Not Enough Cthulu: Awakened Remastered Review

Not Enough Cthulu: Awakened Remastered Review

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered is the series’ first entry to resemble the games’ now standard formula. Sadly I’m still waiting on a story I don’t lose interest in halfway through.

This game has a darker start than its predecessors from the get go. After noticing blood spatters in town, Holmes ends up in a dark cave full of Cthulu carvings and a mutilated body stuffed with snakes. Yes, everybody, we’ve got some H.P. Lovecraft up in here!

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Cthulu
Cthulu,
Cthulu,
and even more Cthulu.
and even more Cthulu.

Someone in town is performing some dark rituals, and Sherlock Holmes must stop the sacrifices. Exciting, right? While the narrative starts and ends strongly, the middle is muddled and only benefits from its gameplay.

Fro the first time in the series, the great detective is a travelling man, letting the player visit not only nineteenth century London, but New Orleans and Scotland as well. With the obvious exception of Baker Street, Awakened has no backtracking or retracing your steps. Each chapter leads you to a new historic location.

The user interface and controls are even clearer. The icons finally change when hovering over an interactive item. The inventory system isn’t clunky with all the collected items a right-click away. But most exciting of all is that Awakened introduces the series’ WASD controls, something most adventure games don’t dare do. I love the flexibility this allows. It ups the difficulty it takes to find what you’re looking for, but it isn’t the same pixel hunt as past games in the series.

Now I have yet to mention the puzzles, and there is good reason for that–there really weren’t that many. All the puzzles consist of following the culprit’s trail of breadcrumbs across the Atlantic instead of…lots of Sudoku (Can you tell I’m still bitter?).

If you want to get into the series and play them in any sort of order, I would start here. While not the best, it’s far ahead of the previous ones. It is accessible to a new audience while not setting your expectations too high. Just don’t boot it up if you have an issue with reptiles or tentacles.

Stay tuned.

Hey Look, Over There! Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Persian Carpet Review

Hey Look, Over There! Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Persian Carpet Review

Sherlock Holmes and the Persian Carpet is a hidden object game–kind of.

Same as Mystery of the Mummy, this one came with the Sherlock Holmes game pack, and the Steam reviews were not good:

Not even a loyalist would play that one.
Not even a loyalist would play that one.
So basically a game for psychics.
So basically a game for psychics.
So many hearts, so much hate.
So many hearts, so much hate.

As some describe the mechanics similar to hunting for a grain of sand in the Mediterranean Sea, but a lot of reviews are people were angry it was a hidden object game. Luck for me, I’m in the minority of Steam users who don’t absolutely despise them.

In middle school and sometimes high school, I would go online to those casual sites like Big Fish Games and download the free limited time demos to keep busy. Think free mobile gaming before that was an option. I played the first few games from the Mystery Case Files series this way, and they weren’t bad. They were reminiscent of the I Spy book series with crowded rooms and crazy objects. Now we get a weird hybrid that feels a lot more like looking for your lost set of keys in every room of the house. The Persian Carpet takes the best and worst parts of both the adventure and hidden object genre and mushes them into something unrecognizable.

Let’s break it down, starting with the adventure genre:

GOOD

  • The game had a lot of puzzles. None of them were normal or logically worked into the game’s plot. Theywere thrown in without reason after finding certain puzzle pieces, but a lot of them were at least fun. Especially this decoded message:

    All my spy dreams have come true.
    All my spy dreams have come true.
  • The objects you found belonged to suspects and were used as evidence. None of it was random. Finding ashes in a dirty garden might be hard, but it makes a lot more sense than if it asked me to look for a clown figurine.
  • Although tedious, the deduction board was a nice touch. Here you take all the items you found over the course of the game and use them to link suspects to the victim, different rooms, potential murder weapons, and time of death. It reminds of those crimes shows where they break into a person’s apartment and see their walls covered in photos, maps, and red yarn. I’m sure the audience is supposed to find them obsessed and crazy. I’ve always wanted my own.

BAD

  • While some of the puzzles are great fun, others are not. One is just like the review above described. You have ten numbers and five guesses to figure out what they are before the puzzle and sequence resets itself. Often with these puzzles, there is a strategy for figuring them out. Here I couldn’t come up with one. Another is that damn four ounces of water puzzle. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it plays off of the basic mathematical idea that two odd numbers always add up to an even number. You then must use two containers and one bucket of water to come up with an even amount of fluid. In this case, you use a 5L and 3L to make 4L. This puzzle is in every game. It was just in Mystery of the Mummy. I think I could solve it at gunpoint.
  • They added in a step where you analyze evidence, but all that really means is you click a lot. You put everything under the microscope, and click on it. You aren’t looking for anything in particular–only clicking to pull out a smaller sample. Considering it’s primarily a hidden object game, it would make more sense if fewer pieces of evidence needed analyzing, but those that did had pieces of metal and skin embedded in them. More fun, less extra clicking.

And as for the hidden object genre?

GOOD

  • People play hidden object games in a number of different ways. Some want them as easy as possible. Some want the pressure of time, others the punishment of clicking in the wrong place. Here you get three play modes. I played on Casual mode since I wanted nothing more than to get through it and see how it was. This meant I got extra hints, no penalties for clicking everywhere, unlimited time, and several puzzle skips. The Detective mode gives you fewer hints and puzzle skips and time limits. Lastly, there’s Adventure mode. Where the first two modes give you a linear progression, unlocking a scene at a time, here you can search through rooms and put together clues in whatever order you choose. Looking back I wish I had chosen this mode, but I’m not really looking to replay this one.
  • The rooms, characters, and artwork are ornate, detailed, and true to the time period. Frogware never fails at capturing nineteenth century London:
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The game gives you these congratulations after everything you do.
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I’ve never seen someone so unsurprised about being trapped in a flower.
Must be a good guy.
Must be a good guy.
  • A lot of the rooms felt empty. You look through a bedroom and a dressing room, both of which look the way you’d expect. This made searching much more tedious. Instead of looking optical illusions and tricks of the eye, I was literally grasping at pearls. Really, at one point, I had to find nine pearls hidden around a half-empty room.
  • The usefulness of the objects found was fun but also a hindrance. Sometimes you were stuck since the order in which you found things mattered. You haven’t found that monkey wrench? Better stare at that screen for twenty minutes? And don’t worry. You will waste a hint since there’s a good chance the first thing it will show you is the place you already know you need to look but you can’t yet.

Overall, if you don’t like hidden object games, you’ll hate it. If like hidden object games, there are better, longer, and more creative ones. If you like Sherlock Holmes games, there are better stories. If you like squinting, maybe pick this one up.

Stay tuned.

Logical Leaps and Bounds: Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Mummy Review

Logical Leaps and Bounds: Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Mummy Review

Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery and the Mummy is the first Sherlock Holmes game, and that should say enough in itself. Some of the more recent games aren’t exactly the pinnacle of game design, but this one clearly shows its age. With its confusing point-and-click/first-person hybrid, constant game of find-the-right-pixel, and terrifying animation and audio, this inaugural installment of the Sherlock Holmes PC games needs a nip and tuck.

Holmes is at a friend’s mansion who is an avid collector of everything Egyptian. He then spends the rest of the game solving nonsense puzzles and making alarming deductions with logical valleys deeper than your local chasm (that’s a thing, right?). Yes, that glass was broken by something delicate. No, you don’t know it’s by a woman’s shoe. It all consists of finding every clue and using them in all the right places. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if not for its impossibility:

  • Sherlock’s hand controls all the clicking, and the differences between the icons for move forward and pick something up are indistinguishable. One is a slightly pointed finger with a cupped hand as if you are trying to signal to your rescuers without tipping off your kidnappers. The other is only a barely cupped hand. That’s it. No differences. I would love to show you some screenshots, but the Steam overlay I use for capture wasn’t compatible with this title, and I was too frustrated at the time to think of a backup plan; I wanted out as soon as possible. Instead here’s a link to a video that also has the most annoying water-dripping music loop I have ever encountered so you can see what I mean. Video credit goes to AdventureGameFan8

     

  • In these detective-style point-and-clicks, usually the games use books, NPC dialogue, hidden notes, and other believable mechanics to help the player solve the mystery by dropping subtle hints. You make the player work until each clue they have found has a purpose. While not realistic when compared to the real world, this strategy is tradition for a reason. Here not every piece is used and some lack any kind of connection to one another. Oh, those two staffs go in that statue down the hall? Cool. I guess he held left out with his those empty hands and my pockets overflowing with nonsense.
  • Over the last month or so (and for most of my gaming life), I’ve lived one rule: if an adventure game is frustrating your, take to the Internet. If a walkthrough fails you, that’s when you’ve really got trouble. When using an item, the developers made the correct place to click only a few pixels big. Instead of looking up what to do with an item or where to use it, I was scouring message boards for advice on the precise location to click. Even on the puzzles I figured out on my own, I ended up having to look some part of the puzzle up. Nothing takes the hot air out of my ego like using a walkthrough for an entire game.

Overall, I only enjoyed the game out of loyalty. As someone who has played and owns boxed copies of all thirty-something Nancy Drew games (don’t look at me like that), I was expecting some issues with the first game. It obviously had no idea what it wanted to be besides a game that featured Sherlock Holmes. Sadly they fumbled it. They clearly got better with time which is all you can ask. Now onto the next Sherlock Holmes game where you can, believe it or not, talk to people.

Stay tuned.

Mystery Managed: The Finale

Mystery Managed: The Finale

I might not be a murderer, but apparently I can sympathize with them.

I finished Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments over the weekend, and it was a giant bucket of fun mixed with a new bit of self-awareness. I already talked about how each case ends with a moral choice—whether or not your want to condemn the suspect or let them go free. Fun fact: I let them all go free.

Now before I go any further, this post is going to be vaguely filled with spoilers. While I won’t say right out who committed each crime in the game, I will allude to the person’s motive, meaning it might be easy to guess who I’m talking about if you’ve played part of the case.

I’m going to explain my reasoning for rationalizing killing here for you now, case by case. Let the spoiling begin!

Case Number 1: The victim, Black Peter, is an abusive and angry sailor. He was not so friendly with his wife and had made a lot of enemies. He was a thief and a potential killer himself. The person who ended up killing him was coming to scare him and get back what rightfully belonged to him and ended up killing Black Peter in self-defense. By letting the killer off the hook, blaming it on an already-deceased sailor, you also get the opportunity to return what Peter had stolen to its rightful owners. When you turn the killer over to the police, you punish someone for a killing that was almost justified and Black Peter’s estate is seized by Scotland Yard.

Case Number 2: This is a case of a missing train that doesn’t actually end with a moral choice, only a tactical one. In case you know the case and are wondering though, I chose to make a political move instead of calling the police.

Case Number 3: Here a man is killed in a Roman bath with three men there. The victim, Sir Rodney, is your classic case of rich man who buys his way into recognition, refusing to let anyone else share the limelight, much less give it up to the rightful person. Considering my constant lamenting about how life isn’t fair, this didn’t sit right with me. Maybe I wouldn’t kill someone over it, but I certainly don’t blame the hardworking individual who did. The killer was the true mastermind behind the discovery that Sir Rodney was going to claim for himself. Who am I to take that away from him? Also his murder plan was fucking genius.

Case Number 4: Cue the death of another abusive ne’er-do-well of a husband. Cue another murder that was purely in self-defense. Cue my continued sympathies. Here the man was even willing to take the entire blame instead of sharing it with the other guilty party. I can’t go into more details than that without a full-blown spoiler, but this has to be the only time that getting away with murder is a gentlemanly act.

Case Number 5: I’m going to honest, I had a hard time siding with the person who committed this crime. After getting to know the character, I fully understand the motive. It was the only way he/she could continue an education, and I don’t know what I would do if my family had left me on my own with no choices but to rely on my wealthy colleagues. What made me hesitate in absolving this killer was how he/she had initially cut ties with his/her family out of embarrassment, but I live in a world where a family would take me back even if I pulled that kind of stunt; therefore I feel bad for anyone that does not feel the same.

Case Number 6: Here the killer is an outright thief. I only let him off because he never actually committed the crime, just let it two victims kill each other and ran off with the loot they were holding. The end of this case does not leave me morally conflicted in any way despite not being a real fan of the killer. This is because the greater choice comes at the end of the game, regardless of this choice.

You hear the Merry Men referenced countless times through this game’s cases, and Sherlock Holmes finally encounters them in one of the last scenes. He is waiting for them when they come to retrieve an elephant-sized load of gunpowder. Here you can choose to run them off and foil their terrorist plot or let it happen. You get enough of a look into the inner workings of the late-nineteenth British politics that you can agree that something needs to change. Here you presented with a choice: how far would you go to make a difference?

I really can’t wait to see if this choice is somehow worked into the next game. That would be another new idea for Frogware to work with. This game was already an experimental take on the series compared to past games. I can’t wait to see.

Stay tuned.

Mystery Managed: Part 2

Mystery Managed: Part 2

I finished a case, and this game gets a kick out of playing with my conscience.

This installment takes a different approach to the mystery genre. Instead of funneling the player down from a bunch of clues to only one solution, you are given a deduction board to work with and can reach multiple conclusions through different interpretations of the evidence. It’s not even that your solution changes throughout the game—you can choose to ignore and misunderstand clues. I didn’t realize that there were different endings until I finished and ended up using the “Replay Ending” option to try to see all of the endings. You can check to see if you charged the correct suspect too though in the first case, the correct suspect had the most detailed end sequence.

I can’t tell if this game tried to make a comment on today’s justice system on purpose, but it does show the faults in putting your faith in one person for this kind of work. Sherlock is known not to necessarily be the most moral person, choosing logic and answers over the greater good on occasion. Here you see him come to the wrong conclusion four separate times and Inspector Lestrange just take his word for it. Even when you find the thief or murderer, you can choose to let them go if you choose. This might be why we make multiple people listen to two separate sides and all of the evidence and take a vote. It might at least lower the chance of easily-accessed corruption.

Really, it was probably just their attempt to make the game more open-ended. I’m glad for the choice either way.

But they couldn’t just leave the endings at that. After deciding someone is guilty, you have to decide whether to convict or absolve the person. In my first case, this meant that there was a total of six different endings. You are allowed to replay the ending as many times as you wish, and once you decide which decision hurts your heart the least, you can hit “Accept Choice.” You are then given a personality type based on your decision. Can’t really speak on its accuracy—I was given the title “Sympathizer.”

The description of the game attempted modernization was accurate though. Crimes and Punishments adds in a lot of elements that I’ve never seen before that seem a little out of place.

1. Quicktime events. Really. Each time you catch a character in a lie, you can press “Q” to get the opportunity to present contradictory information or evidence. And if you don’t like these or have trouble doing them in time, here you can replay them as many times as want without consequence. This helps with how easy it is not to follow Sherlock Holmes’ desired line of questioning.

2. FPS and fighting. Again, between this, the quicktime events, and the moral choices, it feels like the developers are trying to emulate that Telltale style of adventure games. During one experiment, I had to simulate using a harpoon to figure out how much strength would be needed to pierce a person. I had to aim accurately and use the correct amount of strength. This took me five minutes. It felt like when I hovered what I guess was the figurative scope over the target, it was always a millimeter off. Of course you can skip it if you want to—this game does a good job of adapting to people who only want the story—but doing that doesn’t feel right. What is with them and the guilt?

3. Unlockable outfits and hairstyles. I know Mr. Holmes is supposed to be a master of disguise, but if that’s the case, why would I have to do so much legwork to gain access to his costumes?   He’s well-experienced at this point, so you’d think he would have more than two suits and a sailor’s costume. Of course it lets you customize him regardless with a few starting options for if you like your detective balding, curly-headed, or in a hat.

Now off to my next case. Maybe I’ll get a new hat.

Stay tuned.

Mystery Managed: Part 1

Mystery Managed: Part 1

In case you didn’t notice, I took the week off for Thanksgiving. I was barely around to play games with the extra hours at work to get ready for the holidays and then traveling. But lucky for you, your reward for waiting is my first new game since Dragon Age.

Way back when I bought games during Target’s buy two, get one free, I picked up the newest Sherlock Holmes game. I had heard that a lot of things were different in this installment in an effort to modernize the game. I knew they didn’t mean time period but still was not sure what this meant. Considering how easy it is to spoil these games with its mechanics tied so closely to its story, I didn’t want to look too much into it. Besides I enjoy even the most basic mystery game, so I didn’t even bother with a review.

But man, I was not prepared for all of the new elements this installment threw in. In past games, many processes were simplified, letting Sherlock Holmes do his own thing despite you being in control of him. Here Crimes and Punishments tries all sorts of new ways to make the player interact more with the crime-solving than normal. Gone are the bare-bones clicking and puzzling gameplay and a whole new variety of powers. Seriously, this game makes Holmes out to be a mutant superhero. Absurdly accurate deduction skills are one thing; seeing smells is a whole another virtual ballpark.

1. First, Mr. Holmes smells something he can’t quite recognize an suddenly the invisible aroma turns into an electric blue jigsaw puzzle. You have to rotate the wisps and rearrange the solid objects (i.e. pipe) until all of the jagged lines connect. Weirdly enough though this kind of puzzle seems more realistic than past games where everyone on the planet uses a brainteaser for a lock instead of a combination.

2. Sherlock Holmes also has a special talent with no need for a more specific name. Similar to the Detective vision in the Batman Arkham games, you can enter a mode where all of obscured clues are highlighted in orange. While acting a variation on the already-existing pointing-and-clicking, it does let you pretend you have the same set of skills as the great detective himself.

3. Last on the list of new features that let you get into character, each time you interview a new NPC, you can create a Character Portrait. By finding all of the defining details of the person, you can create a profile that could later come in handy. While the game does the hard work for you by highlighting points of interest and figuring out the real meaning behind what you find (e.g. yellow nails means heavy smoker), it feels good for yet another simple part of the game to be made interactive.

You’d never think you have a superhero simulator without any of the physical prowess, but this game sets Holmes up to be more than human. While in the past the world fell in line with his talent tree–people leaving incriminating evidence out that only he would find suspicious, logic puzzles being the only form of security, etc.–here Sherlock has skills that make a normal world work for him.

Now off to finish up my first case and create a more substantial analysis. Stay tuned.