Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened HD ReviewMarch 25, 2013
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened HD is an elementary adventure game that doesn’t fail to impress.
I’ve had something best described as a gamer’s renaissance this past week, as I decided to delve into a couple of previously unexplored genres within the video game universe. It all started when I sat down and plowed through the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty campaign (only a few years late). I found myself thoroughly delighted to discover that real time strategy titles could be exciting as well as enthralling; not just for their methodical gameplay, but also for their involved stories. And then, I was tasked with reviewing Sherlock Homes: The Awakened HD, an iPad re-release of the well-received 2006 PC adventure game. Absolutely foreign to me, The Awakened – and the adventure genre as a whole – strays from the traditional video game formula of relentless action and flashy spectacle, to instead deliver a narrative-centered experience that exalts the brains-over-brawn concept. Quite surprisingly, I loved this subtle, thoughtful style of game as well!
Playing out more like an episode of CSI than a typical video game, The Awakened follows the exploits of the original detective duo, Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart manservant companion, Dr. Watson, as they investigate a strange series of disappearances in the London area. As the pair sniffs around, they discover the possibility that supernatural forces may be at work, fueled by the actions of a crazed cult of doomsday harbingers. While developer Frogwares do all they can to ensure coherency, I did find myself lost at times as to what exactly the goings-on of Holmes’ investigation were. New names and characters are constantly being added to the mix as this rabbit hole deepens, and quite frankly, sometimes the story just became confusing. Luckily, Frogwares had the sense to give the player a fairly detailed journal, that not only records the conversations Holmes has, but also extra bits of information that the detective gathers, in order to help the player make heads or tails of the adventure. Also, in case you are the sort to just mindlessly click everything in the environment with a disregard for the nitty-gritty of the plot, Holmes does you the favor of recapping his adventure at the completion of the game, making sense of it all in one fell swoop. Overall, the narrative here is entertaining and suspenseful enough to keep your interest, especially if you are the sort who loves the mystery that usually comes with a Holmes tale.
Continuing, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened HD controls in either first or third person perspectives, and allows the player to navigate both Holmes and Watson in a quasi open-world environment. I’ll say right off the bat that on the iPad, first person is the only way to go. Perhaps the computer iteration may have fared better with the mouse performing point and click duties in third person, but constantly tapping the screen to get your avatar to move on the iPad is a chore. That being said, even in first person mode, grasping the 10-inch iPad in landscape orientation and constantly interacting with the screen left something to be desired. The game features a simple system of interaction, where blue icons pop up as you near objects that can be analyzed. Often, these are footprints, blood stains, and other pieces of evidence that require inspection. The game is intuitive enough in this regard that its pretty hard to miss out on items or evidence that you need to continue your journey.
Similarly, when Holmes or Watson pick up an item, it is added to the inventory screen. These items are then used to solve various puzzles throughout the game, and I found these parts to be among the best and worst the title has to offer. On one hand, the feeling of accomplishment that strikes you after you direct your character to combine an empty syringe with a vial of sedative, and then to combine the now loaded syringe with a hollow pipe, creating a blow-dart, is quite rewarding. On the other hand, some of the player-item interactions are hard to pick up on, or make little sense. Need to get out of the jail cell you currently find yourself confined to? Naturally, use a spoon off of the ground to pick the lock. Or maybe you are trying to decide which man-sized hole to rappel down in a damp cave. Of course, the solution is to continuously throw perfectly good, lit torches down each hole, until Holmes arbitrarily declares that a certain hole is safe for entry. But don’t let me mislead you, these few annoying riddles are far outweighed by the fantastic ones in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened HD, and there was no shortage of gratifying “a-ha!” moments to be had.
I suppose at this point I would normally discuss the graphical prowess of the title at hand, especially if that title were labeled an HD re-release, as this particular game is. But adventure games like the Awakened are about so much more than the eye candy. In this case, the fact that the rest of the game is so good does wonders for the visuals, which are ironically quite dated. If you pair these murky textures with the out-of-sync, awkward voice acting, you can be certain that this games biggest draw is not going to be found in its visual presentation.
All things considered, I was easily able to look past some of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened HD’s shortcomings, and found a solid game that delivers more than a few hours of sleuthing fun, at just under seven dollars. Better yet, this entry into the Holmes mythos should appeal not only to adventure game diehards, but also to those who are new to the genre, such as myself, and that is an accomplishment worthy of praise.