By Eric Pankoke on Thu, 12/31/2009
Sherlock Holmes has always been one of the greatest literary detectives. With the new Robert Downey Jr. movie fresh in everyone’s minds, it stands to reason that some developers wouldn’t mind capitalizing on the publicity to give their software that extra push. A few Sherlock Holmes products have hit the App Store recently, one even based on the feature film. Thankfully, this one is not. Instead, Sherlock Holmes: The Game Is Afoot is actually an interesting combination of hidden object game, spot the difference game and ebook reader. As individual elements they’re nothing special, but blended together they make for a pretty decent fare.
The premise behind “The Game Is Afoot” is that you are apprenticing with Holmes and Watson, and you must help them solve each case. You do this by traveling to the crime scenes with them, uncovering clues by either searching a scene hidden object style or pointing out the differences between two versions of the same scene. In between each game sequence the story unfolds via small blurbs displayed in ebook style or as dialog between the detective and his sidekick. Once the case is complete you’re presented with a stats screen showing the time it took to complete the case, any time penalties received, and the number of hints you used. If it’s the first time you’ve completed the case, the ebook version of the corresponding story will be unlocked in the library.
The neat thing about The Game Is Afoot is that the scenarios are based off of actual Sherlock Holmes stories, instead of just being made to feel like them. I like Sherlock Holmes, but I’ll admit to not being real familiar with his catalog of cases. However, for those that are Holmes buffs there should be an extra bit of excitement as you literally travel in his footsteps in a manner of speaking. Even without knowing much of his history I find the concept cool, because no one can really write Holmes as well as the original author can.
As for the actual game element, it’s pretty standard implementations of the two game types. In the hidden object segments you’re presented with a list of items to find, and you must click on them to recover them. Your basic abilities of dragging the screen to pan and pinching to zoom are present, though this game seems to be more sensitive than most about the dragging part, so often when I go to click on an object the screen will start moving instead. If you get stuck you can click on the hint icon, and a circle will be drawn around the general area where the object is hidden. Hints are unlimited, but once you’ve used a hint you must wait for a meter to refill in order to get another hint. Of course the game isn’t timed, so wait away if that’s what you so desire. I was a bit disappointed in that none of the hidden objects actually seemed to have anything to do with the story itself.
The other side of the coin is the spot the difference game. Again this is executed in typical fashion where the screen is cut in half, each half containing a slightly different version of the scene. A counter at the bottom tells you how many differences you have left to find. Again you have the ability to pan and zoom the screen, and you can click on either half to point out a difference. If you find one then the left side will be modified to match the right side. I actually prefer this method than the one that some spot the difference implementations use where they somehow mark the differences (either with an X or circle or something). This way is a lot less cluttered. Just like with the hidden object sequences you have unlimited help that will circle the area of the difference when clicked. This game type was handled pretty well, though it didn’t do much for me since I’m not a big fan of spot the difference games.
The ability to go back and read the short story that each scenario was based on is a nice touch. The ebook reader looks pretty fancy, but is basically comprised of a display with forward and back buttons, as well as an option to reset the story from the beginning. You can also pick from three different font sizes for the display. I’m sure you can get most or all of these stories for whatever standard reader you use on your iDevice, but it’s nice being able to jump right to the story after playing the interactive scenario.
One caveat to this whole thing is that each story and game scenario is loaded on demand. That means you must have some sort of internet connectivity whenever you want to start a new scenario or read a new story. This is nice in that it keeps space requirements to a minimum, but it’s bad if you’re somewhere that you can’t get to the web. It would be great if there was an option to preload several scenarios and / or stories, since the game appears to automatically dump them when you’ve completed them anyway.
The graphics in the various game sequences are good, but nothing special where these types of games are concerned. I was actually a bit surprised that some of the objects were as disproportionately sized to the scene as they were, and the placement of some of the objects were just plain odd. On the other hand, I liked it when Holmes and Watson would pop up over a scene with their dialog. The background scene fades in and out accordingly, and it’s actually a pretty decent effect. Sound effects are basically one noise for finding an item and another for clicking on a spot where nothing important rests, while music is relegated to the menus.
Overall Sherlock Holmes: The Game Is Afoot is a decent game, if nothing spectacular. Tying the game sequences into the story as crime scenes to explore was a nice touch, but ultimately the interactive parts were pretty standard for this type of game. Still, if you’re into hidden object or spot the difference games there’s definitely merit to this one, especially if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan. Just don’t expect to be knocked off your feet.
Overall Score: 6/10
App Store Link