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Sherlock Holmes -
The Case of the Silver Earring
Game language and manual reviewed version: English
A review by slydos 8th September 2004
Nigel Rathbone, the probably best Sherlock Holmes actor, decided to turn his back on the role after 14 movies, because he had developed, apart from his desire for change, a deep dislike against the character of the 'infallible' detective. The public however never seems to get tired of Sherlock, the master of deduction. We middlebrow people can always feel a little bit like this ingenious mind, while reading, watching and playing his mystery stories. And should we attempt in vain to reconstruct his complex trains of thought, then we can rely 100% on the fact that Sherlock Holmes will precisely communicate everything. Not only his clients appreciate this reliability - if Sherlock Holmes takes over a case, is is practically solved - but also us players and ancillary detectives. We can be sure that virtually no question stays open finally, and that gives us a pleasurable feeling.
A real Sherlock Holmes fan wrote a complete new story in Arthur Conan Doyle-style for Frogwares, the Ukrainian developers, who already created a Sherlock Holmes game in 2002. While in the predecessor game, "The Mystery of the Mummy", the famous detective can only be seen in the cutscenes and no genuine Holmes-feeling could arise, its successor, "The Case of the Silver Earring", is conceived perfectly different. Instead of lonely 1st-person-perspective with little contact to other characters, we slip this time into the role of the detective and also of his friend Dr. Watson in 3rd-person perspective and meet a multiplicity of affected and involved people. If necessary, we secure even small clues with magnifying glass, measuring tape and test tube and let chronicler Watson carry forward everything in his substantial note book.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson visit a party of the successful tycoon Sir Melvyn Bromsby, who wants to introduce his just 18 year old daughter, educated in Switzerland since. It's 11 o'clock of this memorable evening in October 1897, when Sir Bromsby walks in front of the people, to begin to speak. It's told, that it will be an important speech about the future of his company. But just when he welcomes his guests, he's deadly hit by a shot. Of course Holmes doesn't wait for the arrival of the police, but starts the investigation immediately.
Without betraying too much of the story, which becomes more and more complex, let me tell you that this will not remain the only crime. Holmes and Watson investigate in co-operation with London police and inspector Lestrade, who - as so often - fast zeros in on the obvious suspects. But it won't be as simple as it seems at the beginning, neither for the investigators nor for the players, because the traces even lead to South America and India. Even the ingenious Sherlock Holmes needs 5 days to collect all information for his concluding 20 minute whodunnit-speech about the case of the silver earring after all.
We find 2 CDROMs and the English manual in a DVD box. The game comes together with another movie-DVD-box which contains "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon". A really fine add-on, because the actors Basil Rathbone (Holmes) and Nigel Bruce (Watson) embodied the detective duo best so far. ("Secret Weapon" is settled like most of their films in contrast to the literary original in the 40's of last century. Holmes fights in it against the Nazis and at the same time must compete with his archenemy Moriaty. Who doesn't know the film yet - especially in this story Holmes uses his ability for disguise and feint.)
The installation of "The Silver Earring" (1.5 GB) runs problem-free. At the end it's possible to install a test version of the program GameShadow. GameShadow is an automatic game/patch updating program, which must be taken with a pinch of salt. Even if each kind of spyware is expressly excluded, the fact that one doesn't know, which changes it makes, is enough for a warning. For the rest I assume, games are still developed basically in such a way that patches are no standard equipment and that I can decide by myself, whether I want to install it or not.
Well, "Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Silver Earring" showed only one technical problem with my configuration, which didn't need to be repaired by a patch: after some time I spent on a magic square I wanted to return to the main menu by ESC-key to save the game, I unexpectedly was send back to Windows. After this experience I avoided to leave close-up-views with the ESC-key.
Besides only smaller graphic or content/logical errors were actually noticeable, which don't have influence on the course of the game however: Holmes once enters through a closed door, Holmes and Watson wear in one scene protective masks, but the masks are not visible and in Watson's note book we find a wrong date. As usual the developers forewent the reflection of characters in mirrors (I don't get tired to point out this error, even if it becomes boring). A further inconsistency must be mentioned, when Sherlock and Watson wear hats and cloaks before entering a house but not inside after closing the door. Nitpicking? After all this is a game, where we have to draw our conclusions from every flea cough!
We start from the pretty, ornamental Art Nouveau main menu, which is accessible by the ESC-key during the game. From here you can move to the load- and save menus. The number of savegames is indicated in the manual as 'not limited', however there is a horizontal bar with a mark that is continuing shifting to the right, every time we save a game. But I didn't have to overwrite a savegame despite frequent saves. You can save a game by clicking on an empty save slot, which is then filled with a screenshot and the date. It's comfortable that the last saved game is always stored top left.
Graphics and sound settings, which automatically adapt to our video card at first, can be changed in the option menu at any time during the game, from screen resolution over colors, frequency, brightness up to anti-aliasing and complex shading. Likewise in the option menu one can throttle the dialogue speed, which means that one must click after each sentence, in order to hear and read the next. This is especially interesting and useful for foreign language and hearing-impaired players, like the possibility to switch on sub-titles. Unfortunately there are no subtitles during the video scenes (up to a small part of the clarification video at the end). While the foreign language player may get over this, only a silent movie or the assistance of a third party remains for deaf people. Unfortunate, this clouds the otherwise excellent impression.
We control Holmes and Watson alternating. Only in the first chapter we have also the possibility, to change freely between them using the map. In all other game situations the active character is set. And that's of course mostly the master detective himself. If both guys are at the same scene, we can differentiate the acting character by the cursor icon, Holmes has a pipe, Watson pen and paper.
"The Silver Earring" is controlled by mouse with the exception of the ESC-key. To move our two main characters, we click with the standard arrow cursor on one point at the screen and they try to go there. If there is an obstacle between character and target, it can happen that the character isn't able to move. So we cannot estimate whether our clicks are successful or not. That wouldn't be so bad at all, if there wouldn't be two, three game sequences, which depend extremely on speed and precision. Here a wrong click can already mean "Game Over".
If the cursor changes into a footprint icon, we can move and change the camera angle by one click at the same time. Sometimes this moving doesn't function however, which can be very unpleasant during the time-dependent sequences.
Our character runs faster with a doubleclick. But stop, he does it only, where courtesy permits it and no wrong impression is produced, e.g. not in presence of ladies, while he's clumping along a stagehand. Nice nuance, which appeared very suitable to me. Worth mentioning is a soft Syberia effect, i.e. Holmes turns around with several small steps and then starts to walk.
When we can talk to characters, the cursor changes into a small picture of this person. First I wished, that also the name of the interlocutor was shown, but I dropped this idea after reading the omniscient note book. Here namely all conversations are stored automatically with picture, name, time and place.
Crossing objects, traces or doors our cursor changes into a hand. Sometimes the object can be taken or manipulated only from a certain perspective. Therefore one should often change the perspective with the footprint icon to find new hotspots.
If our detectives make a remarkable discovery, e.g. a footprint, this info is likewise stored in the note book under the column 'Reports' automatically.
If we find a document, then it is at first taken up to the inventory. It doesn't automatically go to the note book. Therefore we have to open the inventory bar at the bottom of the screen with right-click and look for the appropriate document. Touching the document with the mouse shows not only a description but also the verb 'Read' in this case. So it's guaranteed with this additional click that the gamers know about taking-up the document into the note book. A little pedantic and not completely logical, since other documents, which we receive during a conversation or a cutscene, are taken into the note book automatically accompanied by a special sound.
Inventory scrolling is done using the arrows on the left and right or using the mouse wheel. Objects are taken up and put back with a left-click. Combining objects within the inventory is also possible. Both the inventory bar and the dialogue window are translucent blue, which is a bit disturbing sometimes, particularly when they all show up at the same time.
In the left corner of the inventory is our note book with the four columns conversations, reports, documents and map. With the first three we select an entry on the left page and can read the contents on the right page. The column 'map' is only useful in the first chapter of the game, since one only then can switch freely between our two friends. Later it is used for changing between scenes, but it's actually redundant, since players cannot decide by themselves, when and where to change.
So the game has a very linear structure, which doesn't allow to change between the scenes on our own with exception of the first chapter in Sherringford Hall, where we can decide at any time between outside = Watson or inside = Holmes.
Only if we've explored all details of one location, we can go to the next not to change the course of the events.
Within a main location we are likewise reduced in our freedom of movement. For example, we can only walk backstage in a theatre, if we find a good reason for it. Likewise we only add objects to the inventory, which we actually can use reasonably or want to examine at home in our mini-laboratory. We ignore the eye-catching tool until we find a possible use for it. We can't deny the logic in this, but this high degree of linearity lowers the difficulty level. Likewise simplifying is the fact that there are relative few and only puzzle-relevant hotspots. Though we can premise that Holmes with eagle eyes recognizes all relevant items immediately, but sometimes one would have wished a comment, bearing no direct case relevance, and that Holmes would look at things with which he cannot do anything. In addition most hotspots disappear, when we've looked at them or worked on them. I mean to say, the object/inventory puzzles are all together logical but of very low degree of difficulty.
If we had the chance for an unusual object combination once and then, we get a broad hint, so that we will hardly get stuck somewhere. At Holmes' lab bench we hear:" I should investigate that more closer under the microscope."
By automatically running dialogues (we speak simply with all characters about all topics, which disappear from our list of questions after that) a beginner's puzzle level is not exceeded. Not until we must lead further interviews or investigate closer due to the collected information, it becomes somewhat trickier. Of course the developers tried to prevent us from a too easy walkthrough and they were successful. We must exert our grey cells with some logic puzzles and are scared with a small however fine maze, where really every second counts.
Exciting also two nightly stealth sequences á la Broken Sword 3, where a barking dog could turn on you again and again. Sherlock does not die though, but he failed (defacto WE failed, Holmes himself would of course get through it without any unsuccessful attempt!) and the consequences are demonstrated to us during the Game Over.
The clue in the "Silver Earring" is a quiz at the end of each chapter. We can only continue, if we can pick the correct evidence from the columns conversations, reports and documents and answer the questions correctly with Yes or No. And that's not half bad in this complex case with a multiplicity of information. If you've listened concentrated to the dialogues and read all documents to the end and then have interpreted these information correctly, you're awarded here by getting ahead and a new video sequence. If you've dreamt occasionally during the game or set your ears on draft, then you have a problem and must rework a lot in the note book. And the quantity of information doesn't become smaller of course. I enjoyed these hurdles very much, since you really have to work as a detective in the sense of Sherlock Holmes and can reconsider your current estimation of suspects.
The prerendered background graphics are gorgeous. Already the first scene, Sherringford Hall, which we can examine later also during the day, is inspiring. In all subsequent, very different locations, opulence of details and awesome textures play a large role. It is particularly pleasing that the scenes are animated by many characters. And with most of them we can also talk. Every individual face and mimic seems to be copied from a real existing human being, so individual and lifelike they look.
As soon as our main hero is animated or moves in one of the cutscenes, his beautiful Ricardo-Montalbàn-Latin-Lover-eyes attract our very attention, which are used somewhat distracting and merciless in close-ups. To reconciliate good Watson was equipped with a squint. Unfortunately the facial expressiveness suffers a little from not so perfectly succeeded lip-synch, because the overall impression would still be more excellent, if the great dubbing voices, the short appearances of the guttersnipes excluded, would be heard in perfect synchrony. A bit weak compared to the elegant gestures and facial expressions the stiff gait of our characters particularly in long shot seen from behind. On the other hand Holmes moves quite lithsome as soon as he runs.
A lot in "Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Silver Earring" reminded of Syberia (graphics, control, puzzles). But I liked it much more, because it was really not boring for a second and the detailed unveiling at the end offered still some surprises. The just as complex as exciting story is not only well devised but also well told. Well, elementary my dear Watson, this can only result in a
rating of 88%
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
- Pentium III 500 MHz
- 192 MB RAM
- 32 MB graphic card, DirectX 9.0 compatible, (NVidia Geforce or ATI Radeon)
- Sound card, DirectX 8.1 compatible
- 1,5 GB free on hard disk
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Ultima Artec)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Soundkarte DirectX-compatible
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