Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (iPad)

The game's afoot!
Strange rites and gruesome murders in foggy London town lead the famous consulting detective into a world of shadow, mystery, and horror.

Developer Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened actually released a few years back on the PC, but is only now making its way to iOS devices courtesy of Big Fish Games. The Awakened is one of the few Holmes adventure games that I hadn't played prior to setting down with this iOS edition.

Holmes vs Jack the Ripper is a favorite of mine (played through it in one sitting) and, as a fan of Sherlock in general, I'm really enjoying what Frogwares is doing with this series. Mashing classic Holmesian conventions up with elements that you normally don't see associated with the character like horror and, in the case of this game, a little sci-fi is pretty awesome.

If perhaps you haven't figured it out by the title, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened mixes the detective with the Cthulhu mythos for a case that's not really like anything else that comes to mind when you think of Sherlock. Believe me - even the beastly Hound of the Baskerville's can't hold a flickering candle to this one.

Things start out mildly enough though. A new missing persons case brought up by Sherlock's partner in crime busting, Dr. Watson, draws Holmes out of his 'between case' ennui and back to the hunt. It doesn't take too long though before Sherlock discovers that there are far darker things afoot than just some slave traders and kidnappers. Much darker.

This is one of those 'ech' moments.
Holmes and Watson find themselves traveling out of jolly old England and face to face with some folks that you probably wouldn't want to run into in just about any dark and/or bright alley I can think of. Though this isn't really one for the younger set, the horror elements in the game never get too gruesome. Nonetheless they are present, and I can think of one or two scenes that actually got me to produce an audible "ech!"

If you've played any of Frogwares' Holmes titles in the past then you pretty much know what to expect with The Awakened. Though this edition was adapted by Big Fish Games, it's almost identical to the PC versions and the on screen action is all of the old school 'point and click' variety... or maybe 'point and tap' might be more appropriate since we're talking about an iOS game here.

Other than the typical genre control scheme, there are some puzzle solving elements that will have you combining ingredients from the inventory menu (represented by Holmes' bag up in the right hand corner of the play screen). There's nothing too in depth to do here other than mix up a few things and hand them to the right person or get them to interact with the right object though.

One of the more confusing parts.
I have to say that I did have a few issues with not knowing just what to do with that though. Occasionally (maybe two or three times during the course of the game) I wasn't really sure where to go or what to do. The game does offer a hint system that comes in handy, but it was absolutely no help at all at least once. It's not game breaking and I figured out what came next on my own (just by exploring) eventually. Oh, and ProTip: be EXACT when you're typing in a name or a place. You don't have to do it much, but capitalisations (and everything else) need to be perfect or the game won't know what you're talking about.

The graphics are what you'd expect from Frogwares' titles. They're good enough, but they sure as heck aren't going to blow anyone away. And maybe it's just me, but The Awakened is definitely starting to show its age. The 'Old Ones' probably could have used a little visual bump for their iOS debut here.

Character animation was a bother for me too. I'm used to odd animated movements from the other titles in this series, they all have them, but watching Holmes and company constantly fidget and move their arms around bugged me to no end for some reason this time through.

Maybe it's because I know that they're trying to make the characters look 'natural' as they speak, since people do move around and gesticulate when they talk. The problem is that they look anything but. Movements look stiff and 'canned' with a 'why is he moving like that?' feel. It's a little tough to explain, but hopefully you get the idea.

Does Watson hear the 'Call'?
The sound design is serviceable and the acting is actually pretty good- even though the script is kind of spotty in parts. Most of Frogwares' Holmes games are solid in this respect, but it's been a while since I've played The Awakened and it's nice to see that it still stands up in the vocal department.

Even with its flaws though, I liked Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened a lot. If you're a fan of the classic Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, there's plenty to like about this game. The play control is spot on, the graphics and sound are both good enough and the meat and potatoes - the story - is a very enjoyable one that fans and newcomers (to either base fictional element) alike can slide right into.

It manages to mesh the detective fiction and horror of its two genres very nicely and there's a lot to be said about that. Mashing up two distinct levels of fiction can be a touchy proposal, but The Awakened does justice to both.

If I was to rate Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened in terms of actors to play the character, I'd peg it somewhere above Jonny Lee Miller and beneath Benedict Cumberbatch... though I can't say it's anywhere near Jeremy Brett.


- Jason M

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