"Remember playing Grim Fandango or The Longest Journey and getting stuck? Remember trying to find that needle in the haystack by moving your mouse and covering every inch of your screen, hoping to come across a hotspot and finding a key item or initiating an action? Well, those haystacks have grown exponentially thanks to The Awakened being played in first-person."
Iíve never taken much of an interest in Sherlock Holmes before, so forgive me if the following assumption is wrong: it sounds strange that Frogwares is sourcing material from an author none other than H.P. Lovecraft (famous for merging horror and science fiction together) for the basis for a Sherlock Holmes game. Well, hereís the final product. Subtitled The Awakened, the follow-up to Secret of the Silver Earring ambitiously tries to use Cthulhu mythology to spook the heck of you out while you sleuth your way through as Sherlock Holmes himself. Besides that, though, thereís not much that really distinguishes itself from most adventure titles Ė except for the fact that itís played from a first-person perspective.
Thatís right. Throughout the game, youíre placed in the shoes of Holmes and occasionally his trusty sidekick, Watson. The controls are remarkably similar to a first-person shooter, in that you use the keyboard to walk and the mouse to look around. This would have actually worked rather well, if it werenít for the fact that many of the environments are vacant and almost completely lifeless. Take the start of the game, when you must take a trip to the nearby bookstore. Thereís no chatter, no sound of footsteps, and almost no sightings of local townspeople Ė itís like a ghost town. And at the docks at nightfall, where there was a great opportunity to create chills in the hunt for a couple of kidnappers, the lack of life is simply too distracting to shrug off.
Itís a shame, because the game is meant to be creepy, and itís evident in the story. Though it starts off as a simple kidnapping, The Awakened soon enough delves into Cthulhu mythology and has you trying to stop cultists from performing insane rituals. With that said, there are a couple genuinely eerie (and gory) moments where credit should be given. Early on, youíll come across a large, dimly-lit temple. Drawings are scrawled on the walls, dirty mattresses of the captives lay out in the open, and right at the end of the room is a naked and bloodied body on an altar. Yikes.
While those sparse bone-chilling moments wouldnít have been anywhere near as effective on static screens like adventures more than a decade ago or from a third-person perspective, the first-person view does raise some problems of its own. Remember playing Grim Fandango or The Longest Journey and getting stuck? Remember trying to find that needle in the haystack by moving your mouse and covering every inch of your screen, hoping to come across a hotspot and finding a key item or initiating an action? Well, those haystacks have grown exponentially. Letís go back to the docks. I donít think anyone can deny that itís not a small area, and on my playthrough, I missed some rope. Twenty minutes later, when I couldnít into a warehouse, I backtracked and scoured the whole area. After another twenty minutes passed, I grunted and checked a walkthrough.
Holmes also has a couple of handy items with him that a super-sleuth needs, such as a magnifying glass and a tape measure, and you can intuitively whip them out during static zoom-ins. Though the magnifying glass is supposed to make life easier for you, youíll still be blind-clicking everywhere trying to find that miniscule key item that will let you continue with the game, which frankly sucks, especially without any hint of what youíre supposed to be looking for. Itís fortunate, then, that one of the gameís redeeming features is its quality of puzzles. They range from the simple (like opening the warehouse at the docks Ė once youíve got that wretched rope!) to the challenging (like filling in a mathematical newspaper clock puzzle to work out the combination to a safe), and the latter will certainly give many fans of the genre a tough time. The relief and satisfaction you get for solving each one makes up for some of the aimless wandering and blind-clicking elsewhere.
Along with the old-fashioned puzzle-solving, plenty of other traditional adventure elements are recycled, too. Youíve still got your inventory and the ability to combine or inspect items, and you canít progress to the next section if you havenít attained all the key items or solved the puzzle (itís a tad annoying that Watson tails you, yet contributes nothing Ė not even a tiny clue). The Awakened even tries to freshen the genre further by forcing you to put two and two together and to come up with your own theories. In these neat little situations, Holmes will ask you a question pertaining to the case, and using the evidence youíve gathered, you must type in the correct answer before progressing.
The Awakened tries to take a unique approach with the genre by letting you play from Holmesí eyes, but unfortunately, this isnít used to its full potential. Frogwares could have made a really creepy game, but a number of factors, including lifeless environments and plenty of frustrating blind-running, stack up against it. They do, however, get the puzzles spot-on, and so if you donít mind a bit of backtracking, this is worth a look. Just make sure you have a walkthrough with you.
Freelance review by Freelance Contributor (May 30, 2007)
This contribution was provided by a writer who is no longer active on the site.
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