Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened

Children have their heroes: Luke Skywalker. Indiana Jones. My hero was, and is, Sherlock Holmes.

Happy are we to be living in the era when Arthur Conan Doyle’s copyright has expired, freeing up the name and likeness of Holmes for the use of other creators: in stories, in books, and even in video games. One such game is Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, or, as I like to call it, “Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu”.

The Awakened stars not just any Sherlock Holmes, but my favorite: the game’s Sherlock is clearly inspired and informed by Jeremy Brett, of the BBC Holmes movies. Intense, mercurial, and moody, the writing and voice acting in the game consistently surprised me for being true to the tone of the source material. There are so many ways the writing in a game of this sort can go wrong, but this game is spot on. Time after time, plot twist after plot twist, I’d exclaim “Yes! That’s just the sort of thing Doyle would have written.” I don’t want to give anything away, but I can say that the plot is an enjoyable mash-up of Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft, and is exactly as awesome as it sounds: the world’s greatest rational thinker challenging a world of mystery and madness.

At its heart, The Awakened is an adventure game, which means it involves picking up everything that isn’t nailed down and finding ways to mash items together to solve problems. The weakest aspect of the game is its user interface. I found that even when I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I often had to do it three times in order to make sure I was hitting the right pixels. With a better UI, this game would have been a classic, instead of being merely enjoyable and clever.

Furthermore, the game is linear to the point where it won’t even let you pick up an object before you “need” it. At one point the game rejected my attempt to answer a riddle because I typed “The” before it. This is definitely the sort of game you play with a walkthrough next to you: not so that you can solve the puzzles, but so you can figure out how to tell the game that you have solved the puzzles.

There is quite a bit of gore. Although not intolerable for even a squeamish adult such as myself, think twice before letting children play the game.

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened has its flaws. But even with the sketchy UI and a somewhat wandering second act, I still kept playing to enjoy the good voice acting and the clever story. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys adventure games. It’s nice to see that the genre isn’t dead.

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened for Windows, by Frogwares, Focus Home Interactive, and CDV. $19.99. The publisher graciously provided a copy of this game for review.