones and drawers and god knows what else.
Once in a while the game will present you with a puzzle that is generally a bit incongruous with the world. Why on earth did the bishop lock his valuables in an incredibly intricate chess-themed puzzle box that he scattered the pieces of all over his apartment? Who does that? The puzzles are mostly variations on stuff you’ve seen other places and their isn’t any real fail state at all in the game so even if you can’t crack the riddle you can brute force it with trial and error. If you are still stumped you can ask for the answer and all it costs you is a trophy.
What you are left with is a very linear story (despite a few points where you can choose from a few options of where to go, in the end you’ll just hit them all anyway) that isn’t so much a detective game, but more of a really bare puzzle game with a 12 hour interactive movie padding it out. Even early DOS-era mystery games had more branching than Testament. I was hoping for a game where I had to study intricacies in every conversation and make tough calls on who to accuse and do my best to find the hidden clues but run the risk of missing them if I didn’t practice due diligence. Instead I’m on a set path and the only accusations are handled for me and aren’t ever incorrect unless they are forced to be to further the narrative. At no time did I feel like I was the great detective himself, having to use my keen wits and sharp senses to puzzle out a solution. Is that too much to ask? I could do that in JB Harold Murder Club for gods sake!
No, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes isn’t a terrible game. The story has good moments and a couple puzzles are really interesting. But the game isn’t paced well, you don’t have enough agency over the investigations and it’s a technical mess with glitches. The interface looks like it was lifted from a PS1 game and isn’t elegant in any way at all. This game wears its budget status like a badge of honor. Still, this is a genre of game that doesn’t get much love and there is something to be said for keeping with the old traditions. Just know it’s a trip back to a time when game design wasn’t quite as… refined as it is today.