The Game Is Afoot!
Paying homage to the literary works of great authors via creation of quality adventure games is clearly Frogwares’ calling. Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis, the developer’s fourth installment in the series of original titles based-on the famous detective, continues to raise the bar for adventure games. Nemesis pairs the charming wit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-known fictional protagonist (and his side-kick Dr. Watson) with French novelist Maurice Leblanc’s tales of the gentleman cat burglar Arséne Lupin in a what-if face-off that makes for some truly engaging crime-solving gameplay.
For those who don’t recall Holmes’ previous sleuthing adventure on the PC, The Awakened sent him after a Chthulhu-worshipping cult bent on resurrecting dark forces to usurp humankind. Nemesis brings players back to more traditional ground with a new string of capers rooted in slightly more mundane subject matter than soul-eating demons, though it’s peppered with humorous little references to the eerie escapade from the hissing statue of Chthulhu left on the desk to the bookstore owner who’s dabbling in unusual experiments from an arcane tome.
At the opening of this latest adventure things have momentarily settled down for Holmes and Watson, but it’s a short-lived respite. For several weeks, the newspapers have gone conspicuously silent on stories of the exploits of notorious French cat burglar Arséne Lupin. With the arrival of a suspicious letter signed by an “Arseno Lotinho,” a carrot is dangled before Holmes and his counterpart. The document announces Lupin’s intentions to pilfer five invaluable items from several of Britain’s most famous locations, and it all but dares the detectives to take up the worthy challenge of catching the boastful criminal. Beginning with only a few clues in the form of a riddle, players must figure out each location to be burglarized and follow the trail of clues in an attempt to thwart their new adversary before it’s too late. The task at hand quickly becomes an intriguing game of cat and mouse as Holmes and his cohort hurry off to throw a wrench in Lupin’s malicious designs.
Like Holmes’ last adventure, Nemesis strays from your standard point-and-click adventure game formula by utilizing a fully 3D, first-person perspective. This affords an excellent view of the grand scenery and quality detail etched throughout the many locations you’ll encounter. You’ll have to search high and low while taking in the pleasant views to snatch up crucial clues to aid you on your mission. In the same manner of a first-person-shooter, controls are handled using the WASD keys for movement and the mouse to look around and interact with objects or people. It’s an excellent change of pace from the 3rd person P.O.V. many adventure games feature.
However, minor flaws in the design pop up when searching out the many hotspots throughout your quest. Most interactive elements will not be indicated as such until you’re practically right on top of them. This often requires players to charge head-first around a room or location while panning the camera and clicking frantically to hit the mark. In some cases, you’re able to trigger a hotspot from what appears to be arms-length, but you essentially have to get in close 90 percent of the time because its hard to clearly delineate where the invisible line is drawn between what will trigger the interactive cursor to pop up or not.
Nemesis is a wonderful looking game, and the attention to detail – particularly in the scenery, historic paintings, and interactive elements – is very impressive. The characters themselves are well-constructed and realistic, though the mouth movements do not match up with the words being spoken. The game’s overall system requirements are meager, but you’ll need a solid graphics card to handle the visuals. Even with a sturdy 128 MB graphics card – as recommended on the back of the box – there was some minor lag in the mouse movements with the settings turned up. It doesn’t cripple the gameplay; but it can be frustrating, and it’s enough to give you a mild case of motion sickness. Turning the visual settings down to make the game run smoother doesn’t appear to have any major impact on the quality of the visuals.
The race to stop Lupin plays out over a lengthy adventure that presents ample challenges from start-to-finish. Frequently you’ll be using information gathered to determine which items are needed, figure out where they’re located, and then use them on the appropriate hot-spot. Of course, there’s more to it than that, which is what keeps the gameplay interesting throughout the case. The puzzles are pleasantly varied and complex, but they can also be solved with relative ease in most instances with a little patience and attention to the clues presented. On the other hand, there are some that are seriously tricky and require a substantial level of gumption to figure out.
More than a few moments in the game will have you chuckling at the sheer cleverness of the puzzles and how they tie into the plot. Since this is a Sherlock Holmes game, detective work is an absolute must to succeed. You’ll also be measuring footprints to gain shoe-sizes, using a magnifying glass to examine small details, and piecing together clues from documents and riddles at nearly every step of the way. Occasionally, you’ll be called upon to answer a question by manually inputting a word or phrase with an on-screen keypad. Coming up with the proper phrase can be tricky; you’ll have to cull enough information to make a best guess. These are perhaps the most unwieldy obstacles in the game, since it’s a pain to hunt-and-peck with the mouse rather than just typing the word in with the keyboard. Otherwise, you’re up for some good brain-bending fun.
As far as adventure games go, Nemesis is incredibly meticulous in its presentation of an excellent story and gameplay based on the quintessential literary sleuth. Its few blips are easily overlooked when presented with the whole experience this adventure caper has to offer. Holmes fans will love the complexity of the game and it’s faithfulness to the classic characters. It’s also challenging and deep enough to hit the sweet spot for any adventure game enthusiast.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
Excellent, highly detailed 3D environments and character models. 3.9 Control
Smooth controls are sturdy for the most part with the proper graphical hardware. Hotspot detection is a bit wonky, but it works just the same. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Pleasant background music and good voice over work. The default audio settings can occasionally cause the speech to be drowned out, though subtitles remedy the problem. 4.5 Play Value
Lots of detective work and puzzle solving to enjoy over the course of a lengthy adventure. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.