The Testament of Sherlock Holmes: A Review

Being quite the ‘Holmesian’ (a fan of things Sherlock Holmes) this was naturally one of the few games I actually desired to get on release day, and what is there that can be said about the Testament of Sherlock Holmes? Well quite a lot as it happens.

Consider this your warning that there will be spoliers within this review

The game centers on the master sleuth Sherlock Holmes, framed for all the crimes he’s ever helped solve, turned on by Scotland Yard, hounded like a criminal, and with only his (slightly faltering) loyal dog companion Dr John Watson by his side as he attempts to foil the dastardly plan of his nemesis Professor James Moriarty.

Testament of Sherlock Holmes 1

For those familiar with Sherlock Holmes, the story/theme of Moriarty trying to discredit Holmes and his crime-solving prowess, won’t be particularly new as it was the focus of the final episode of Series 2 of successful BBC One program ‘Sherlock’ (and a fine episode it was too)*. And personally, I quite liked the story; the subtle hints and references for people well versed in the story of Sherlock Holmes come across very nicely. Personally, while I’d have liked to have seen Inspector Lestrade, the throw-away mentions were nice and probably more suited to the game.

One weakness I did feel about the story is that Moriarty’s great scheme almost feels like an afterthought; something which only really takes notice in the very last part of the game. A large portion of time is given to what is, in reality, only a couple of crimes and Holmes’ deteriorating reputation. Although this does make for an engaging experience, the whole ‘master crime’ seems to be undone rather quickly; I almost wish that these were two games, one dedicated to fighting Moriarty, and another for really developing a ‘fallen’ Holmes.

Holmes turns on Watson

This scene makes for rather poignant viewing – especially with what happens the second time around!

One thing which can’t be understated about this game is the way it looks: very nice. It’s not perfect, and compared to games which really emphasis character looks, such as L.A. Noire, it’s soundly beaten; however for a game centered on its story it looks grand. This transfers onto the various different crime scenes which you have to explore; dead bodies and intricate puzzles look very clean and copacetic on the screen and this only adds to the experience. However, although the characters of Victorian London look good, the same cannot be said of the modern day children in the attic – at times, they look frankly disturbing!

The depth of the characters doesn’t rest with the appearance however, and the voice work for both Holmes and Watson works well; the jokes and humorous one-liners (usually at Watson’s expense) are sometimes actually quite funny. However I still finished the game feeling that it wasn’t quite as developed as it could have been, and I would have liked to explore that relationship a little more. While on the topic of John Watson, I can’t help but feel that he wasn’t put to his best use in this game. There were times when his only task was to simply walk around following your every step and, when prompted, offering nothing more to the scenario than the frustratingly unhelpful ‘What next Holmes?’.

Toby
For the unobservant player, you may not even notice the point where you take over Toby the dog (a reference to Basil the Great Mouse Detective perhaps?) rather than controlling Watson.

One thing I will say is that the game does not transfer well from PC to console. I played the game on PS3, and there were points where it was so frustratingly slow and jumpy that I considered turning it off. Despite this, I did find the first person to third person camera switch a nice touch. The core mechanics of the game (investigating clues, exploring locked boxes ect ect) work well, but when it comes to actually moving around in the game it felt, to me, quite poor.

Talking about core game mechanics, I lost count of how many times I had a locked box which had to be opened in some such unique fashion. Don’t get me wrong, there was never a box locked in the same way twice, and every puzzle had its own way of being completed, but it doesn’t get around the fact that you are just trying to open yet another box. If one career was really flying in Victorian England, it was clearly being a locksmith. However, to complain about this would be churlish – you don’t pick up Fifa and complain about playing match after match; the puzzles are very interesting and there was more than one which boggled my mind enough I did have to sneak a look at a hint so it fulfills its purpose admirably.

Deducting
Personally, this was one of my favourite puzzles; it certainly broke away from the normal locked box/door/object routine

Now, as far as hints go, I must also say I did find it difficult to understand exactly what I was doing at some points in the game. Occasionally you may miss a crucial piece of dialogue and then spend the next 20 minutes wandering around the room and examining the box you’ve already emptied before you finally find out you were meant to leave the building. The jerkiness of the game, when I played it at least, also meant that a few items would be overlooked – as such, when it came to needing them I’d have to spend yet another half an hour re-examining ever room for that one thing I missed. Again however, while it may be irritating (bordering on boring) to have to do this at points, this is what you expect from a Sherlock Holmes mystery game.

Not to end on a slightly deflated note, one aspect I really enjoyed was the deduction board. This was the process of not only finding all the clues and having them pieced together in a cut-scene, you actually get to follow the logic and reasoning behind each conclusion; you are effectively actually becoming the detective. However, again this is something I think the game really hit on as being brilliant but underused! There were only three separate deduction boards – when Frogware make another Holmes game (which is highly likely, I think this is their seventh!) – I really hope they put this in again.

Deduction Board
The Deduction Board: Criminally underused, but fun to work out all the same

As such, to conclude, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a game for any fan of the Worlds Greatest Detective (Batman who?). It covers the ever-enigmatic Holmes as very few interpretations have ever tried to; beaten. Its not everyday you get a story of a brilliant mind who has been pushed from their position of grace, and the game covers the darkness and pressure of this fall perfectly. The puzzles are enlightening, the story line pitch perfect and even a few of the jokes come off well.
If you aren’t a fan of Sherlock Holmes, if you’ve never watched Jeremy Brett, then this game is most likely not for you, as the puzzles become slightly repetitive and the game jumps an lurches around you will probably tire rather quickly. But for the true aspiring Consulting Detective; this game is more than worth a look.

Pros
– Immersive story with a unique ending
– Genuinely interesting puzzles
– The characters do look very nice

Cons
– The game mechanics struggle occasionally (at least on my console they were evident)
– Watson did, at times, feel a tad useless just following you around
– It does fall into several of the pitfalls of being just like the traditional adventure/crime game

Score out of 10? A strong 7.5

* I do know ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ aired after this game was released; however I would imagine the show is a tad more successful than the game and as such more people will understand the concept from it.

Advertisements

Yes Prime Minister: The 2013 Revival

“All the important decisions that affect us [Scotland] are taken in London! Have you any idea what that feels like?”

“Of course I have, all the important decisions that affect us are taken in Brussels!”

 
Yes Prime Minister is a Political Satire from Great Britain, focusing on the role of the Prime Minister, his close advisers and the way in which they combat the problems they have to face in running the country.

 

Image
The new ‘Team’ left to right: Clare Sutton (Zoe Telford), Sir Humphrey Appleby (Henry Goodman), PM Jim Hacker (David Haig) and Bernard Wooley (Chris Larkin).

The original run of Yes Prime Minister ran from 1986 to 1988 and consisted of two series focusing on the situations that PM Jim Hacker (excellently portrayed by Paul Eddington) and Civil Servant Sir Humphrey Appleby (played superbly by Nigel Hawthorne) found themselves in. It followed on from the popular ‘Yes Minister’ and was just as successful, not to mention extremely accurate. Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister at the time, announced it was her favourite show.

Image
The Original ‘Team’ left to right: Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne), PM Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) and Bernard Wooley (Derek Fowlds).

The 2013 revival takes the show into the modern day, with modern day problems. The Jim Hacker of today faces economic crisis, possible salvation from Kumranistan, European concerns, coalition factions and threats of Scottish rebellion.
David Haig takes on the role of Jim Hacker, newly elected PM in a coalition Government. Henry Goodman takes on the role of Sir Humphrey Appleby. Chris Larkin plays Bernard Wooley, the Prime Ministers Private Secretary. Clare Sutton, Special Political Advisor to the PM, (a role which has been increased from its position in the original) is portrayed by Zoe Telford. It also features Robbie Coltrane!*

The relationship between Hacker and Appleby in the original was fantastically created, so it was clearly going to be extremely difficult for Haig and Goodman to replicate this; however I think they successfully pulled it off. The acting of Eddington and Hawthorne made the characters so unique and loved in the original, I think that Haig and Goodman struggled (rightfully) to fill those positions, however it was boosted considerably by the relationship between the two which managed to ensure the situations still remained clever and funny. One thing that I did find disappointing however is that I don’t think Chris Larkin’s portrayal of Bernard holds a candle to the brilliance of Derek Fowlds. He doesn’t seem to hold the position in the same way which Fowlds had managed to.

The story which the revival is centred on is also very well chosen for the modern day and is littered with particularly humorous situations. The show starts with the PM’s need to fix the economic crisis, ensure his Coalition doesn’t split, keep Scotland in the Union, see through the bureaucracy of the Civil Service and placate a sex-pest Kumranistan foreign secretary. Jim Hacker takes to office about as naturally as he did in the original, and it makes for fantastic viewing.

To conclude, if you are a fan of comedy, political satire, or of just laughing, then this show is for you. However, don’t exclude the original for fear that it’s too old, or not relevant. As good as the 2013 revival is, the original was truly hilarious. Overall? 8/10. A must for anyone who loves to see the British Government at its best….. And worst.

“Do you not feel that yes and no are too narrow in their application?”

Image

*Although only for one episode

Doctor Who S7 EP7 – The Bells of Saint John Review

Doctor Who – Series 7 – Episode 7
The Bells of Saint John Review – Beware Spoilers!

the-bells-of-saint-john-16x9

Writer: Stephen Moffat
Director: Colm McCarthy

“I’m ever so fond of Alexi, but my conscious tells me we should kill him”
“I’ll inform HR”
“Actually, he’s about to go on holiday. Do it when he gets back. Let’s not be unreasonable.”

And so the Clara plot thickens! At least we get to see her actually starting to travel with the Doctor rather than dying at the end of the episode (although there were a couple of close saves).

The Story
I thought the story was a reasonable idea. The linking of the story to the modern day, with fears over the extent of technology, was an inspired choice. But this episode was written by Stephen Moffat – his episodes should be brilliant ideas. I know I’m not alone in thinking that some of Mr Moffat’s more recent stories have been average at best, particularly last series. However, I don’t think this episode being average was a fault of Moffat – most opening episodes suffer in the same fashion; establishing Clara is more important than establishing an amazing story. Although, the addition of the Great Intelligence, a throwback to the Classic Era is one of the reasons I like Moffat’s leadership. The fact it is regarded as the ‘client’, but ended up controlling Miss Kizlet – I can’t wait to see where they take the GI next.

The Acting
Matt Smith was on top form as usual here – it’s almost as if he’s been doing this for years! The youthful joy which Matt exuberates really does add another dimension to the show. Jenna Louise-Coleman fits perfectly into her role, although I wouldn’t say it was exactly a new role for her by now! I enjoyed her throughout the episode, but I thought her ability to really grow was limited by the fact we had to have yet another episode where her character had to be established. I think the relationship which is developing between The Doctor and Clara is looking good, it’s a little early to call yet though, so I’m not sure on where they are going to go. Personally, there were moments when it was a tad to flirty for me – okay, it’s kind of funny to see Eleven react to people flirting with him, but I think its tired and Doctor Who should lose the Doctor/Companion romance element which has developed post-2005. The only other main acting to discuss is that of Celia Imrie aka Miss Kizlet. I thought she did a brilliant job when it came to pretending to be a child, also her casual indifference to her employees and nonchalant attitude to “hacking” people also came across as a really promising enemy – but I think she was underused in the episode, again, so Clara could be established as a character.

The Enemy
The Spoonheads/Servers didn’t do anything for me to be honest. I found them too similar to the nodes from the series 4 episodes Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Overall they didn’t get much screen time, we didn’t find anything out about them and they just seem rather dull. The Great Intelligence on the other hand made a nice cameo appearance – can’t wait to see where it goes from here, they are clearly building up to something, presumably that we are going to have to wait until the finale to find out what it is. I just hope they keep using Richard E. Grant – he was criminally underused in the Christmas Special.

The Ending
It was pretty typical of opening episodes really. Exited companions, Exuberant Doctor, vanquished enemies. It’s all pretty substandard really. I don’t know about you, but I saw the spoonheads being involved. Must say though, the scene with Miss Kizlet when the influence of the Intelligence was gone was really strong – I think it was a snippet of the level of control we have yet to see. Also, something I’ve been wondering about is the recurrence of UNIT since this series began. A sign of things to come perhaps?

Conclusion
Well. It was a nice enough story, but I wouldn’t say it was a brilliant episode. I enjoyed it throughout, but I couldn’t help feel it was a little generic. Then again, it has been for a while with a change in companions. I hope one day we might get an alien companion, or one from the future. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly memorable either. The first mention of the ‘Snog box’ was funny, but when it came to the second and the “romantic tension” between Clara and the Doctor it irritated me. It’s like River Song Jr.

“Why are we travelling by motorbike?”
“Because I don’t take the TARDIS into battle”
“Why? Because it’s made of wood?”

Episode rating:
Acting: 8/10
Enemy: 5/10 (And its only that high because the Great Intelligence made an appearance)
Storyline: 7/10
Ending: 8/10

Average: 7/10

p015pnlk

Post Script:
Full ratings data for the week ending 31st March 2013 is now available and puts Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John as the eighth most watched programme in the UK for the week. The episode achieved 8.44 million viewers had 35.8% share of the available Television audience.
On Saturday 30th March, Doctor Who was the highest rated programme getting 120,000 more viewers than Ant and Dec’s Saturday Takeaway, even though the ITV programme had a later start time.

On iPlayer The Bells of Saint John has so far been accessed over 1.4 million times.

A review of ‘The Hobbit’ (the Book, not the film)

Well. What a read. I must say that, despite being a fan of Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy for a number of years, I had never actually delved into any of the books by J. R. R. Tolkien. I intended to change this upon the release of ‘The Hobbit’ (which I am yet to see) and decided I’d pick the series up with the prequel.

Image
So, what’s it about? The Hobbit follows the adventure of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who likes nothing more than to sit on his chair outside his home in the hill at Bag End, smoking his pipe in between first and second breakfast. Little did Bilbo know that his friendly, harmless world was about to be turned upside down by the wizard Gandalf who, as he is thrust into a world of dwarves, dragons and stolen treasure. Unexpectedly that night, thirteen dwarves arrive in ones, and twos until poor Bilbo’s heads in a spin and he can’t do nothing but sit in the corner and wonder what’s going on. As it happens, the group is led by Thorin Oakenshield, heir to the throne under the mountain, and the dwarves quest is to return to the mountain and reclaim his lost treasure from the fearsome dragon Smaug (with each dwarf getting a cut of the proceeds of course). But where does Bilbo fit into this you may wonder (as he was doing himself); Gandalf had set him up as a fourteenth member of the group! He was to be the thief (of which Bilbo had never been) who would get the group into the mountain and then out again with as much treasure as possible. The morning after Bilbo thinks he is finally rid of wizards and plans, he runs after them without so much as a handkerchief, and pretty much constantly from then on thinks about how he’d rather be at home!

Trekking through Middle Earth though is no safe journey, and among the way the group would face trolls, Elven Kings, Goblins and a Goblin King not to mention the dragon Smaug, although it’s also not without its pleasant creatures, such as the shape-shifter Beorn or the eagles. Despite the dangers though, Bilbo found that the trip was especially rewarding, not just in experience, or riches, but in one little ring. This one ring, which could turn you invisible, which was taken from the creature Gollum (who Bilbo would then go on to beat in an impressive game of riddles) would change (and had already changed) the world in incredible ways.

Overall, I found it a really rather nice book. A nice story, although the decision to put so many dwarves in seemed a little unnecessary – I found that it meant several were barely mentioned other than to say they were carrying Bilbo or exasperated at their progress. And I really wish we had seen more of the cunning Smaug; the one conversation he has with Bilbo is a highlight of the book! But these are small niggles which are dwarfed (excuse the pun) by the magnificence of Tolkien’s writing. The description of Smaug’s treasure hoard and the chapter where Bilbo meets Gollum are worthy of many a literary award.

The Hobbit is the epitome of an adventure, hero quest. Bilbo is the character everyone can relate to (or at least I can). Someone who has danger thrust onto him when he would rather just be sat on his porch of his home in the hill at Bag End, smoking a pipe while waiting for Second Breakfast. Despite being targeted at around 10 year olds, this is a book for any fan of the series (or indeed, someone interested in becoming a fan). Tolkien is a master storyteller, and this story just cements the fact.

So, do I recommend you read it? Yes.
Do I rank it 10/10? It’s one of the closest books to come to it I’ve read.

Do I think Bilbo was crazy for going? Yes, indeed I do.