SummaryAnother curious incident in the night-time
The GoodMay 1897
Pleased with Holmes's work on a previous case, Lord Cavendish-Smith asks the famed consulting detective, along with Dr. Watson, to determine if the Italian diva Gallia, of notable talent, but questionable reputation, is an appropriate choice for an upcoming gala. Cavendish-Smith sends invitations to Holmes and Watson for an event where Gallia will perform: Lord Bromsby's acknowledgment of his daughter's birthday and her return from abroad. This elaborate set-up is a red herring, though, for Lord Bromsby is struck down by an assassin's bullet as he addresses his guests, setting aside the case of the dubious diva for The Secret of the Silver Earring.
It would be easy to dismiss this game, since it comes from the makers of the abysmal Mystery of the Mummy. However, I am happy to report that they have learned from most of their mistakes, making this a solid, if not strong, entry. As one would hope in a Sherlock Holmes game, much time is spent questioning witnesses and examining evidence. Holmes and Watson begin their adventures at Sherringford Hall immediately after the incident, with Holmes covering the inside and Watson investigating the grounds.
Within the first half-hour of investigating, I talked to a dozen people and collected as much evidence (placed in a generic inventory pool). Using Holmes's tape measure, I sized up foot prints, his test tube collected mysterious powder, and his magnifying glass spotted hair in a basin. While some of this needed further examination back at Baker Street, Holmes made some deductions which he added to his journal. The journal also includes transcripts of conversations, important documents, and a map of London.
Taking place over the course of a business week, at the end of each day Holmes and Watson compare notes. Using the journal described above, players must successfully answer a five or six-question quiz, justifying their answer with testimony, evidence, documents, or Holmes's deductions. For instance, if you are asked if a person was a foreigner, you would have to select the testimony of a person who detected an accent and evidence collected of foreign tobacco. While the implementation could be better, this works well to reinforce the story.
With over forty people to question and many locations to explore, it doesn't take long to become buried with evidence. Luckily Holmes and Watson have use of Baker Street Irregular Wiggins, the tenacious Inspector Lestrade, and Mycroft (who sends useful missives). While my investigation time lasted nowhere near the 25-30 hours claimed on the official website, I had plenty to do. Apart from collecting evidence, Holmes makes side trips to Baker Street to analyze the clues under his microscope and conduct chemical tests. I was even surprised to find two stealth missions, where you point-and-click Holmes from shadowy area to shadowy area, and one timed mission. For puzzle/game fans, Silver Earring has significantly less to offer than Mystery of the Mummy, but there are a few logic problems around.
Silver Earring uses a traditional third person, point-and-click interface to move Holmes or Watson around the screen. Footprint hotspots show where they can move, a hand icon shows what can be interacted with, and a face icon shows people who can be interviewed. One of the nicest elements is that you can talk with everyone in the game and open almost every door. This moves away Silver Earring away from some games which offer a lot of color instead of interactivity.
Graphically Silver Earring is a mixed bag, offering nice, static visuals with crude animation. The game's characters walk stiffly, have pathfinding problems, and there is no syncing with dialogue. However, buildings are nicely textured and rooms within are detailed. The character models are well rendered and costumed—with a terrific Christopher Lee influenced Holmes and a good Watson who's quick to draw his notepad while Holmes questions someone.
In terms of audio, Silver Earring is well scored, but the music provides better ambiance than theme. Voice acting is sub par, having a strong Watson, but a weak Holmes. There are too many "characters" with strange voices. Lestrade is alternately "Les-trAY-de" or "Les-trAH-de". Wiggins is cringe-worthy. Ambient noises are very good though, providing texture to scenes which aren't visually dynamic.
The BadAside from weak voice acting, Silver Earring has some problems in terms of conversing. Holmes initiates a conversation and then picks from available conversation topics. To complete the investigation, Holmes will need to hit on all the topics, so it's really just a clicking exercise to continue the conversation. Starting at the top of the conversation list and working your way down loosely emulates a conversation, but almost every person asks Holmes a question which goes unanswered.
Occasionally Holmes will need to confront a person with evidence, which means drawing it from the inventory and clicking on someone with it. These moments are prompted, but it would work better as a standard feature. There was one inventory item I held on to for days before I could ask a person about it, yet I should have had the opportunity all along. Instead, since these instances are rare, there's a lot of hand-holding surrounding them.
Holmes has a map of Sherringford Hall during the beginning of the game, but since it is only used to switch between Holmes's investigation inside the Hall and Watson's outside, it disappears when they rejoin. I would have preferred more maps, especially ones I could annotate. The map of London is also used to select an area to investigate, but there are never multiple paths available, so it becomes a clicking exercise once again. In Baker Street, Holmes says we should go back to Sherringford Hall, so the map pops up and you click on Sherringford Hall. Stuck on a puzzle somewhere? You cannot leave an area until everything has been completed—all evidence collected, all witnesses examined.
The quiz section is well intentioned, but the implementation needs some work. The purpose of the quiz is to ensure the player understands the story up to that point and the importance of the evidence collected. If you get a question wrong, the yes/no answer or the selection of evidence supporting your answer (which is more likely, since several pieces of evidence will seem likely), then you must correct it. Unfortunately, the quiz results don't tell you which question/s you answered incorrectly. Taking a step back, if the designers had let the player fail, then Holmes could have explained to Watson where the error was which would also have ensured the player understood the story and the evidence. Conversely, the same scheme with a more useful journal would have eased the matter.
Which brings us to the end. After interviewing everyone, collecting and examining all the evidence, there is one quiz remaining. Surely this would be the most important quiz? Nope. This is the only quiz you can skip or fail. If you attempt the quiz, you answer questions without supplying evidence. As a result, the journal is no longer available, even though it would be helpful. Regardless of how you approach the final quiz, a twenty-plus minute cinematic awaits that wraps the mystery up.
The Bottom LineThe Secret of the Silver Earring is not a bad game by any means, but it does have short comings. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle worked best in short-form and, likewise, I think the game's story is too sprawling to ever become engrossing. The end credits note that the game is based on a "novel" by Jalil Amr and its inclusion would have been a distinct touch. The game is still afoot, but while Frogwares' feet are growing, I fear the shoes are still too big.