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221B Baker Street (PC) artwork

221B Baker Street (PC) review


"The problem with many text adventures is that you can only solve them once. Even the creative geniuses at Infocom could only fit in so many alternate solutions, in-jokes and Easter Eggs. 221B Baker Street offers thirty such adventures, each with fixed solutions. Memory constraints ensure they are neither worth remembering or replaying, or both. In this board game-slash-text adventure within a miniature London, even Inspector Lestrade could notice the too-evident formula, which culminates ..."



The problem with many text adventures is that you can only solve them once. Even the creative geniuses at Infocom could only fit in so many alternate solutions, in-jokes and Easter Eggs. 221B Baker Street offers thirty such adventures, each with fixed solutions. Memory constraints ensure they are neither worth remembering or replaying, or both. In this board game-slash-text adventure within a miniature London, even Inspector Lestrade could notice the too-evident formula, which culminates in a multiple-choice quiz at the end for murderer, motive and weapon. One pictures Holmes filling in a Scan-Tron.

It's not fully the game's fault, though. 221B was meant to be multi-player: up to four people can play as Holmes, Watson, Lestrade and Irene Adler, the only woman to outsmart Holmes. They differ in icons only as they roll dice and move around the city, where buildings and areas offer clues. The carriage depot lets you visit any building in the city. Scotland Yard offers a badge that locks other venues or lets you solve the case back home. The locksmith offers a key for secret tunnels or locked venues. Hyde Park gives a shortcut. Clues appear in each character's preferred code, but still, the game implores others to look away as one person tries to solve the murder. This could work great over the Internet, or with people willing to send in their own puzzles and able to track what they'd solved.

However, in single-player mode this gets tedious as you constantly need to push space to roll the dice and move around. London isn't VERY big at 20x20, but the catch-22 here is that regardless of London's size, it either gets too familiar or takes too long to get around. The cases themselves don't contain anything Doyle would be hugely proud of--in fact, many clues are more riddles than logic benders. With minimal text, you know everything must be relevant. Often the clues reduce to who smokes/wears/worships/collects what.

There's no dramatic buildup as players roll dice, and nobody's at risk of dying. Watson and Lestrade fail to say anything dumb. Therefore, the stories have no hope of capturing the drama of Holmes deciphering the Dancing-Man cryptogram, or the fake out of the Red-Headed League. It's too bad, because the board where you move your characters around is cute, and the first time visiting all the old London places is exciting. Still, these cases are combined and slightly glorified Encyclopedia Brown's one-minute mysteries. It's just not very dramatic to be schlepping around London in search of very easy riddles.

Murder mysteries can afford to be more complex today. They don't need to choose between quantity and quality. 221B tries to provide quantity, and if it's not Action-52, it does get tiring disappointingly quickly. With all that dice rolling, it's a toss-up if a game of 221B takes less time than rereading an old Doyle story online for free. In the latter, even if you remember who did what, the plot is worth revisiting.

Rating: 5/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (December 27, 2009)

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zippdementia posted December 27, 2009:

Aschultz, you've done it, old boy. This is a prime review, a real success. The references to Sherlock Holmes (the original) are well placed, the review is short without being lacking, and the writing is superb, without any grammatical mishaps to throw me off the trail.

The only thing I would suggest is explaining the board game system a little more. I'm getting images of monopoly, is that right? If you miss a location, can you go still visit it, or do you have to roll exactly to land somewhere? I'm a little confused as to how the whole system is working.

Other than that, great job.
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aschultz posted December 30, 2009:

Thanks! I think my favorite posts may be the "good job, and did you notice X might work even better."

What you mentioned is probably worth detailing some more if I can figure it out. 221's board is a 2-d grid, with zigzagging streets, and the quickest way around gives an advantage that can be destroyed with a couple of dice rolls. I'd guess Sorry/Parcheesi with more intersections. I'll think on it.

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