Inside Testament of Sherlock Holmes beats the heart of classic point-and-click adventure games. On the outside, there are a few differences, like the ability to shift to a first person view and deducing the events of a murder from a few clues, but the sizable majority of the game is simply Sherlock and/or Watson locked into an area and unable to leave until every clue has been found and all the proper items have been used on the proper objects.
While this is fine, I feel as though this skeleton undermines the idea of playing as Sherlock Holmes. The game comes so close, but adherence to genre somewhat undermines the idea that I’m controlling a genius detective. Having to figure out a clever puzzle without any hints made me feel like a genius (especially when it’s well-implemented into the story), but when puzzles started to feel like filler, it snapped me out of the fantasy.
There are a pair of puzzles early in the game represent this divide. One involves moving a knight across a chess board. Your goal is to find the last space it would end up after having moved to every other space on the board, with no overlap. After a number of attempts at trying to force my way through the puzzle, the game offered me a couple of options to help me along. I could use Sherlock’s “Sixth Sense” to show me the next move I should do (more on that later), or I could skip the puzzle entirely. After a few more attempts where I refused help, I finally had the Sixth Sense guide me to the end. As it turned out, the last square that the knight would land on was the center square. A square that had more wear and tear on it than all of the others. I then had to use Sherlock’s pocket knife to raise that tile from the floor and find a secret stash of letters.
But at the end of all of this, I couldn’t help but wonder: “Why?”
Why did I need to find the poorly-hidden oversized novelty chess piece and the amateurishly-concealed floor-chessboard and try to puzzle out the last spot the knight would land? Wouldn’t Sherlock notice the fact that there was clearly a square that looked like it had been tampered with when he was moving the oversized chess piece across the board? He’d already found a hint explaining that the letters were under a certain square on the chessboard. I mean, Holmes likes showing off, but nobody else was in the room while he did so.
That said, the puzzle immediately following it did the exact opposite for me. I had to open a box that had nothing but an 8×8 arrangement of holes in it. After wandering around the room and examining everything I could think of, I found eight skewers. A short cutscene had Sherlock brag about his victory over the man who didn’t want him opening the box and then…
I was simply left to my own devices.
I could put a skewer into any hole in the box, but certain arrangements would undo some of my progress. After a little bit of tinkering, I realized that if I put any two skewers within the eight cardinal directions of each other, the newly-inserted skewer would eject the old one. Once I’d figured that out (without the game giving me any indication how to), I felt really smart. The reward for doing this was practically nothing, but damn it, I felt like Sherlock Holmes. The puzzle box contained personal documents, so it made sense that it would be a challenge to open. The owner of the was dead so I was given no hints. Everything just clicked together in a really satisfying way.
In fact, I feel that Testament of Sherlock Holmes suffers at points by not putting enough faith in the player. This became frustratingly clear to me at one of my favorite parts in the game. Every so often, you’ll come across a corpse and have to deduce what happened. This is awesome. Each clue you find will appear aligned in a menu, and clues (or combinations thereof) will give you a number of choices as to how a crime was committed. While some of the options you can choose are so ludicrous that they pose no challenge , it’s fun to slowly fill out your deduction board as you explore an area and discover more about a particular case.
While deduction is fun, it’s also held back by the more gamey mechanics in the game. There were times that I knew the next place I had to go or had figured out the cause of death, but wasn’t allowed to continue because I hadn’t found one final clue that the game deemed necessary for me to carry on. Sometimes, I wasn’t even allowed to leave a room until I found every clue.
This is when I started abusing Sherlock’s “Sixth Sense.” Basically, pressing LT would make icons pop up on whatever I could examine. While this generally helped me pick up the majority of my clues, it also meant that when I was frustrated, I’d walk around mashing LT until I found the last clue that let me move on. I understand that these limitations are in place to make sure that players stay in a place that contains everything they need at the time, it’s annoying to be stuck in a small room because I only examined a bandaged severed finger, instead of using a knife to cut the bandage open and confirm that it was severed. Those sort of limitations feel incredibly arbitrary and kind of shatter the illusion that I’m playing as a genius.
These issues wouldn’t bother me so much if I wasn’t playing as Sherlock Holmes. There’s so much that the game gets right. It’s quite fun to explore 221 B Baker Street from a first person view (I couldn’t help smiling when I saw VR shot into the wall), and Holmes’s characterization emphasized the more sociopathic side of the character (a side I’m particularly fond of). However, while some puzzles and deductions made me feel like a genius, every progress-blocking bit of illogic killed that buzz.