Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is an ambitious mystery adventure from Frogwares. It simultaneously attempts to remain faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's eponymous sleuth, provide a crossover with another body of work with its own cultish following, and blaze new trails in the well established adventure game genre.
It is autumn, 1894. London buzzes with excitement over the arrival of a foreign princess. Our hero, Sherlock Holmes, finds himself bored as is often the case when he is not actively tracking villains meticulously through deductive logic and the careful observation of clues. Indeed, we find the famed detective in such a state that he has reduced himself to petty deductions about the local book seller and scouring the papers to keep his mind busy. That's about when he and his good friend Dr. Watson stumble upon an item of interest.
The aboriginal servant of one of Watson's well-to-do patients has gone missing, an event that raises hardly any interest at all. The local constabulary assures our investigative duo that the young man has most likely succumbed to London's more carnal and sinful allures and is positive that the servant will undoubtedly show up in a few days lighter of pocket and wiser in his way. However, Mr. Holmes is not nearly as sure.
Applying a keen eye and a devastating intellect, Holmes comes to the conclusion that the servant did not leave of his own free will, but instead was spirited away. To where and for what reason the young man is taken remains unknown but the path that Holmes and Watson now must walk is perhaps the deadliest they have ever come up against.
Yes, they have faced off against desperate crooks and cold blooded murderers, but there are darker things in this world. Things that people refuse to believe in if for no other reason than to save their sanity. As the world's greatest detective travels to the continent and half way across the globe to the new world, he will come to learn that there are things in the dark that are worshipped, that are waiting just beyond the wall of reality and eager to satiate their unending hunger on the very whole of existence. Things with tentacles that were here before us, and have been patiently waiting all along.
You control Sherlock Holmes and occasionally Dr. Watson as they walk this path in this unique adventure title. Collect items, examine clues, and create devices in order to overcome obstacles in your way and get to the bottom of this long and complex mystery. Admittedly, this isn't new ground in adventure gaming, but The Awakened is anything but your conventional point and clicker. Hoping to set a standard for adventure games in the future, developer Frogwares has opted to put you in a fully three dimensional world with a movement scheme that is more like a first person shooter than your average adventure game. For those that fear change too much to take such a bold step, fear not, for standard third person perspective and controls are also available.
So now it is time for you to don the deerstalker hat and wield the mighty magnifying lens. You may be allowed a quick puff on the pipe and a few notes on the violin but tarry not. The world may be at its end, and the game is most definitely afoot.
Analysis: There is no question that The Awakened is a highly ambitious game. While first person three dimensional movement is nothing new in the world of gaming, it is a rather radical concept for what is ultimately a conventional adventure game with item based puzzles. On top of that, The Awakened attempts a sort of high-wire balancing act in remaining faithful to the well established Sherlock Holmes universe whilst at the same time introducing elements of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Thus, full analysis must incorporate all of these aspects as well as determining The Awakened's success as a standard adventure game.
Perhaps where The Awakened succeeds the most is in spinning a successful Sherlock Holmes yarn. There are no doubt purists among those who are fond of the famous detective. For some, none other than Basil Rathbone can ever portray Holmes, and there are perhaps others who remain loyal to a little known portrayal years ago by Frank Langella. Even for these poor folks, it behooves them to put away their prejudices for Sherlock Holmes is masterfully reproduced in The Awakened. Within one will find a suitably complex mystery as well as all those things about Holmes that has endeared him to generations upon generations of avid readers. As you pick your way through this adventure you will comb through clues, make fantastic deductions and even reaffirm Holmes' title as master of disguise, fooling even Dr. Watson himself. Rounding out the success in this area is a nicely dry wit that seems always at the ready as well as rather impressive voice acting with few flaws.
The Awakened also provides a healthy adventure game as well. True mystery games are rare, usually whodunits end up as little more than item based adventure games with trench coats and fedoras. To a degree this remains true with the Awakened as well, but the mystery elements that are injected into the gameplay compliment the adventure gaming aspects quite well. The item based puzzles are for the most part well done and as logical as those found in any other adventure game, and the sleuthing puzzles are a sheer treat that will mix things up quite nicely. In fact one of my fondest memories of The Awakened was just such an instance. I remember stumbling upon some footsteps at one point and nearly giggling with joy as I followed them to their conclusion. Unfortunately, sometimes these sleuthing aspects can become a little too unforgiving and it can get frustrating when you are barred from proceeding until you find all of the clues for a particular portion of the game.
We come across something of a double edged sword when dealing with the first person shooter approach to the game, though. To be fair, this is an impressive innovation and one that greatly adds to the enjoyment of The Awakened. It really sucks you in, especially when you are hunting for clues or when you are creeping through the passages of an insane asylum. Shooters have enjoyed the immersive effect of the first person perspective for years and The Awakened definitely capitalizes on that. The problem here is that one gets the feeling that Frogwares sort of rushed it, not taking the time to bring The Awakened up to speed with modern FPS games. The graphics would be impressive five or ten years ago, but are at best mediocre today. Further, many of the cut scenes end up being rather clumsy as different characters will often be feet off the mark or will exhibit the stiff emoting of bygone 3D characters. Finally, some of the minor characters are little more than color swaps with other minor characters which not only is confusing, but gives the impression as though the game is incomplete.
Where The Awakened stumbles the most, however, is in its attempt at integrating the Cthulhu mythos. This game is billed as a crossover between Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft's science fiction horror anthology, and indeed, you'll find quite a few likenesses of Cthulu throughout your quest. But there is not one, not a single mention of Cthulhu during the entire game. As you play you will come across what is clearly the Necronomicon, a book written by the Mad Arab Alhazred, but not a single character manages to actually come out and say as much. By the time I found myself closing in on the end of the game, I realized I would be satisfied if just one character once said the word, "Cthulhu," but even that did not happen. If you aren't a fan of Lovecraft's works or are unfamiliar with the Cthulhu mythos, I imagine this may not be a big deal. If, on the other hand, you come to The Awakened expecting to delve deep into the canon of Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and others, you will be frustratingly disappointed.
Despite The Awakened's shortcomings, though, there's simply no denying that this is one fun Sherlock Holmes adventure. The story, though convoluted, remains intriguing throughout. The voice acting, despite some weak spots here and there, is top notch. And the in game strategy guide comes through as perhaps The Awakened's greatest asset. With this strategy guide The Awakened manages to be as difficult or as easy as you need it to be and helps the game maintain a brisk and enjoyable pace. Yes, there is no shortage of things to dislike about Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, yet at the end of the day it still manages to spin a kind of magic that makes it a pleasure to play (PROTIP: Save often. There are instances where you can "die" which will result in having to restart at your last save point).
Large file, no demo available
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Note: Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a large-file adventure game and, as such, no demo is available. If there are any large file games you would like to know more about and would like to see reviewed next month, please let us know.