Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: September 11, 2007
At first glance, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened seems like a neat piece of fan fiction. You take a couple of classic literary devices, such as Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu, and combine them to tell a dark, grisly tale of mystery and madness. While The Awakened achieves some excellent environments and a great story, some technical issues and frustrating puzzles keep the title from being truly great.
The Awakened, the third Sherlock Holmes title developed by Frogwares, opens with Dr. Watson tossing and turning in bed, afflicted by nightmares. From there, he recounts the events that have led to the dreams, and the player is left to work through this flashback by deciphering clues and unraveling the mystery behind a dark cult that has been kidnapping people from around the world for unknown purposes.
Since this is a detective game, you should expect the mystery to be top-notch, and The Awakened certainly doesn't disappoint. You step into the shoes of Sherlock Holmes and Watson and explore a wide range of environments from the streets of London to the Florida Everglades as you try to figure out the recent disappearances.
The tone of the game is remarkably dark, which is probably to be expected with the Lovecraftian influence. As you progress through The Awakened, you experience more and more terrifying moments that do a great job of painting an excellent macabre picture. Early on, you stumble upon the remains of a human sacrifice, lying atop an altar in an underground temple. As you watch, the head of the sacrifice starts turning and then falls off as a snake makes its way out of the body's neck. From there, it gets even worse as the game continues to turn your stomach at every opportunity. This is one title that truly earns its Mature rating.
Unlike Frogwares' previous third-person titles, The Awakened takes a first-person approach, allowing the player to explore the world through the eyes of Holmes and Watson. The game allows you to control Holmes via the traditional keyboard and mouse combination, or with the mouse alone. I tried both of them and found the mouse controls to be a little unresponsive. The keyboard, however, gets the job done, and most gamers will find themselves settling nicely into this control scheme.
The new perspective and control present some frustration, as the environments are huge and you often have to reduce yourself to pixel-hunting in order to find everything you need. This is made even worse by the fact that you have to be incredibly close to the item in order to pick it up. This leads to some very slow gameplay moments as you move around a massive environment, trying to investigate every possible object and hoping that it's what you need to advance.
The puzzles are also quite odd in their construction. Most puzzles are solved by combining and utilizing items you've picked up. Most of the solutions are pretty logical and clear, like using a syringe in a pipe to make a blowgun, but others are frustratingly obscure, leaving you to go back to each area and search again, in case you've missed something. The Awakened also frustrates you by not allowing you to collect certain items until conditions are met, which means you'll be revisiting the same areas over and over again in order to complete a single puzzle.
The game kind of redeems itself with a "CSI" style of investigation. Occasionally, you'll come across spots at which you need to take a closer look. Pulling out your trusty magnifying glass, you pore over the area looking for clues that are invisible to the naked eye. You can then collect evidence and take it back to your crime lab to further investigate with a microscope and chemical analyzer. While the hotspots on the microscope can be a little tough to find, most of these moments are incredibly fun and really draw you into the mystery.
However, any fun you may experience in the investigation comes to a painful halt when you're presented with quizzes, where you are required to answer questions posed by one of the characters in the game. The answers are often buried in documents or conversations you've had, and you can eventually find it, but be forewarned that you have to type the answer in exactly as the game wants you to. There can be no synonyms or misspellings here, as you'll need the perfect answer to advance the plot.
The presentation of The Awakened is absolutely incredible. Frogwares did an excellent job in the graphics department, creating some amazing environments to explore. The models are all well-detailed, lifelike and move through the world realistically. The world is remarkably empty, however, and that's kind of disconcerting. Two or three people pepper a London street that's supposed to be busy with traffic in the middle of the day. It's a minor complaint that's noticeable, but it doesn't really detract from the overall experience.
The graphics are often too dark and make it hard to see the things you need to see. Any time you to have to go downstairs in a building, you need to jack up the gamma settings so that you can see what you're doing. It's not debilitating, but it's certainly frustrating and a little disappointing, considering the beautiful environments that reside in the overworld.
The sound in The Awakened is top-notch. From the great voice acting to the haunting soundtrack and the scary sound effects, it's all incredible. One moment comes to mind, in which Holmes has to investigate a 19th-century asylum. As he walks through the stone dungeon, the cries of madness echo throughout the hallways, leaving the player feeling a little spooked. It's this type of presentation that makes Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened a good experience for fans of the adventure genre.
You can easily sink 10 to 15 hours into the game, but a lot of that time will be spent revisiting areas and trying to find the items that you need. As with most adventure titles, once you've completed it, you're pretty much done. There isn't really a reason to go through the game a second time, but if you do, knowing the solutions to all of the puzzles will make the experience much shorter.
Some frustrating puzzles and dark environments certainly take Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened down a notch or two, but the incredible story, terrific presentation and super-fun investigations are more than enough to make this title an easy recommendation for any fans of the adventure genre.
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