Magnifying glass? Check. Notebook? Check. Unwavering assistant? Check. Well, it looks like we are ready to head off into another mystery. If you hadn’t guessed what this review is about and missed the title, I’ll pass a deerstalker hat to you and wait a few minutes.
Caught up with us? Great. Call the cab company and have them send a carriage here to 221B Baker Street, and we will head off to the next mystery that has invaded its way into Sherlock’s life. This time he has been asked to look into the background of a diva that is going to perform at a state birthday party. Before they will let her do this, the British government wants to know more about her background to make sure all is safe. Sherlock agrees to attend a small party at which this diva is going to perform. This is where the other shoe falls. Prep your notebooks and let’s shadow Holmes and Watson as they both take up their most recent challenge in an original story based on the Conan-Doyle novels.
Graphics are done quite well in this game. The backgrounds are pre-rendered affairs shown from specfic camera viewpoints. The people are rendered three dimensionally with clothing from the same time period of the stories. Everything has a lot of detail to it, down to table settings and the cutlasses that the soldiers wear. The setting does a great job of pulling you in to the picture and making the game seem a little bit more real than it is. As you move around the rooms, I found the only issue to be the way Holmes, Watson and the other characters path in the different areas. When walking they look completely natural. Once you make them walk around part of the scenery, they will walk up to the corner, stop, step-turn, and then walk on. They will also get caught on the scenery sometimes. It causes you to lose the setting a little bit, and realize they are just avatars dancing to your Moriarty mouse whims.
The game looked quite beautiful on my laptop display, with very rich colors and high detail on everything. My laptop display is locked at 1680×1050, and I use the ATI screen stretch to bring smaller game displays up to a proper size. This game only ran at 1024×768, 1152×864, and 1280×960. Whether or not I had the ATI screen stretch turned on, I could only run the game at 1024×768. The other resolutions would render part of the display off screen. I could not find a patch for this, but it did mention that some laptop displays were not completely supported. This is good to know, but shouldn’t affect the majority of people who would play this game.
The sound and music continue to enhance the illusion of being in the traditional period setting that the graphics display. The music is classical chamber and orchestral music that fits the mood of the current scene well. During your initial investigation, some faster ‘chase’ style music is played as you investigate throughout Stepford manor which gives haste to your investigation of clues.
Secret of the Silver Earring really stands out in the voice department. They have gone out of their way to get high quality voiceovers in this game, and it lends much more life to each of the characters, even the incidental ones (although, between you and me, guv, we know that there are no incidental bystanders, wot?) There are a range of accents for the characters covering Scots, high-born British, low-born British, French, and several other varied voices. The accents sound real enough and continue to help flesh out your perception of the characters.The game is controlled by a simple point and click interface. If you click on the floor, your current character (Holmes or Watson) will move to the appropriate place. At the edges of areas, if there is another scene in that direction, a footstep icon will appear. If you can interact with an item, the mouse cursor changes to a hand icon. Move the cursor over a person you wish to speak to, and it becomes a portrait of that person. The game is rather direct in showing you what you can and cannot interact with. A simple right click will bring up your inventory, which initially contains your magnifying glass, test tube, and measuring tape. You can click on these items to pick them up and then click in the game world to make use of them. The inventory interface also contains your notebook which contains conversations and notes that you have read. The notebook is also used to switch between Holmes and Watson. It is pretty standard fare for an adventure game, and the only real downside to the game. The interface to the world is very important, and the developer could have tried something new to move up the immersion factor. It’s hard to tell if a new interface would have alienated the game’s market though.
The basic gameplay for Secret of the Silver Earring hasn’t changed from previous adventure game titles. You move around collecting information and clues scattered around various locales. There are quizzes at the end of the day, or at the end of a section of the game that have you answer specific questions about what you have seen up to this point. To the credit of the developer, you cannot simply say Yes or No, or pick an item from the list of multiple choice questions. You must be able to justify an answer with evidence, either from a conversation or a clue you have found. This process of having evidence to back up your claim is well done, and makes you feel like you are joining Holmes in his thought process for solving the mystery.
The game allows you to travel to new locations as you advance through each quiz segment, opening up new and relevant areas to explore for more clues. Each of these areas seems to be somewhat themed. For example, Sherringford Hall in the initial game opening seems to focus simply on evidentiary collection. Several other areas focus on puzzles, and yet another area seems to focus on dialog with suspects. They are all well done, and none seemed to be a chore to complete, though I would have liked a button to help highlight clues on the ground in some areas. I believe it was part of a game design decision to make some of the items hard to see, but then the developers make an obvious icon change when you mouse over something important. It is a minor complaint. The pacing is well done on the game and I found myself staying well past bedtime to see if I could get to the next major quiz section of the game.Once complete, there is little reason to replay this game. In this case though, the game is a journey rather than just a fight to an end boss. The story supports the gameplay well, and is a worthwhile thirty hours. Like a good book, I think most people will come back to this one infrequently to experience the story again.