It’s perhaps surprising that the adventure gaming industry hasn’t made more use of the world’s most famous fictional sleuth, bearing in mind his entire appeal is based around the solving of fiendishly difficult puzzles. Perhaps now the tide is turning, though, as developers Frogwares have just released their fourth Sherlock Homes mystery (following on from The Mystery of the Mummy, The Silver Earring and The Awakened).
The Awakened combined Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson with the dark world of H.P. Lovecraft, and the same fictional matchmaking has gone into the concept of Nemesis. The game opens with the dynamic duo receiving a letter at 221b Baker Street from infamous cat burglar Arsene Lupin, who was the popular anti-hero of 19th century novelist Maurice Leblanc.
Lupin challenges Holmes to prevent him carrying out five daring thefts of iconic British artefacts as a form of revenge for the indignities heaped on the French Republic by the Brits. As Lupin sees Holmes as his only worthy adversary, he provides him with a number of complex riddles which, if solved, will point him towards the next robbery. As the game proceeds, you will find yourself criss-crossing several familiar London locations including the Tower of London, the National Gallery, the British Museum and Buckingham Palace.
The game is played in first-person mode and initially takes some getting used to as the mouse camera is so highly sensitive that you could suffer from motion sickness. The character animations are average at best but the 3D locations are extremely detailed, especially the reproductions of famous paintings in the National Gallery. The character dialogue, on the other hand, is uniformly atrocious: it’s stiff, wooden and often seems to have been lifted out of an ‘English as spoken by Victorians’ dictionary.
You play alternately as Holmes, Watson and (briefly) as the incompetent Inspector Lestrade (presumably for comic effect). Gameplay is the usual point ‘n’ click method with an eye symbol appearing when you need to examine an item and the hand symbol over hotspots requiring some action. What’s annoying, however, is that you frequently have to be nose-to-nose with a canvas or object before the hand symbol materialises, which means a lot of fruitless time is spent hunting for hotspots.
The puzzle-solving is mostly linear and often involves revisiting different locations several times. But for all its faults, Nemesis’s saving grace is the sheer ingenuity and complexity of the puzzles, which would indeed tax the brain of the great detective himself.
Many of them use maths and measurement as well as rearranging pictures, opening boxes and locks, identifying coats of arms and translating codes. This will keep you merrily brain-teased for several hours and for once you feel like you’re playing an adventure game that provides a real challenge.