"Arsène Lupin and Sherlock Holmes face off not in a book, but in an adventure game that encompasses all staples of the point-and-click genre, and manages to remain strictly faithful to the source material at the same time."
The idea of pairing the sophisticated gentleman thief Arsène Lupin and the disturbingly intelligent detective Sherlock Holmes is not a new one; I read Maurice Leblanc himself wrote three stories where the two met, prompting the equivalent of a copyright lawsuit from Arthur Conan Doyle. This time these two great characters of 19th century literature face off not in a book, but in an adventure game that encompasses all staples of the point-and-click genre, and manages to remain strictly faithful to the source material at the same time.
One great improvement over the most traditional point-and-click formula is that the game takes place in fully 3D environments that you are free to explore in first-person, which eliminates the old frustration of not noticing an entrance in a static, pre-rendered background. Nemesis also tries to put an end to pixel-hunting, but isn’t as successful in that regard. Objects with which you can interact get a big and visible icon when you approach them, so when you’re asked to retrieve a book from a full shelf you just have to get close to it to immediately see which particular book you want to pick. However, many key items or pieces of evidence are in places where you wouldn’t even think of looking, so you will sometimes find yourself scanning a room mechanically anyway.
As for the puzzles themselves, this isn’t the most accessible adventure game ever made. I appreciate the fact that the majority of puzzles are reasonably feasible for the Holmes universe and consist of measuring footprints (you will find this oddly exciting if you, like me, have fond literary memories of Holmes guessing the entire appearance of a suspect just from a footprint in the mud), decoding messages and gathering a wealth of information. However, the fact that the puzzles are thematically appropriate doesn’t mean that they are easy: you are going to need a walkthrough to make progress. That is not directed at “those of you not familiar with adventure games”, or “people with little patience”. I firmly believe that literally no player will be able to finish Nemesis on their own, and it’s the game’s fault. Sometimes Lupin’s clues as to what you have to do next are obscure to the point of being completely nonsensical. Other times you will instantly figure out that you need a lamp, but you will be at a loss to figure out which one, out of the dozens upon dozens of light sources in the building, is interactive. Lastly, there are occasions in which the game simply does not tell you how a puzzle works. I’m thinking specifically of a rather literal puzzle, as in actually having to put pieces together to form a painting. I spent ages trying to match pieces, having no success, until I checked a walkthrough and see that I could rotate the pieces. The game never told me that.
If you’ve made your peace with the inescapable fact that you will need a guide from time to time, there is plenty of content to enjoy. Aesthetically, Nemesis is a pleasure to watch; not really because of the big and detailed character models or the size of some sceneries, although that never hurts, but because of how faithfully the city of London has been recreated. If you’ve ever been to London, one of the main attractions of this game will be revisiting some of its most famous locations. Sherlock Holmes’ house on 221b Baker Street has been portrayed with the same wallpaper and furniture disposition. As someone who goes to the British Museum every other week, I was very curious to see how the game’s version fares up to the original, and I was thoroughly amazed. Apart from public spaces like the courtyard only two galleries are open (the Egyptian and Babylonian gallery, and the Enlightenment section), but it’s the detail what is most impressive. You can find out exact replicas of the historical artefacts on display on the real galleries, and I’m pretty sure that many of them are in the exact same location as they are now. Same goes for the virtual National Gallery, which also portrays a vast amount of the paintings held in the real one.
There is voice acting for every single line of dialogue, and while the actors all have impeccable diction the overall quality of the acting is rather irregular. Holmes and Watson are rightly the stars of the show, and their only flaw is an occasional tendency to sounding stilted. Supporting actors can be downright annoying, though, as they plunge head-first into various regional British accents.
All in all there’s quite a lot of fun to be had with Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis, especially if, like me, you’ve read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, love London sightseeing and enjoy being given lessons in art history. There’s plenty of all three here: whenever a great painting is involved in the plot, it is not used as a mere prop or a MacGuffin; it is extensively discussed, explained, and commented. The trademark obstacles and whims of the adventure genre are well worth suffering for this.
Freelance review by Martin G (May 28, 2008)
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