The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Serrated Scalpel
Enviado por YbiGames en Enero 14, 2010 - 18:44.
Elementary, my dear Watson...all right I know that is a cheap way to start this review, but I always wanted to say that phrase and this was the perfect moment to do so. Of course we are talking about one more of the many Sherlock Holmes games released from the 80s to these days, although it was not the first one since there were other games released before this one (1991 ICOM Simulations Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, 1985 Sherlock Holmes: Another Vow, etc), it is the first animated Sherlock Holmes Adventure Game (since Consulting Detective was a Full Motion Video book-based game).
The year was 1992, also known as the golden era of Adventure Games genre, lots of titles had been released during those years and particularly that year some classic bestsellers like Darkseed, Indiana Jones and the Fate of the Atlantis, The Legend of Kyrandia, Alone in the Dark, Gobliins 2 and many more, among which was also this fabulous game. Back in those days the developers of this game, in Mythos Software, when they embarked on the development of this game, could not have imagined they were releasing one of those classics that must be included in every serious top adventure games list.
There must be very few adventurers who have never dreamed of solving a crime playing the role of Sherlock Holmes in the 19th century Victorian London; but for those who did so, this is a great opportunity, since this game takes us back into the time of the humid foggy London, with the horse drawn carriages filling the cobblestone streets of the city, the dark alleys of Whitechapel, gas lamps throwing long shadows across closed windows and storefronts, as well as the cozy ambience found indoors at the pubs or in rooms heated by a fireplace.
The game takes us back to a rainy day of November 1888 when the story begins. From the very beginning the ambience of Victorian London is perfectly captured in the opening screen in which we can see a beautiful animation of a street with the tower of Big Ben far in the background, the rain falling, the street puddle reflection and the city alive with people and horse drawn carriages going all around the place.
It must be pointed out that this story, is not based on any of the stories or novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but it could easily have been one, since the endless intriguing mistery continues throughout all the game from the beginning to the end; also the locations and characters bear an amazing resemblance to those found in his stories.
The intro continues with a night scene in a dark alley, behind the Regency Theatre, where the murderer is waiting for his victim, hidden behind some scattered crates. Finally she opens the door, shows up and the murderer commits the violent crime. This part of the intro is accompanied by a creepy melody, increasing even more the frightening atmosphere of the scene.
Next, we are taken to the famous 221b Baker Street, when the following morning a constable approaches the front door bringing what seems to be a note for Sherlock Holmes; the door is answered by Mrs. Hudson, his landlady. After that, Sherlock gets the note while he and Watson, his assistant and old friend, are having their breakfast. Here the background music changes to a mystery style, adding a detectivesque flavor to the whole atmosphere.
It is a note from Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade, it says a Young woman has been brutally murdered outside the Regency Theatre in Oxford street. It also mentions that the evidence found so far points directly to Jack the Ripper. Thus, Lestrade is asking Sherlock for some help, since his opinions are considered of big importance to Scotland Yard. However it must be pointed out that this will be one of the few times Lestrade considers Sherlock's opinions as helpful, since he usually gets frustrated at our hero's deductive methods, as he rather considers himself a practical man. But the opinions of Sherlock toward the Scotland Yard's inspector are not much better, as he thinks he has not skills at actual crime-solving and what brought him to the highest ranks of the police force are his tenacity and determination. However, years later they would gradually develop an appreciation of each other's methods; but that is different story.
Despite their current negative personal opinions about each other, Holmes cannot deny to this opportunity of investigating such an intriguing and interesting case. After a short conversation between Holmes and Watson the game begins.
As soon as the intro ends, the game immediately begins. The background music is softened from an intense style to a more calm, but still detectivesque, one. And the graphics change from a high definition (for the time) close-up video style to the standard game visuals with a point-and-click verb-based interface at the bottom of the screen, which was so popular in adventure games back in those days.
The first thing we see is Sherlock and Watson standing in the apartment living room. The level of details is amazing and if you put it into the time context it was released, we can easily say the graphics quality is astonishing, even for today's standards the graphics are beautiful.
It looks like the people of Mythos Software (or maybe Eric Lindstrom, the original story creator) made some exhaustive research on Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, since the recreation of the locations we visit could not be more realistic and similar to those described by Arthur Conan Doyle.
The living room of Holmes' apartment in this adventure, captured almost perfectly the descriptions given by Doyle in his novels and stories. Some of the well known featured elements we can find in this room include; the bear skin hearth rug, the fireplace, the basket chair, the table for chemical experiments (which is used later in the game), the scientific charts on the wall, the letters stuck to the mantelpiece by a jack knife,a Stradiavarius violin which Holmes plays every now and then, the violin case, Holmes' desk, the V.R. (Victoria Regina) initials adorning the wall which have been done by Sherlock in bullet-pocks as shooting practice, the spirit case with bottles of brandy, the gasogene in front of the spirit case, the dining table, Holmes' arm chair, etc.
From the very first moment, this game shows us to be based more on investigation than on object hunting, of course there are lots of objects puzzles too, but investigation and asking questions is the essential part of this adventure. In my opinion, if you are playing a detective's role you must think and act as one and in this case the best of all the detectives. So, as soon as the game starts you must talk to Watson and ask his opinions about the mission; you must also look for objects and tools that might be useful during the adventure and since a good detective must be tenacious sometimes some exhaustive investigation is required (that means pixel-hunting), especially in case there is some small object hidden somewhere. So you must be aware that in a very detectivesque, or Holmesian, way this adventure game is mainly based on long conversations and thorough investigations. Also deduction and paying attention to each and every detail is essential.
The first place we must visit is the alley behind the Regency Theatre, where the crime scene took place. To get there, we must select the location we want to visit from a city map of London. Since the map is larger than the screen, most of the time you will have to scroll around it in order to point your desired location, as the game goes on new locations are added. Holmes and Watson travel around the town in one of those horse-drawn carriages (which is depicted as it travels in a small close-up animation circle that moves from the origin point to the destination point in the locations map). Thus, the first location we choose to visit is the alley.
Once in the alley, after taking a first quick look to the whole place (a habit that might become useful when visiting other locations during the adventure), we must put into action some of the points mentioned earlier; so here comes the investigation part, when you have to examine thoroughly the body of the victim (and some pixel-hunting is involved, as in almost every investigation part during the game) as well as search for objects or clues that might help us later on the case resolution. For instance the bruises will reveal that the jewelry has been taken, or the wounds will give us some clues of how the crime was committed, as well as we have to pay attention to some small objects and clues scattered around the body, that will probably become useful later with the resolution of some puzzles.
Another point mentioned before that must be used here is having conversations with all the characters in the scene (including Watson, since his opinion or advise sometimes can become useful, especially when we have to make use of his medical knowledge), ask them every question you have in the dialogue options list. The dialogues are not linear, so you can choose between lots of options (sometimes they don't fit the dialogue options box, so you must scroll down with the arrows); however it is highly recommended, if not indispensable, to exhaust all the conversation options as you might got stuck.
So if you get stuck during the adventure at some point, that will likely be because you have failed to completely examine a location for an object or a clue hidden somewhere, that is why pixel-hunting is partially required sometimes (you have to understand that even in real life a good detective must perform thorough explorations) or you did not use all the conversation options and did not get an answer with a hidden clue that may serve you in other part of the game.
So I won't get tired of repeating how important are investigation, conversation, persistence and deduction for the resolution of this adventure. So if you play the role of Sherlock you must investigate as he would. Another fact to keep in mind is that this game is not linear or repetitive at all; thus the story will twist countless of times, becoming more complicated as it goes on; so it's up to you to untangle it. In my opinion, that makes it even more interesting.
So, the victim was a famous actress, Sarah Carroway. From this moment on a complex plot will take us to different places, different adventures, unexpected turns that sometimes will make the whole story to branch out into substories; however they are all related with the main plot and due to the non-linear nature of the story they can be solved without any specific order.
An interesting feature included in this game is a journal in which Watson records all the conversations you had, so if you don´t remember an answer given by some character, you can check it at any time in the journal. This can be really useful, especially in a game with so many characters and long conversations, sometimes leading the player to confusion. So in case you have some doubts or got lost, this tool can be really helpful.
First and above all, we have to put things into the context of time this game was created. So, we must base our comments on the fact that this game was released in 1992, when VGA was the king of graphics.
I think there are two parameters to take into account when reviewing the graphics of a game. The technological aspects and how that technology is implemented. Sometimes it doesn´t matter so much if the graphics have been done with the most modern and state-of-the-art technology if the artist is not good enough or if the message the storyteller wants to transmit to the player, through the graphics, is not delivered successfully.
In this case, the game doesn´t feature nothing new or visually innovative, it is technologically adequate for the time it was developed, however it makes almost a perfect use of that technology available, resulting in a beautiful if not amazing depiction of Victorian London.
Each year in computer graphics some new elements or innovations are added and it wouldn´t be until 1993 that games would fully exploit the new capabilities of SVGA, with games like Day of the Tentacle. In 1992 games were still stuck with good old VGA, so the graphics style of this game are similar to those of other contemporary releases like; Simon the Sorcerer, Darkseed or the Legend of Kyrandia, among others; but with one difference, in the case of The Serrated Scalpel they are of better quality or the artists did a better job.
It is impressive how the artists of Mythos captured the essence and each detail of late 19th century London, to the point that you can get abstracted almost completely and feel like you were indeed there. From details like the architecture, the weather (it is almost always humid, foggy or rainy), the cobblestone streets of the city, the dark alleys, the omnipresent elegance of London; to smaller details like gas lamps throwing long shadows across closed windows and storefronts, or the cozy ambience found indoors at the pubs or in rooms heated by a fireplace.
From the opening screen, the story sets the mood well, showing us a typical London street in a rainy day. The cinematic scenes that follow are beautifully done. For instance the close-up scene of Sherlock and Watson talking in the apartment living room at the beginning is very nice. The characters' details during the intro are based on Doyle's stories (it seems the creators of this story made a deep research before), for intance we see Holmes without the coat everyone seems to relate to him (according to Doyle he would only wear it when travelling outside the city).
Once the intro is finished, the screen returns to the standard 3rd person non-cinematic format, used generally in VGA games. For some reason, the coat returns from that moment on, who knows why, one reason could be maybe to give some volume to the Sherlock´s character. The characters are nicely depicted, though they cannot live up to the level of detail of the locations we visit and the general Victorian times ambience found in them. However, during conversations the game provides us with a detailed close-up of their faces while they are talking; this is indeed a very nice feature. In my opinion, characters in this game are at the same level of their counterparts in games like Monkey Island 2, Darkseed or even later ones like Simon the Sorcerer, The Return of the Phantom (both 1993), Simon the Sorcerer 2 (1995) or Freddy Pharkas (1993), among others.
Another point worth of mention is that important objects and items are showed clearly, making the need of pixel-hunting intermediate, just adequate for a detective game, based primarily on investigation; but still not that difficult to make the task of searching items tedious.
Even the text font used has been carefully designed to make as feel that 19th century ambience all the time. It has an old book style for the dialogues and the journal while for the interface verbs it uses a more gothic-like font style. But in general terms, the elegance of the text is a good addition to the whole picture.
All in all, the graphics are wonderful for a 1992 game and they even can stand on their feet today, since they achieve what every good depiction has to, making us, the gamers, feel as if we were inside the game.
As for the sound, the variety of the music and the special effects is really big. It makes use of Roland MT-32 sounds, so the quality is great (always for the time, remember we are playing a 1992 game).
Each location has its own background music, fitting the situation or the specific environment we are in. For instance, when something creepy happens the background music sounds creepy, if the scene we are playing involves some kind of mystery the background music plays some mysterious tune. So this is not like those games which keep playing and repeating the same tune in every screen for hours. It is also worth of mention, that as in other aspects of the game the sound found the perfect equilibrium between the no music at all extreme and the repetitive character, playing each tune only once when you are visiting a location. If you stay in a certain place for a longer time than the duration of the background melody it will stop playing and will only return if you get out of that area and come back again.
There are all kind of sound effects in a lot of different situations but still not everywhere. Spoken dialogues with voices are present in three situations; the intro, a cut-scene and the final.
So we can say the sound fits impressively the general environment of the game and it comes in different flavors according to the situation, thus completing the message given or transmitted by the graphics.
The game uses a point & click verb-driven interface like the one used in so many other games of the time, like those of Lucasarts, Simon the Sorcerer, Return of the Phantom, Rex Nebular, etc.
Unlike in other contemporary games (like the 1993 Simon the Sorcerer), the verbs based actions system is intuitive; so by moving the mouse over the screen, a message line informs you about the objects with which you can interact and the corresponding verb-action button is automatically highlighted. So for instance; for objects that are to be examined the "Look" verb is highlighted, in the case of people it is the "Talk" verb. In case you have to choose another action, you can do that selecting the required action from the verbs menu. There is also the hotkeys option if you prefer so or if you feel more comfortable.
In addition to the graphics, there is also another element of this game that stands out, the solid plot. The story of this adventure can easily live up to any of Doyle. As it happens with the graphics, the plot has a high level of abstraction for the player, sometimes making you feel as if you were really wearing Sherlock´s shoes. It also builds a continuous air of mystery during the whole adventure, as it branches out into smaller subplots. The murder of Sarah Carroway is just the initial and main cause of the case, a really complex net of situations and personal interests is woven around her, implicating an amazing big spectrum of people; from politicians to innocent witnesses and even children. You can hardly imagine what comes next, it is quite unpredictible, something that makes it even more interesting.
We have a map of London to travel around the different locations we must visit. At the beginning, just a few of them are visible, but more places are added as we progress in the adventure. When travelling from one area to the other we see an animation of a horse coach driving through the streets of London, enclosed by a little circle that moves around the mapa from the origin to the destination point.
Another aspect of this adventure is its nonlinear structure, it is mainly based on coversation and investigation, just like a good detective. We have to gather lots of objects throughout the game, which rarely are used but provide us of the necessary clues to keep on the resolution of the case. Sometimes after having a conversation or getting a certain item a new location springs up in the map. Observation is another indispensable tool for us. As a good detective you have to watch everything, each and every detail of the places you visit; besides the importance of the clues given by the items you observe, sometimes overlooking some of them could lead you to a dead-end situation that will not let you continue until you don´t observe a certain object or detail.
As mentioned before, this is a rather conversation and investigation driven adventure than an objects puzzles one. As for the conversations, they may become sometimes long, extremely informative, yet useful; but since this is a detective adventure in my opinion that is logical.
Here we don´t have to spend our time solving puzzles like trying to assemble a machinery made up of objects we gathered during the game; our puzzles here are made up of information, clues and objects that are directly related to the victim or the suspects and will lead us to a certain place (i.e. a poster, a cigarette bug, etc); while the machinery we have to assemble is simply the resolution of the case, that is finding the reason of the murder as well as the perpetrator of the crime. As in the case of observation, it is quite important to finish all the dialogue options available during conversations; as they may contain an answer, hiding some useful clue in it, that will allow you to continue. So you could end up in dead-end situations, just because you didn´t get the precise answer to continue, resulting in a crazy search for a missing object or a clue or a series of useless trial and error actions that won´t lead you anywhere until you realize that the real solution is hidden behind a simple answer of an unfinished conversation with one of the characters of the story.
As mentioned before, a journal carried by Watson will serve you to to keep track of all the conversations you had so far. It also includes a keywords search tool in order to browse through the journal.
Another point that emphasizes the varied nature of this game is the inclusion of a darts game you have to win in order to get some crucial information that will allow you to continue; but don´t worry, if you are one of those purists that hate action in-games in adventures, because this one is completely different, since it is balanced between the world of logics with the use of maths implicated when substracting the remaining points to win (darts is a reversive score game starting from 301 or 501 points) and having a good shot. As a matter of fact, I learned the rules of dart game, playing this adventure of Sherlock Holmes.
For chemistry buffs, there are also parts in where you have to analyze the evidence gathered performing chemical experiments in the home laboratory of Sherlock Holmes.
The number of characters and places to visit is huge, fortunately the game is long too, so you´ll have hours and days of fun with this adventure. The complexity of the puzzles, as everything in this game, is well balanced; making it ideal for experienced adventurers looking for some complexity in the puzzles and starters looking for a good solid story but at the same time not a game impossible to finish or even boring. Actually, I recommend the promotion of this game as the best for starters, so as they get a good first impression of adventures games.
Since it is not based on any of the Doyle's original works, you don´t have to read them in order to solve this adventure. Nevertheless, the game can easily be confused with any of the original stories or novels; as the level of English used is high enough to make it live up to Doyle´s works. Keeping true to the Sherlock Holmes literary Canon, the number of cultural references mentioned, as well as some historical facts, are all elements which add up to a total that results in a great game.
This is one of those few games in which I did not find anything negative (the same happens with its sequel, The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Rose Tattoo) and which I can play it over and over again and still enjoy it as the first time I played it.
Definitely a classic that must be included in every serious list of Top Adventures Games of all times and which can be easily compared with any Lucasarts adventure game.
I highly recommend it!