Game: Sherlock Holmes: The Secret of the Silver Earring
Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: GSP
Year: 2004
Reviewed: 2008
Platform: PC
Genre: Adventure
Game Version: Unpatched
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

The Case of the Inconsistent Title: As befits something based around Sherlock Holmes, this is a game of many mysteries, the first of which is what the thing is actually called. “The Case of the Silver Earring” proclaims the box. “The Secret of the Silver Earring” it proudly announces in the actual game itself. Perhaps they’re both incomplete and it’s actually “The Case of the Secret of the Silver Earring”. But I’ll just assume that the game knows its own name better than the box it comes in and stick with Secret.

The Mystery of the Perplexing Professionalism: The next mystery is just how this polished and professional looking game could come from the same developers who just a year before released the buggy amateurish mess that was Mystery of the Mummy. This game bears no resemblance to its predecessor whatsoever. That was in first person; this is in third person. That was overloaded with puzzles; this barely has any. That had low resolution blurry graphics; this has very sharp good looking environments. The changes are remarkable. The audio has also improved greatly. The music is of a high quality, and so it should be, since it’s by several famous classical composers, fitting the period setting perfectly. The only problem is they get repeated again and again until they get burned into your brain, and there doesn’t seem to have been much attention paid to whether they actually fit the scene or not. The voice acting is of a reasonable quality, but the actor playing Holmes doesn’t really sound right for the character to me. In fact, the games portrayal of Holmes is very much the clichéd deduction machine, bereft of much personality or any of the many flaws that made Conan Doyle’s original stories so interesting.

The Case of the Missing Puzzles: Alas, while the puzzles in the previous game didn’t really fit with the Sherlock Holmes theme, this game has gone to the other extreme and contains no puzzles at all for most of the game. Instead, you end up basically examining every crime scene for every piece of evidence and questioning witnesses and suspects until the game lets you move on. Some of the clues you need to find can be tiny and barely visible. This inevitably leads to that most hated of adventure game problems, pixel hunting. It becomes frustrating sweeping your mouse across the same few screens over and over in an attempt to locate that one speck of dust or whatever miniscule clue you’re supposed to find.

Sherlock Holmes Silver Earring Puzzle
By a careful process of deduction, Watson, I have determined that this is a puzzle.

The Case of the Isolated Puzzle Room: The only time that puzzles ever really seem to come into the game is in one specific section of the game, which almost seems like it’s a piece of rogue code escaped from a different game. It still doesn’t have traditional adventure game puzzles, but rather self-contained puzzles along the lines of their previous game, albeit far better produced. They’re actually reasonably interesting puzzles, they just don’t quite seem to fit in with the game. It’s highly unlikely that Sherlock Holmes should be investigating the house of someone who locks things away with puzzles, with clues scattered around so that anybody could solve them.

The Case of the Bloody Stupid Maze Section that I Thought I’d Seen the Last Of in Adventure Games Years Ago: Yes, that’s right, there’s a maze. I’ll say that again, to fill out some space. A maze. The type of puzzle that practically nobody in the entire world ever liked yet which inexplicably turned up in every single adventure game made in the early days of computer games has made a return, ready for us to hate it all anew. OK, it’s not a traditional maze of twisty passages all alike, but it’s a disorientating forest with camera angles changing from screen to screen that’s very easy to get lost in, and worst of all, it’s timed! Presumably the makers thought that since adventure games are often about combining things, they would try combining one hated adventure game feature with another to bring whole new realms of annoyance to the player. Unless they’ve got a really clever twist to them or the whole rest of the game is incredibly exceptional, mazes are an instant reduction in the score of any game.

Sherlock Holmes Silver Earring
Never mind the case, it’s time for a spot of gardening.

The Case of the Silly Stealth Section: Then there’s the fact that even though this is an adventure game, they’ve decided to include a stealth segment. Not that varying the gameplay is necessarily a bad thing, but they’d have to do it really well to make it work. And, of course, they don’t. It’s just an annoying case of enforced retrying of the same small section of game until you finally get through it, before finding that after exploring a bit, you have to do it all again. ARGH!

The Curious Conundrum of the End of Day Exams: Frogwares have actually made an attempt to get the players to think about the plot a bit. It’s presumably an effort to make it feel like you’re actually doing some of the solving yourself rather than just clicking on items and watching the on-screen characters do all the actual reasoning. It’s good in theory and if someone could do this well, it would improve these sorts of game greatly. Unfortunately, this isn’t a very good solution. Basically, at the end of each day, you’re presented with a bunch of questions about aspects of the case, and you have to select documents and clues that you have discovered that reveal the answers. It feels more like taking a school test than investigating a case, and it’s not that fun, especially when some of the correct things to click can be rather vague. I’m sure there’s a better way of doing things like this, but here, it just didn’t work. And ultimately, the whole case is wrapped up at the end by an incredibly long monologue from Sherlock Holmes in a cut scene.

Save System Review: Save anywhere. The usual adventure game save system.
Graphics: The graphics are actually pretty good this time around, with some high quality environments, but the animation of the character models is a bit stiff.
Sound: As mentioned above, the music is of high quality but repetitive, and the voice acting is decent but not always right for the characters, although you get used to it.
Bugs: None that I noticed.
Gameplay: Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of this, with far too much of the game spent simply sweeping your mouse around the screen in the hopes of locating another clue, rather than actually solving puzzles or deducing things.
Storyline: A reasonable mystery plot, but not the most exciting storyline and not especially memorable. The characterisation of the characters doesn’t seem quite right, seemingly being more based on the common clichéd idea of what people think Holmes is like rather than the character from the books.

Arbitrary Final Score: 2 stars

An enjoyable mystery, or is the biggest puzzle the absense of any actual deduction? Give your hypothesis on the forum!