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PC Review - 'Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis'

by Chris Lawton on June 7, 2008 @ 3:02 a.m. PDT

Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis, the fourth title in the adventure series from Frogwares, sends players to 19th century London, where Arsène Lupin, a young French burglar with an impressive track record, has just challenged Scotland Yard and the most famous of detectives – Sherlock Holmes.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Frogwares
Release Date: April 14, 2008

Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis is the fourth title by developer Frogwares that puts players in the shoes of England's greatest detective and his constant companion, Dr. Watson. Unlike the prior game, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, which took the Victorian era and combined it with the supernatural Cthulu mythos, Nemesis keeps its feet firmly planted on the ground as Holmes is summoned to stop the famed French thief, Arsène Lupin, and protect England's honor.

Nemesis begins with Holmes and Watson enjoying a nice morning in their home at 221B Baker Street. We learn of the trouble that the European police have been having with Lupin, who is constantly eluding them and making them look like fools. With the morning mail, Holmes receives a disturbing letter that invites him to participate in a game. It doesn't take much to realize that the writer of the letter is none other than Lupin, who has set his sights on some of England's most prized possessions and considers Holmes to be the only competent detective in London and, therefore, a worthy opponent.

This direction with the story is actually one of the most intriguing parts of Nemesis. In the books, Holmes rarely, if ever, lost; he almost never came up against anyone who was even close to his equal in intelligence. However, Lupin thinks like Holmes and easily has the same level of deductive reasoning. I have to give props to Frogwares for this part of the game because they handled it terrifically. They've always written Holmes as arrogant, cold and calculating, and it fits so well when it comes up against Lupin's charming demeanor. Through the entire narrative, Holmes is kept on his toes as he tries to figure out his opponent's next move. The entire story culminates in such a way that when the credits roll, you feel satisfied — with the story, anyway.

Unfortunately, the gameplay falls into a pretty severe rut that never really changes through the entire experience. You basically go to a new area, solve a few puzzles to collect messages from Lupin, and then put them together to figure out his next move. You then go to the next area and do the same thing. The puzzles are actually pretty good, but the overall gameplay process starts to feel tired around the third or fourth level.

Thankfully, the puzzles are interesting enough to hold your attention through it all. As with the previous games, the puzzles vary quite a bit and require you to do everything from math to memorization. There's even a bit of deductive reasoning; sometimes, you're asked to provide the solution to one of the many mysteries by inputting the answer with your keyboard. While the previous title was incredibly strict regarding these quizzes, Nemesis seems a bit more lenient, and the answers are a little easier to figure out.

Most of the puzzles are pretty logical and tend to avoid the traditional adventure game trap of creating puzzles that seem incredibly out of place. Almost all of the puzzles in Nemesis make sense and are believable, although near the end, there are a few puzzles that feel like the developers just threw them in to extend the experience. At that point, it starts to get pretty frustrating, as it appears that you're going through the motions because the developers felt like there needed to be a puzzle there.

Just because the puzzles seem logical, though, doesn't mean that they're easy. It feels like the difficulty level of the puzzles increased in Nemesis because I found myself scratching my head quite a bit at some of the tougher sections. If you're looking for help within the game, you won't find it. Quite a few of the puzzles throw you in the situation without really explaining what you should try to do.

As with The Awakened, Frogwares chose to go with a first-person perspective with Nemesis, and I think it works a bit better this time around. Perhaps it's because I've played more first-person games between then and now, but I didn't encounter as many problems locking onto and finding items in this title. You still need to be right up against a door in order to open it, which can get a bit frustrating because a lot of the areas have multiple doors, but only a quarter of them can be opened, and you have to go right up to them before you know if it's a viable path. Since so much of your time is spent searching for clues and items for puzzles, you need to check every room you can get into, and it would have been nice if there were an easier way to do that.

One thing Nemesis cuts down quite a bit, which I felt was one of the better parts of The Awakened, is the CSI-style investigations. While the previous game had a large number of parts that required you to use a tape measure, tweezers and magnifying glass to investigate more closely, Nemesis mostly reserves these puzzles for footprints. With this omission, it sacrificed an important element that set it apart from other mystery games. On top of that, the chemistry set isn't used at all in this title, leaving you to wonder why he has it.

Once again, the sound in Nemesis is top-notch, but that comes as no surprise. For all of the previous titles, Frogwares has had strong, good voices to deliver all of the dialogue, and Nemesis is no exception. All of the actors put on convincing performances that complement the entire experience. Unfortunately, the rest of the sound doesn't quite live up to the voice work. The music is terrific, although there are only a few songs in the game, but the ambient sound is where the presentation starts to suffer. The problem is that there really isn't any, and when the characters aren't talking, the entire world feels kind of empty.

The graphics are a mixed bag. All of the environments are absolutely stellar. Mind you, modern games look much better than anything Nemesis delivers, but you can tell that the developers went to great lengths to make each location truly pop. The same can't be said for the characters, who seem stiff and lifeless, but it's forgivable because, as mentioned above, when the characters speak, it sounds terrific.

As with the previous title, Nemesis gives you two options to control your character: the traditional keyboard-mouse combination or only the mouse controls. I spent almost all of my experience with Nemesis using the mouse-exclusive setup, and it worked much better than it did with The Awakened. Whichever method you go with, the controls are responsive and do what they need to do.

The game clocks in at around 15 hours on the first playthrough, which is more than enough to make it worth the purchase price. As with almost every other adventure game out there, don't expect any replay value because you won't find it here. Once you've beaten it the first time, you'll know the solutions to the puzzles, and there's really no reason to go through them again.

Is Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis as good as its predecessor? I felt that this title lost a lot of the charm of The Awakened by reducing the number of investigation segments and keeping the story rooted to one place. Fans of Sherlock Holmes or adventure games should go out of their way to pick up this title. While some of the puzzles get pretty frustrating and, for most of the game, the linear progression gets pretty formulaic, Nemesis combines a terrific story, top-notch voice acting and logical puzzles to provide a good, lengthy experience.

Score: 8.0/10

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