Sherlock Holmes and the Secret of the Silver Earring is the second traditional game in the series, and it is a step too far in the right direction.
After the Myst-style puzzles in Mystery of the Mummy that felt out of place in the realm of England’s greatest detective, Silver Earring introduces dialogue. It’s crazy after all the adventure and mystery games I’ve played in the last few months alone that this is a landmark event, but after Holmes’ isolation in a mansion in the last game, I was excited. I wasn’t the only one:
Though this installment is clearly the basis for the newer games’ format, they did go overboard on their first attempt.
But let me start with a couple of positive because regardless of any problems, I enjoyed this one. The investigation and exploration parts of Silver Earring were so much more clear and defined than Mystery of the Mummy. As long as you pay attention to your surroundings, it’s easier to make your way through each day. The only times I absolutely had to resort to a walkthrough was occasionally while collecting evidence. Though the UI is clearer and inventory easier to access than the previous title–you had to go to a separate screen to view any evidence–the game still suffers from hiding important evidence in plain sight. But other than making up for my lackluster observation skills and poor eyesight, the puzzles are more intuitive. The gameplay is also varied, my favorite parts consisting of a maze through a forest and a stealth section at a fairground. Basically the game striking a proper balance between exploration and linearity, helping erase the previous game’s problem of getting lost or stuck.
Also, Sherlock Holmes measures every footprint he comes across with the care and precision of a person with a foot fetish who has gotten desperate.
Silver Earring’s main issue happens at the end of each day. Over the course of five days, your in-game notebook quickly fills with every innocuous conversation, scrap piece of paper, and questionable evidence, regardless of its use or relevance. Then in what is clearly the groundwork for the later games’ deduction system, you answer a series of questions and provide justifying evidence from your at-capacity notebook. It feels like a multiple choice test where none of the answers ever quite fit. After you track down a related conversation or document, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right right one. Sherlock Holmes is a strict master; you can only use his specific reasoning.
Now despite the game’s strengths and weaknesses overall, the first night starts with enough talking to make a misanthrope like me want to cement my ears shut. Holmes walks up to every party guest and asks if he can talk to them. Just once I want someone to tell him, “No, absolutely not.” Clearly the developers realized Sherlock’s last adventure lacked charm and felt claustrophobic, so they threw in as many characters with which to interact as possible. I know the murder that kicks the game off did happen during a party, but they could have found a way around making the player collect mass amounts of useless information. Maybe some of the invitees ran through the closest exits before the help sealed them off. The aimless conversations clutter your notebook, making the test at the end of each day all the more impossible.
In case it hasn’t become clear over the last few months, I can’t keep a consistent opinion on how realistic I want an adventure game to be, and I think I have figured out why. With Silver Earring, I appreciate the realism of the first night but still wanted more practicality from it. If a previous or later game mechanic lacks a logical basis in reality–i.e. always finishing my ransack of a room just before its owner comes back–it’s hard to welcome any other attempts at doing so.
Now we have three more Sherlock Holmes games to go:
- Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened
- Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis
- Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper
You don’t want to miss any of it. Don’t be me looking for footprints that are the same color as the hardwood floors. But never fear! Sherlock Holmes will always find the foot, er, I mean killer.