Where’s the cocaine? Sherlock Holmes has been featured in every medium known to man and with the exception of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, I don’t think any of them have ever even acknowledged his admitted taste for the sparkly white South American stimulant.
As it turns out, The Secret of the Silver Earring is a fairly traditional point-and-click adventure game. At different points of the game you play the part of either legendary super sleuth Sherlock Holmes or his faithful servant Dr. Watson. Over the course of the game you will gather evidence, question suspects and witnesses, analyze and research the evidence you’ve collected and generally act the part of the cerebral detective extraordinaire.
The interface and controls are simple and straightforward. Anyone who’s ever played an adventure game should feel right at home and even a complete novice should be able execute the necessary commands without much difficulty.
Although the layout is relatively elegant, the character controls are actually fairly clunky. Moving a character is accomplished by clicking on the spot where you wish to move to. This works relatively well for the most part but can be frustratingly inaccurate. This is a minor irritation most times, but in the few instances the game requires you to actually move quickly and accurately, you will probably be inspired to curse fluently and explosively. Without spoiling the plot, let’s just say that if you need to be sneaky at any point, make sure you save immediately before attempting such a feat. It will help keep your frustration from boiling over to unmanageable levels.
Talking to the other characters is a mixed bag. On the plus side, the voice work is almost uniformly good. The developers seem to have made the wise choice of hiring actual actors instead of asking their various in-laws to help out. On the down side, the questioning of suspects and witnesses is totally mechanical. There are no branching conversation paths, no opportunities to discover extra clues through clever questioning, no real options whatsoever. You simply ask questions from a predetermined list until all the options are exhausted. Even with the generally excellent voice work the questioning portions of the game usually feel stilted and mechanical.
It is generally pretty easy to spot clues, but on occasion evidence can be difficult to see and the game devolves into a pixel hunt, requiring you to move the mouse across the screen until the cursor changes to indicate you’ve found something interesting. After you get the evidence back to the lab you will be required to perform a variety of analyses on the material. This is somewhat entertaining at first but quickly becomes a simple matter of trail and error that can be quite tedious.
Adventure games usually live and die by their puzzles. In this regard, the Secret of the Silver Earring is somewhat lacking. There were relatively few puzzles considering the length of the game and too often they were more frustrating than challenging. In a not-so-welcome innovation, each chapter ends with a quiz, in which the player must answer a series of questions based on the evidence collected in the preceding chapter and identify the evidence, research or testimony that justifies the answer. After you answer all the questions, you submit your answers and if you got them right, you can go on. If you miss a question, you must retry it to proceed. Unfortunately, the game fails to identify which questions you’ve missed and/or which evidence you’ve incorrectly used to justify your answers. A single careless mistake can lead to an incredible amount of frustration.
Technically the game is very sound. Installation was somewhat slow but proceeded without a hitch. The game ran fine on a mid-powered laptop with no slowdown or glitches.
The graphics were really well done. The camera is fixed and the backgrounds appear to be prerendered, but they all sport a high level of detail that helps with the all important immersion factor. There are some notable graphical issues that subtract from the overall experience. The most glaring are some weak character animations, terrible lip synching (think old kung fu movies), and occasional clipping. They may be relatively minor issues but they end up really breaking the illusion created by the game. It’s unfortunate because aside from these flaws, the game is really very good looking.
The sound is well done, especially the voice work. The music seems appropriate but is too repetitive. It will quickly either fade into the background or drive you crazy enough that you turn it off. Sound effects are relatively sparse, as might be expected from a game that features relatively little action, but what is there is well done.
In the end, this is a game that shows some promise but falls short. The attractive graphics, excellent voice work and relatively coherent , if convoluted, story offer some promise, but a there just isn’t enough game in this game. It frequently feels more like an interactive movie than a game and I honestly think it could have been done using nothing but FMV if the developers had chosen that angle. Die hard adventure game fans and Sherlock Holmes devotees might find this worthwhile, but most everyone else is going to find themselves bored or irritated by the linear and inflexible nature of the game. And it goes without saying, there’s not a single reference to cocaine to be found anywhere, despite a few promising early samples of a “white powder” that are collected. I should have known by the Teen rating alone, but hope springs eternal. I guess I’ll have to wait until they get around to making Grand Theft Auto: Victorian London to finally see a game explore the seamier side of the world’s most famous detective.