The latest Sherlock Holmes detective game is not so elementary.
Two of literature’s finest, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Maurice LeBlanc’s Arsène Lupin, are pit against each other in Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis, a game where one must outsmart the other. Developer Frogwares brings together the gentleman thief and famous detective in this battle of wits but it all boils down to Holmes saving England from utter humiliation.
The introduction takes you through the familiar streets of Holmes’ neighborhood, right up until 221B Baker Street. It is July 14, 1895, and we eventually see Holmes playing the violin as Dr. Watson chatters about how he would like to spend the day. After discussing the recent escapades of Arsène Lupin, and being the keen sidekick that Watson is, he has a feeling that Holmes has taken an unusual interest in the thief. As he’s sorting the mail, Watson discovers that one of the letters is possibly from the criminal himself, addressed to Holmes. The letter is a formal invitation for Holmes to stop Lupin from stealing five of England’s most precious treasures. There is a lot of ego at stake here, so it’s time to put on that detective thinking cap.
Nemesis is an adventure in the first person, with a full and elaborate 3D environment to explore. Most of the time you play as Holmes but you do switch off with Watson, who is generally doing fetch quests for Holmes, and at one point you also get to play as the Inspector Lestrade. Controls are similar to a FPS, where you use the WASD keys to move and the mouse to look around. The downside is that in a vast 3D environment, this makes pixel hunting incredibly frustrating as there is a lot of ground to cover and many items to look at. Icons do appear when something of interest comes into view, but you need to be fairly close and scan slowly so that you don’t miss the icon. Unlike old 2D adventure games where things of interest are usually highlighted, some items here can’t be interacted with until you move past a certain point in the story, so there’s a lot of backtracking. Holmes will come across a net and comment on how that could come in handy later but there is no option to take it. Of course you will need to use it later, but only then will the net be available for the taking. You can’t advance in certain areas until you’ve analyzed everything around you, even if you know what you need to do next. This can get annoying because you’ll end up scouring every inch of the place again to make sure nothing was missed. There is no list of objectives to help you, either. The one hint that the game does give you is that if you’re done examining footprints you won’t be able to zoom in on it again.
The puzzles themselves can range from really obvious to complete show stopper. Unless you’re skilled at interpreting riddles and have a solid background in history, this is really difficult to complete without help. There is a bit of math involved but the math isn’t hard; it’s how to apply that math. Some parts of the game also require that you input an answer and since you don’t get much help from Holmes or Watson, it becomes a guessing game.
The more favorable parts of the game include a map that allows you to jump from one area to another. This saves you a lot time, but the game can still drag when you’re jumping back and forth collecting items. Right-clicking the mouse gives you quick access to your inventory, map, documents and other useful items. The game does track all dialogue exchanged, which is helpful, as well as the clues left behind by Lupin. There are points in the game where it would be smart to jot down your own notes, but a hefty amount of information is stored for you to access whenever you need it.
Nemesis itself looks good for an adventure game. The characters have some awkward movements but Lupin’s character is fascinating; he brings about a certain style and panache that contrasts the rather stoic Holmes. The locations that you visit, such as the Tower of London, the National Gallery of Painting, the British Museum and Buckingham Palace, are incredibly detailed which then means that it takes quite a bit of time to absorb your surroundings. The gallery and the museum have on display an impressive collection of famous artwork and artifacts.
The voice acting is decent; some were better than others but they manage to get the idea across. It makes you wonder if the actors themselves were bored of reciting the lines. The music is very fitting for this story, which is set in Victorian London. There is a soothing blend of violin and piano duets and popular classical melodies by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Schubert playing in the background. Most of the time you’ll hardly even notice that music is playing, but it’s a step up from being absolutely silent.
Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis is a solid adventure title if you like pixel hunting in a 3D environment while solving riddles and the occasional obscure puzzle. Having the game in 3D allows the player to feel like they’re in the world, however it impedes the gameplay when items are difficult to find. The story isn’t particularly engaging or original; it’s your standard cat-and-mouse affair, but the focus here is the puzzles. For hardcore adventure fans there is a good challenge here to keep you busy for hours. However newcomers or people looking for a light and easy adventure may be disappointed because of all the backtracking and scanning that is needed.