When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And the truth, it seems, is that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective was a arrogant, self-righteous so and so or at least, that's how he comes across in this latest adventure from Frogware Interactive, whose previous title pitted the super-sleuther against Jack the Ripper on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. This time, though, Sherlock's back with a very different type of case, as he's driven underground, after being accused of being the mastermind of the very mystery he's trying to lay to rest.
At it's heart, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a point-and-click game adventure game, the likes of which have become sadly rarer over the last few years, especially on consoles. Similar to the Monkey Island, Sam & Max or Discworld games, but without the long-running jokes about a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle, what slowly unfolds is a twisting, violent and dark tale set amongst the winding cobbled streets of Victorian London. It's a story of the darker side of the great detective, exploring his oft questionable methods breaking and entering, releasing dangerous criminals from prison and generally skirting around the law as he tries to solve the mystery of a peculiar poisoner.
The game begins with the famous detective investigating the case of the stolen Samoan necklace an unusual disappearance, given the door to the room remained locked the whole time, until the servants were awakened by the smell of burning from under the door. What follows is a basic run-down of how the game controls, as you take control of Sherlock himself, and stroll around the room, examining various points of interest which have been highlighted by small blue magnifying glasses select one, and Sherlock will offer a brief comment about the clue in question, perhaps even zooming in for a closer look. Once you've learnt everything there is to know about an item, the magnifying glass turns green, to save you having to try and keep a mental list of what's been checked and what you still have left to examine.
Things begin innocently enough, then, and Holmes gets to the bottom of the case pretty promptly - but no sooner has he wrapped things up than he his Holmes-y sense starts tingling, and the pair decide they need to head off to a church, where a something much more macabre has taken place. Once inside, you and your unwavering side-kick Watson find the Bishop tied to a chair showing rather gory signs of torture his bare feet have been burned, fingers crushed with a heavy object, and chest lacerated with the scalpel found close by. It also appears he'd been driven to madness, tearing the skin off his arms with his own teeth. Lovely. It soon emerges that the poor old bishop wasn't an isolated case either, as people all over London have been ending up with a similar grisly fate - and, as you may expect, it's up to the great Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of things.
And so, the rest of the game continues in much the same way as things began. Wandering the streets of London, taking in the sights of several familiar locations as you go, you'll explore various buildings, and chat to people in the search of clues, all while keeping an eye out for anything that may help your investigation. As tends to be the way in point-and-click games, you'll come across all sorts of items in your journey that may prove useful later on - some matches, a metal plate, keys and more - each of which Holmes, somewhat bizarrely, tucks into his overcoat for later. Even a chuffing huge ladder. Now that's a mystery in itself.
Putting the objects to good use is part of the puzzle here too, whether it's figuring out how to get past a grated window, reveal a message written in invisible ink or crack a code on a safe, each of which requires a specific combination of items. You'll also get to try your hand at a bit of Holmesian deduction, as once you've thoroughly investigated each crime scene, you'll need to try and work out what exactly went on, why, and where your investigation should lead next. Presented with a series of concrete facts about what happened, you need to try and connect the dots by picking one of three possible reasons. Once you've got all the deductions correct, they turn green and you can proceed with your investigation although you'll require a fair amount of brain-wracking to get to that point.
Seemingly the criminal masterminds and secretive townsfolk of Olde London were far better at covering their tracks and hiding their valuables than crooks today, as you'll frequently come across some right brainteasers - if you've ever played one of the Professor Layton games on the DS, the odds are you'll be right at home with the similarly top-hatted detective's puzzles. Everyone seems to have anything that's worth hiding in a locked box, with a dastardly puzzle you'll need to solve to get to the contents, whether it's trying to put eight digits in the correct order whilst only being able to move them in pairs, moving a ball around a maze to the correct spot or creating a path between two terminals to short circuit a telegraph machine. One particular puzzle made use of the Bishop's passion for chess, stipulating that the last square on which the knight will place himself after having covered all the others will be the right one - queue much head-scratching as we systematically coloured in a chess board moving the horse round and round in L-shapes.
Holmes also has access to his own personal laboratory for analysing the things he finds at the crime scenes, where you'll need to examine things under a magnifying glass, pick over them with tweezers or match up dirt samples found under the nail of a severed finger. There's also a spot of chemical analysis to be done, where you mix your liquid with a series of differently coloured reagents and note down the coloured spots that appear to identify the poison that was used on the victims one sample of which you need to get from someone's lungs during a post-mortem exam.
With a healthy dose of mystery, and more twists and turns to the tale than a twisty-turny thing, the chances are you'll eventually find yourself in something of a dead end, without a clue what you need to be doing next. While you can easily skip over puzzles if there's a particular one driving you potty (although you'll be missing out on the best part of the game if you do), fortunately Holmes/Watson also come equipped with a sort of 'Sixth Sense' to help you out with the story, which can be used to light up any nearby things you can interact with, in case you've missed something crucial.
At around twelve to fifteen hours long (although your mileage will certainly vary depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles), The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a fairly lengthy game, especially considering it can be found in most stores for around the £25 mark. With it's blend of puzzles, mystery and storytelling (and in one section, the ability to play as a dog!), you'll find a slow-paced game that's easy to get the hang of, but so hard to put down until the final credits roll so strap on your deer-stalker, pick up your magnifying glass and get ready to join the famous detective in his most poisonous case yet.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360