The Mystery of the Mummy

Posted by Jenny Rouse.
First posted on 01 February 2016. Last updated on 04 February 2016.
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The Mystery of the Mummy
Holmes receives a letter about a new case.
The Mystery of the Mummy
A mummy is on the loose (or not)!
The Mystery of the Mummy
The Montcalfe family is a dysfunctional lot.
The Mystery of the Mummy
Trouble is afoot!
The Mystery of the Mummy
Better late than never, Watson!

Frogwares is arguably among the most recognized independent adventure game developer, best known for its now long-running Sherlock Holmes series. While a number of adventure games have also been previously released based on Arthur Conan Doyle's seminal character, Frogwares' series has been widely regarded by critics to be the most successful adaptation to date. The Mystery of the Mummy, later retitled as Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy, is the first offering of the series from the developer. The game involves Holmes exploring the manor of the missing Lord Montcalfe, a famed adventurer and Egyptologist, searching for clues of the man's fate.

Released in 2002, The Mystery of the Mummy is markedly different from all subsequent Sherlock Holmes games developed by Frogwares. In many ways, the game is the product of the legacy of many adventure games following a period of renaissance for the genre. The player controls Sherlock Holmes, in first person perspective, and interacts with the world within a pre-rendered 3D environment utilizing limited character movements and fixed camera angles. As well, the game utilizes third-person perspective with 3D modeled characters in pre-rendered cut scenes to reveal various parts of the plot throughout the game. Not surprisingly, these cut scenes have not aged well and now look severely dated. Sadly, the game's graphics are subpar even when compared to other games from the same era, resulting in an often frustrating pixel hunt for needed inventory items.

Previous Sherlock Holmes games, such as The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes series, have focused heavily on storytelling and atmosphere rather than graphics. In a complete reversal, The Mystery of the Mummy seems to have focused more on attaining certain visual aesthetics than crafting a truly engaging story that the player can actually solve. Whether it is a product of the game's focus on uninspired puzzles or questionable story pacing, there do not seem to be enough clues scattered through the game for players to solve the mystery themselves. Instead, Holmes resorts to non-interactive cut scenes to explain the entirety of the case to Watson (who, incidentally, is not present throughout the majority of the game). While the story is just engaging enough to keep players invested until the end, it is far from being a compelling tale worthy of its source material.

The game's puzzles—a staple to be expected for any Sherlock Holmes game—are a mixed bag. There is enough variety to keep the gameplay interesting, with the puzzles increasing in difficulty as the game progresses. However, a good portion of the difficulty lays in the need for pixel hunting rather than actual mental acuity. Additionally, some of the puzzles come with an artificial difficulty rating in the form of an in-game timer, indicated only by a change in the game's background music. In fact, the entire final act of the game is on a timer, without much indication as to how long players have left to solve the case.

Perhaps the biggest sin yet is the interface used to navigate around the game world. As the game uses fixed camera angles, rather than allowing players free reign in each location to explore, players must click on different nodes on screen to automatically move to the next predetermined nodes in the location. The transitions between nodes are jarring; as a result, it is quite easy for players to get turned around and thrown off course. Moreover, the game's exploratory interface is entirely too sensitive, making players feel not entirely in control of their character and being forced to take time frequently to correct the camera before continuing the exploration.

This is not to say that the game is entirely bad. While the graphics are lackluster, there is an undeniable atmosphere present in the game. Given that Holmes is very much alone in the mansion (except for the mummy), it is paramount that the game's setting is intriguing enough for players to actually want to explore. Motifs of Egyptian culture and archaeology inhabit every corner of the Montcalfe mansion. Secret doors and crawlspaces also abound in the mansion, lending a true sense of discovery as compared to the dreaded pixel hunting.

Ultimately, however, the greatest tragedy of The Mystery of the Mummy is that the essence of the game remains entirely unchanged even if all Holmesian references are removed (unlike later games in the series). It may not be a terrible game, but it is not a game that deserves more than a single playthrough. I recommend playing The Mystery of the Mummy only to place it in the canon of Frogwares's Sherlock Holmes series and to see how far the developer has subsequently come for the series.

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