Note: This review was written in cooperation with fellow editor Annagram.
Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis – Remastered (PC)
(France 2010, developer/publisher: Frogwares, platforms: PC, Xbox 360)
Young french thief Arsène Lupin challenges Scotland Yard and Sherlock Holmes in particular with a game of wits for the honor of England.
First it should be made clear that the original Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis came out between The Awakened – Remastered and Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper, but this remaster was released after the latter game. While this doesn’t have any impact on the overall storyline and character development, it explains why certain locations are re-used and in what direction puzzle design and general gameplay would go.
England vs. France
It becomes clear very early on that compared to the dark and surprisingly violent adventure Holmes and Watson experienced with the Cthulhu cult, the story in Sherlock Holmes versus Arsène Lupin (its original European title) is a much lighter and more humorous affair. Based on the fictional gentleman thief and master of disguise French writer Maurice Leblanc created in 1905, Lupin is the perfect opponent for the detective, as the whole challenge consists of stealing important art pieces, thus ridiculing the English in the process.
The game is probably more suitable for younger players, as there isn’t any violence, with even guards being taken care of by Lupin in a humorous way. However, a few sexual innuendos provided by Lady Leomunda whose clear advances towards Holmes in Buckingham Palace become rather uncomfortable, as they turn her character into a dumb but sexy barbie. As she’s more pre-occupied with her dollhouse (and the missing dolls are obviously Holmes’ job of finding), the image of this young English lady as a friend of the Queen is certainly risky business. Except for scenes or characters like these, everything else is rather tame due to the lack of a murder mystery.
The chase is on
Anyone expecting a suspenseful and action-packed adventure with many twists will be disappointed, though. There’s not much else to the story than one very good detective chasing after a very good thief who always leaves breadcrumbs the police follows. One will feel more annoyed with than sympathetic for Arsène, because his elaborate writing and various puzzles don’t only drive Holmes and Watson as well as Inspector Lestrade crazy, but players, too.
A walk through London
One feels more like being on a sightseeing tour through London. This has the advantage that one learns about the city’s culture and history, but also the disadvantage that one sees too much of one place because one spends so many hours in it hunting for clues and solving often ridiculous puzzles. A battle of the wits only works so far as finding the next hint before being confronted by another one, making Lupin less and less sympathetic to the player. In a few cases one even takes control of Inspector Lestrade, but his only involvement in the case is to check all the entrances and exits in a potential crime scene.
The attention to detail in the various locations, especially the National Art Gallery, is impressive, as one receives snippets of information by Holmes about the artists and their paintings. At times these comments can also be quite funny. But with so many rooms and art pieces that are necessary for solving puzzles, it becomes tiresome to walk through the same location for so long.
This doesn’t change much for the rest of the game, as one visits the British Museum, Tower of London and even Buckingham Palace. Unlike previous games in which one had to jump from one place to another, one is pretty much stuck in one setting which outstays its welcome too soon. The reason why one has to go to these places remains the same: preventing Lupin to steal something. As tongue-in-cheek as the premise is, one can’t shake the feeling that it’s all a waste of time. It’s basically a scavenger hunt instead of a true deduction case for the detective and doctor, even resulting in an overlong bird chase sequence around the London Tower.
The way how Lupin communicates with Holmes also becomes irritating, as he doesn’t only write long letters, but speaks in riddles or rather poems that hint at certain parts of a location, be it a painting or other objects. At first it’s fun to figure out where to go and what to do, but with one obscure clue following another that again leads to the next one, it’s more like Sisyphus work than anything else.
If it weren’t already annoying enough to go hunting for clues and items, some events have to be triggered first before certain objects can be picked up or characters are available to help (if one can find them). Just as in Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper, it’s amazing how many heavy things Holmes can carry around, too, including a chest, various parts of a totem, and a bag pipe with darts. Strangely, he can only pick up one flute to lure birds in and always has to return for exchanging it if it turns out to be the wrong one. It’s telling that Watson comments on Holmes’ behavior of collecting all sorts of junk with “What the devil are you up to, Holmes?”
One can ask the doctor the same question, though, as his actions throughout the game are just as weird. In one case he destroys a priceless statue in the British museum for a distraction, gives a woman drugs to receive information he needs, and even steals a medallion that is very personal to Holmes, only to later waste more time by searching various silly hiding places for coins in his apartment.
Puzzling over puzzles
At times one wonders what went on in the development team’s heads when designing the puzzles. Probably the silliest puzzle is when one prepares a special dish for the Queen’s dog by rummaging through a trash can to find the right ingredients that have to be painstakingly measured on scales before being cooked. Another strange objective is to find trousers of the Prime Minister because the same animal did its business on them.
The way how these puzzles are implemented also defies any logic, as can be seen near the end when Holmes repeatedly says he doesn’t have much time to catch Lupin. So instead of simply breaking open every lock in a guards room to find an essential object, he tries to find out which door belongs to which man. This obviously entails going through all the previous dialogues, documents, and even doing a bit of investigation outside to establish the locker room’s occupants before finally opening the right one.
Define or defy logic
The logic puzzles don’t fare much better, as one has to open a safe with an overly complicated mechanism that requires turning the dials in various directions, which is badly explained with cryptic instructions. In another case, one has to swap coins in the order that is given in different poems which can also be read in more than one way. Then one has to count all the turns planets take around a solar system model to find out a specific number which has to be added to others that again lead to another clue with a number. All in all, there are simply too many number and word puzzles even for mathematics and literature fans.
One is often asked to type in words, something that was introduced in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened – Remastered to varying degrees of success. Here the answers range from the obvious to the obscure, sometimes made worse by the developers wanting very specific words in a very specific order. This becomes problematic in the British Museum library where one has to find book titles that only show up with one or more special key words typed in the search engine in the correct word order which isn’t always that obvious.
A helping hand
Thankfully the remastered version makes things a bit easier, as it includes a hot spot key and progressive help system. The former is great for partly solving the annoying pixel hunt issues, while the latter mostly offers guidance when one is stuck on the various scavenger hunts Holmes and Watson embark on. Despite not every hint making sense, without this system the game would be even harder and less enjoyable to play than it already is.
More modern looks and classic sounds
If one is able to change the graphics settings (see the problem with some graphics cards in Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper), then the game looks quite nice with more detailed textures on backgrounds and characters. However, repetitive animations and re-used character models are noticeable. Being able to switch to the third-person view in the Remastered version leads to new problems, mainly some nauseating camera perspective changes that make navigating tight spaces, e.g. in the museum, that much more annoying.
Voice acting is good, although Watson’s repeated outcries of “Incredible!” or “Well done, Holmes!” are annoying and Inspector Lestrade’s voice is even worse. At one point, the doctor even speaks in Sherlock’s voice. This small bug and a few translation problems aside, the auditory experience works quite well. The same can be said about the high quality of the classic music (especially Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre), but the tracks are so few that the looping score becomes too tiresome when one traverses the same locations for an extended period of time.
A battle of wits and patience
Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis – Remastered tells a surprisingly light-hearted story about the greatest detective and thief in the world (or at least in England and France) with quite a few humorous scenes. Without any major story twists or an engaging plot to speak of, the game is basically a scavenger hunt disguised as a sightseeing tour through London, though. This might be a good premise for a 2-hour-long adventure comedy, but with almost 14 hours of playtime, the game ends up feeling more like an endless succession of chores which don’t quite pay off.
Anyone who likes lots of number puzzles and word riddles that involve running around the same locations for hours, only to find even sillier logic and inventory puzzles will certainly have fun. Everyone else will probably do much better playing Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper or some of the later Frogwares titles.