Game: The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Publisher: Legacy Interactive
Genre: Hidden Object
If you ask most gamers what the worst problem was with many adventure games, you’d probably get the response “Duh, dey suckz cuz you cant kill shit in them lolz!!” If, however, you took the time to hunt down one of the minority of the population of this planet with more than half a dozen brain cells and then narrowed that group down to the ones who have played adventure games at some point in their lives, then it wouldn’t be long before pixel hunting got a mention. Back when adventure games were common, it was like a plague. It seemed every developer would at some point get fed up with crafting clever puzzles or writing story and would instead decide to hide something virtually unnoticeable in the environment, leaving you trekking backwards and forwards across the same bloody screens for hours because you’d failed to find something that you didn’t even know was there. Doesn’t that sound fun? So of course, some clever git at some point decided it’d be a great idea to take this scourge of adventure gaming and turn it into an entire genre of its own, and thus the hidden object genre was born. I’m not sure what the first hidden object game was, but it was probably the Mystery Case Files series that popularised it, and now there seems to be a new game every day. Or rather, the exact same game with a new tacked on story and theme. They seem to have located a new class of gamers: ones who don’t need guns in every game, but also don’t want to use their brain lest it hurts their head and who don’t mind paying £10 - £15 on the same game over and over. Who are these morons?
Well evidently I’m one of them since I’m reviewing one of the games right now. But it’s a Sherlock Holmes game, so I decided to give it a try, and after all, I can’t judge things without giving them a fair chance. Plus, it’s the first Sherlock Holmes game to be endorsed by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so it clearly must be faithful to the source material, right? And so that brought me to The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes, not to be confused with the very similarly titled Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes adventure games from the ‘90s, which were actually very good.
The first thing I noticed when the main menu loaded up was that it seemed to be using the music from the classic ITV Sherlock Holmes series. “Seemed” is the key word there, since it soon goes its own way, it just uses the opening notes in an attempt to lure you into thinking the game has higher quality than it actually has. Besides, unless they have invented reincarnation technology or the game was designed by Herbert West, it clearly wasn’t going to be voiced by Jeremy Brett. Instead, the voice acting is rather unimpressive, what little of it there is in the brief opening and closing cutscenes of each case. Watson in particular seems to have a distinct American accent. At least those scenes have a whole three or four frames of animation per scene to make up for it!
So onto the gameplay then. Each of the 16 cases generally follows the same pattern. First, you get a split screen, with an image of the same room at the top and bottom of the screen, and you have to find the differences between the two. Yes, it’s a “spot the difference”, as seen in many puzzle books in the shops, but at a much higher price and on your computer. After that it’s off to another room for a more standard hidden object scene. You get a big picture of the room and a list of objects down the left side of the screen, and simply have to find all of them. In both these types of scene, when you click on items that are relevant in some way to the case, you get a brief message filling in some background on the characters and events. That at least puts it slightly ahead of most hidden object games where the items have nothing to do with the story.
After these, it’s back to Baker Street to work out who the culprit is. This is a two stage process. Firstly, you get a grid of suspects and have to categorise them into rows and columns based on various arbitrary characteristics. Each case these get slightly harder with more and more people involved in each case, but it’s never exactly challenging to isolate people based on whether or not they’re wearing glasses and the like. The second part features pictures of all the suspects with an item of evidence linking them to the case. They fade away and one of the items is changed when they’re brought back, and you have to find the one that has changed until you’re left with just one suspect, the villain. Apparently all it takes to solve a crime is to sort everyone involved by hair colour and then do a memory test. Conan Doyle never mentioned that part in the books.
Not all the cases follow this pattern precisely. Sometimes, you’ll get the hidden object scene first, and then the spot the difference after! In the later cases, you might even get two hidden object scenes, or two chances to spot the difference! (Exactly what are these two room scenes I’m supposed to be comparing anyway? How does he have two copies of the same room to investigate?) The game does break things up a bit by including some extra puzzles when certain pieces of evidence are clicked on. These add the only real variety to the game, but they’re never much of a challenge, being generally simple tasks such as piecing together a torn up letter as an excuse for a basic jigsaw puzzle. One of the puzzles seemed to be treating me like I had some intelligence when it presented me with a coded message, but then I realised it blatantly gives you the cipher key at the top of the screen to ensure there’s no actual challenge. The final case does vary slightly from the others, in that instead of following the normal pattern, it’s bafflingly made even easier by simply having you revisit each of the previous locations and find just two objects in each, and instead of telling you what they are, it gives you a silhouette outline of them, making them even easier to find. Then it finishes on some more of those bland puzzles.
There are some things that rank it above many of the other hidden object games. As mentioned earlier, the objects you’re looking for often (though not always) have at least some link to the case in some way. You can also use a magnifying glass to scan the screen with to enlarge the area you’re looking at rather than being stuck looking for tiny objects on the screen. You can look for slightly less tiny objects instead. And while I often complain that games aren’t long enough these days, in this case it’s a blessing, since I’d have felt obliged to finish it even if it had been much longer due to my obsessive need to complete stuff. As it is, there may be sixteen cases but they’re all pretty short and the game only lasts around 5 hours. The game does feature hints if you get stuck. In the hidden object parts you have a limited number of times where you can ask to be shown where the objects are, and you can skip a limited number of puzzles. I always appreciate games having features to help weaker players, since everyone should be able to enjoy a game in their own way, but in this case, if you can’t solve the puzzles I’m surprised you’ve worked out how to turn on your computer in the first place. With the addition of hints, unless your name is Mr. Magoo you should be strolling through this game with little effort.
The cases themselves are generally unmemorable, to put it in a kind way, or rubbish if I wanted to be less kind. The great detective would have been insulted to be expected to solve cases like this. If for some reason you care about spoilers then skip the rest of this sentence, but the solution to the first case involving a missing jewel turns out to be that the woman’s cat had taken it. If that’s the level we’re working at, then it’s no wonder the gameplay is so basic.
At the start I compared this genre of games to pixel hunting in adventure games, but it’s not exactly the same thing. The frustration of pixel hunting was not even knowing that there was anything to find, what you were looking for or where it might be. In these games, you know exactly what you’re looking for, eliminating most of the annoyance from it. But while it might not be as infuriating, it’s no less pointless. This is a perfectly good example of what it’s trying to achieve; it seemed free of bugs and everything worked how it was supposed to. It’s just that what it’s trying to achieve is so little, and it’s been done 27 billion times before. Per week. If you’ve never played a hidden object game before and for some reason want to try one, then this is as good as any. But it’s hard to recommend it unless you have the IQ of an underachieving amoeba.
Save System Review: The game saves automatically whenever you exit.
Graphics: The scenes are reasonably decent though quite low resolution, but the cutscene animation is dreadful.
Sound: Mediocre voice acting and not very interesting music.
Bugs: None that I found.
Gameplay: Object hunting and spot the difference, plus ridiculously easy puzzles. Nothing of much interest.
Storyline: Forgettable cases that aren’t particularly well written and it just doesn’t feel like Holmes.
Arbitrary Final Score:
If you like this, you might also like: Spot the difference puzzles, the other gazillion identical hidden object games available, bashing your head against a brick wall.
Is the game elementary? Would you rather just see Wats-on TV. Discuss the game on our forum.