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Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (PC) artwork

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (PC) review

You can tell Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened tries to stand out from the host of obscure adventure games, especially when the plot tells of our favourite Victorian detective travelling across the globe to stop crazy cultists from summoning this:

Cthulhu – a fat, green, demony being that revels in slaughtering humans. Or, as Stephen King so elegantly puts it: a gigantic, tentacle-equipped, killer vagina from beyond space and time. It’s so fearsome that according to the creator of this beast, no human can pronounce its alien name. And would you believe that this unlikely and fascinating case starts off as a seemingly run-of-the-mill kidnapping of a young Maori manservant.

Yes, it’s perhaps a little odd that developer Frogwares decided to source material from none other than horror and sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft. The Awakened may not be your typical Holmesian outing, but it does a great job at using Cthulhu mythology to spook you out. Early on, you come across a dimly lit temple that doubles as a squalid prison. But it’s not the ancient columns littered with peculiar drawings that catch your attention, nor the dirty mattresses that lie sprawled along the edge of the room. Right at the end is an altar that holds a sacrifice – a naked corpse, bruised and bloodied from head to toe. Its head starts to lull at an unnatural angle until it falls from the body and rolls, almost casually, on the grimy floor below. Twitching, the decapitated body’s newest hole spews forth a family of serpents that crawl from the neck and slither towards you.

It’s a shame that the rest of the game is mediocre.

As incredible as The Awakened can be when it tries to impress, most of the environments are empty and lifeless. London is a ghost town: there are no children, no footsteps, none of the chatter you’d expect from a living community. The streets are deserted save for the odd NPC standing rooted to the ground like a statue. While the story later sees Holmes and Watson in Switzerland and New Orleans, they suffer from the same major flaw. No matter how varied or pretty the surroundings are to look at, they’re plain boring and fill you with apathy. The game tries to compensate for this and immerse you by making you play from a first-person perspective, remarkably similar to a typical FPS in that you use the keyboard to walk and the mouse to look around. This, however, has no added effect when the areas you explore are so bland.

This is made worse by the fact that you’ll spend a lot of time backtracking. The Longest Journey and the like might have sucked a little when you were forced to sweep your mouse around the screen, looking for hidden items, but imagine what happens when you’re posed with the exact same problems in three-dimensional, first-person glory. No one wants to scour the whole flippin’ docks – robotically checking each turn and corner – for something you don’t even know what you’re meant to be looking for (which turns out to be a flimsy piece of rope). How this sort of thing still manages to crop up in adventures nowadays is baffling. It would be nice if Watson stops stalking you and actually gives you a few hints here and there, but no. He’s just a waste of space.

You do get a fair few decent puzzles, though. Some, like opening an abandoned warehouse, are standard and simple to solve (at least, once you get that wretched rope), while others – how about filling in a mathematical newspaper clock puzzle to work out the combination of a safe? – should be more than enough of a challenge for adventure veterans. A Swiss asylum, one of the game’s brighter moments, has you thinking up ways to knock out nurses, releasing birds from an aviary to cause a ruckus, and donning the right disguises to extract information. And then you’ve got the duds. Picking locks and comparing glyphs have been seen countless times, even outside of the adventure genre, so it’s not much of a surprise that the ten, fifteen minutes it takes to solve the puzzles are filled with absolute tedium.

By now, you’ve probably forgotten about the killer vagina. But while The Awakened should have been an adventure memorable for its gutsy Lovecraftian/Holmesian hybrid plot – a dark, unpredictable tale of an arcane sect responsible for kidnappings, bloody murders and dismemberments – most of that gets buried behind the sluggish game.

Rating: 5/10

Ben's avatar
Community review by Ben (August 16, 2007)

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