Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened
First posted on 01 May 2008. Last updated on 26 October 2012.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered Edition
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered Edition is an update to Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. Released in October 2008 and distributed by Ascaron Entertainment, the Remastered Edition now allows the player to choose between a third person mode (new) and a first person mode (original). It also includes a new help system and improved graphics such as lighting and shading effects. The game is otherwise unchanged from the original.
A watercolour sketch of a mist shrouded street gradually takes on solidity... and one of the most beloved sidekicks in mystery fiction arrives at the famous 221b Baker Street, home of the great—although irascible—detective, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is bored. It has been too long since a case has engaged his interest, but events are about to lead him into a mystery not even he can foresee. A portentous alignment of celestial stars, missing immigrants, strange medallions, an ominous temple, a tortured sacrificial victim's body, opium, dodgy imports coming through customs, mysterious happenings at the Black Edelweiss Institute (which turns out to be a mental asylum), daring jewel robberies, ladies of pleasure upon a Louisiana Nymph riverboat, the involvement of an aristocrat named Lord Rochester, jewels bought on the quiet by a trader called Ashmat and a silent partner, the machinations of a character known only as "the Hindu", and ominous references to "The Great One" who, it seems, is to return... all of these are pieces in a puzzle which can only be unravelled by the greatest investigating mind on the planet: Sherlock Holmes himself.
Who is "The Great One" whose coming foretells such doom? How is the ever-increasing sense of foreboding related to reality? The story of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened combines the creations of a duo of famous writers (Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft) into a mystery tinged with the supernatural, the supernormal, and the super-intelligence of Holmes facing not only the darkness of the human heart, but an old and terrible evil that is unnatural in every sense—a thing of perverted glory in destruction, a thing of uncanny mystic reality.
In addition to the nod to Lovecraft, there are also some witty little references to, for instance, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot (a young boy with a puzzle-box is called Hercule, son of Mrs Poirot, and in his hearing Watson alludes to the "little grey cells"). The sense of tribute is nicely handled.
The game begins in Victorian London, which is beautifully portrayed. There is a lovely feeling of "faded newspapers" in the graphics for the opening scenes, which contrasts wonderfully with the more palette rich visuals in the later scenes when the story moves to Switzerland, and even more when Holmes and Watson head over to New Orleans with its decadent sense of decaying glamour, its sinister swamps, and its rich history. When the finale moves inexorably towards Scotland, to a place that is natural rock, surrounded by water, a dreadful fate threatens the entire world, and it is fitting that the visuals for the final scenes are strikingly grand yet strikingly full of menace.
The use of 3D graphics is well handled to provide an immersive, elegant gameplay experience. The interaction between the environment and the characters is beautifully achieved for the most part. Some of the graphics are dark, macabre, and gory, but perfectly apt within the storyline and the ambience of the game. Blood is an important element in the story, and it forms a repeated motif sprawled here, daubed there, dripping, pooling, like an almost tangible pattern.
Holmes must cope with such diverse problems as discovering that lemons can deter mosquitoes, saving a horse dying of thirst, ignoring a hoodoo warning, disguising himself as a mad patient and as a bearded doctor, translating an "accursed book" named Kgwhman Kadwlun written in the sort of idiom that even Queen Victoria may not find amusing, using natural evidence to discover who has done what, and more.
As Holmes' investigations from country to country lead him to gather more clues, the pieces drive him to a terrifying conclusion: there is a sect consisting of representatives from every nation on earth, and their purpose is to awaken something that cannot stop, if once it awakes.
There is considerable pleasure in playing as Holmes or as the admiring Watson without whose help the investigation can never proceed. Holmes' knowledgeable pronouncements make him sound like a clever dick (pun intended)—but this know-it-all demeanor is an authentic part of his fictional persona. It is deeply rewarding to experience the (almost) faultless reproduction of this very British detective. Players will progress only if they think like Holmes; they must investigate everything, look at everything, miss nothing, keep everything they can... for who knows when an item may be needed? To fail for lack of a match? What a dismal moment of dark horror in the final moments!
That brings up the few aspects of this game that may frustrate a certain proportion of players: there is some distance between discovering information in some instances and the uses to which such information is put. What seems like an irrelevancy in the beginning—the pirate book, for instance—turns out to be essential knowledge as the final scenes approach. There is an occasional period of revisiting the same place over and over in order to be able to access all the necessary information. Moreover, the moment when the cursor suddenly disappears can be panic inducing, until the player realises that it is deliberate and used as a sort of signal to the player to indicate that there is no interaction at that point.
There are also a few puzzles that can be quite time consuming to solve—the New Orleans Star clock puzzle, for instance, and the cipher which is based on perceiving a pattern of no repeated numbers. However, the careful sense of thorough investigating, done very much in the authentic style of Doyle's Holmes, adds to the game's atmosphere and richness of story immensely.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a game that I can highly recommend. The game's plot is utterly engrossing and easily overshadows the few imperfections that are in the game. The voice work is beautifully done; the ambience is stunning; the payoff with the dramatic confrontation between good and evil, light and dark, truth and shadows, repays the player with an unforgettable emotional culmination in the end.