Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened
The Awakened is the third game in Frogwars "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" series. As the old adage goes, the third time is the charm. Although in this case, "macabre" is a better word for this fascinating, mature story. And what better person to crack the case and save the world than the worlds' most famous detective?
This unassuming mystery starts with a missing immigrant servant right in Holmes' own backyard, but quickly turns into an investigation that sends the famous Sherlock Holmes and his loyal sidekick Doctor Watson trekking around the globe (swamps in Louisiana, pirate caves in Scotland and mental wards in Switzerland) in order to stop an ancient evil. Unlike most tired, uninspired adventure games, The Awakened doesn't bog players down with endless pixel hunts and inane leaps of logic. Instead, Frogwares has done a masterful job of balancing the game with an array of incredibly cool inventory based conundrums, sensible deduction puzzles (which Holmes was a master at), and even a few reflex and timed puzzles. The best part of the game is that it literally makes players think like the brilliant sleuth. You'll have to pay attention to your surroundings, examine every "trifle" (Holmes fans will surely recognize that term) and every clue—no matter how large or small they may seem—to solve the mystery. This is one of the best games we've come across that actually immerses a player to such a degree in both the story and the main character.
Players will often come across a clue that requires further investigation. This triggers the use of a magnifying glass to get a closer look. While this tool has been used numerous times in other adventure games, it doesn't feel like a pixel hunt here as much as it makes you feel like you actually comb a crime scene for that all important case breaking clue.
In another clever (albeit picky) game feature, players carry out experiments in a "CSI: Victorian Era" manner. At times the game requires the player to go back to Holmes' famous flat at 221 B Baker Street (filled with great details fans are sure to notice) in order to examine objects under a microscope. This entails cooking it up with different chemicals in a strange mechanical, Bunsen Burner, gyroscopic apparatus to separate the elements. Once under the microscope, gamers further examine the elements with a scalpel or tweezers to find the right piece of evidence. The wonderful interactive experimentation more then makes up for the fickleness of the exacting controls.
Throughout the adventure, players get inundated with collected objects, clues and a plethora of conversations replete with meaningful details. Thankfully, Frogwares did a marvelous job creating an inventory system that is easy to use and accessible. Whenever needed you'll be able to go back and review every conversation or clue, which helps bypass the feeling of being "lost" or wondering what to do next. Additionally, you won't be able to leave an area if all the clues and pertinent details have yet to be found.
Additionally, The Awakened comes with a fast travel feature. As particular locations get discovered, players will be able to instantly travel anywhere by clicking on its respective spot on the map. Some of the locales are great distances apart, so it's nice to be able skip any tedious traveling. Plus, there will be occasions when a vital clue has been missed and you'll have to revisit a location, sometimes multiple times.
Visuals are surprisingly good, and players have complete range of movement within the moody, atmospheric and gorgeously rendered 3-D environments, despite some flat background scenery and blocky looking characters. One disappointment was the empty, lifeless streets of London. Instead of a vibrant Victorian city, it seemed more like a morgue.
Audio is solid, with adequate voice acting, dialogue and plenty of sound effects add ambiance to each scene. The only nitpick is not being able to accurately fast forward through the cut scenes, which at times can be very verbose. While you can—sometimes—skip them entirely by hitting the mouse button or the ESC key, we found it didn't always work. This is pointless anyways because skipping any dialogue may lead to missing an important clue.
As Sherlock Holmes once said, "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." In the case of The Awakened, as improbable as it might seem, the truth remains—this is a great game.