Sherlock Holmes: Secret of the Silver Earring
First posted on 04 April 2013. Last updated on 26 February 2015.
The game is available at GOG.
There have been many adventure games with detective themes released over the years. Thus, it is no surprise that there have also been a number of adventure games featuring arguably the world's most famous fictional detective—Sherlock Holmes. Though Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes: Secret of the Silver Earring (also known as Sherlock Holmes: The Case of The Silver Earring) is not based on any of the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the game does an excellent job of capturing their flavor and essence.
The game's story begins with Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion, Dr. John Watson, attending a celebration at the estate of a wealthy businessman. As Holmes and Watson stand in the spacious dining room in the midst of many other guests, the businessman—an older gentleman by the name of Sir Bromsby—takes his place at a podium in the room and begins to speak. Suddenly, a shot rings out. Bromsby collapses, expiring within minutes. Holmes' objective is immediately made clear: he must find out the identity of Bromsby's killer as well as the reason for his murder. As Holmes and Watson follow the trail of clues, however, more deceased victims are discovered, and the urgency to solve this mystery becomes even clearer.
Not surprisingly, taking on the role of the great detective involves a good deal of searching for clues. Holmes carries a small number of tools that are essential in extracting information from certain types of clues. For example, footprints must be measured with a measuring tape, and items that are difficult to see clearly with the naked eye need to be examined with a magnifying glass. Every piece of information that Holmes and Watson uncover is recorded in a journal, which can be accessed by clicking on an icon in the lower left corner of the screen. This journal stores descriptions of clues, letters that have been found or received, and transcripts of conversations. For a game that requires a lot of clue gathering, the journal is an invaluable feature.
Though the majority of the game has the player in Holmes' shoes, some part of the game also has the player taking on the role of Watson. However, Watson's role is usually limited to interrogating witnesses or suspects and looking up information relevant to the case.
The game is divided into multiple chapters. Each chapter spans a single day, which is usually comprised mostly of finding clues and talking to witnesses. This may not always be an easy task, as the clues can be very well hidden and repeatedly talking to people over and over again in the hopes that a new conversation topic has appeared can get tiring.
Though most of the puzzles in the game revolve around collecting evidence and gleaning information from clues, there are still a few traditional adventure game puzzles, both abstract (trying to find a way to safely enter a room with air saturated with dangerous quicklime fumes) and concrete (arranging numbered tokens on a board so that the sum of each row and column is the same). Although some of these puzzles can be quite enjoyable, others (including a timed maze) can be illogical and frustrating.
At the end of each chapter, the player is presented with a quiz comprised of a series of yes or no questions regarding the case. Not only must the correct answer be selected, but several pieces of evidence from the journal that support the answer must also be added. This may be a way for the game to get the player who may not be clear on what is happening in the story back up to speed; however, there is a noteworthy problem with this approach—if a question is answered incorrectly or backed up with unrelated evidence, the game will not tell the player which question has been answered incorrectly. Instead, Holmes will just say, "We must have made an error, Watson", and suggest checking the answers again. This can be a frustrating experience for the player who is unsure which questions have been answered correctly and which have not. There is also a final quiz near the end of the game where the player is asked to name Bromsby's killer as well as the assailants of the various deceased victims discovered during the story. This quiz is nearly impossible to solve. Fortunately, it is entirely optional and does not affect the game's ending.
Every visual aspect of the game, from the expansive elegance of Bromsby's estate to the tiniest scrap of paper, is meticulously detailed. The quality of the graphics makes it very easy to become completely immersed in the game—when Holmes is walking through a gloomy forest while the rain pours down, the bitter cold and dampness seems almost real.
The music featured in the game is a variety of classical compositions which fit the setting and mood of the various scenes quite well and rarely becomes overwhelming or distracting.
Various references to Doyle's original stories appear throughout the game (such as letters from Holmes' brother Mycroft and Holmes' violin next to the fireplace in the Baker Street apartment), making the game a truly enjoyable experience for gamers who are familiar with the Holmesian mythos. Even the main cursors act as sly nods to both of the game's main characters: when playing as Holmes, the cursor is a lit pipe; when playing as Watson, the cursor is a writing quill.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes: Secret of the Silver Earring is a good game, albeit with a few drawbacks. Though many clues are collected and much information is gained during the story, the player may feel no closer to the solution to the mystery at the end than at the start of the game. The player may also get frustrated by the occasional illogical puzzle or timed sequence as well as the many times spent searching for clues that can feel uncomfortably like the much maligned pixel hunt. Despite the shortcomings, Sherlock Holmes: Secret of the Silver Earring is definitely a game worth playing.