Right, this will be my first covering of a Sherlock Holmes story, I believe, and in all likeliness it’s the first one by Frogwares that I’ve covered. Is there anything special to say about Frogwares? Yes – despite being a smaller video game company with a significantly smaller budget compared to the likes of Rock Star, EA and Ubisoft – Frogwares manages to have a niche that is both charming and exciting, and caters towards it with a passion, despite parent companies not always being good to them. What is the niche? It’s the taking of classic fiction from within the public domain and creating new stories, with three in particular being the standouts: Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and HP Lovecraft. Their most prolific series by far is their Sherlock Holmes series with at least eight games to their name as of 2020. And with Sherlock Homes: Chapter One coming out next year for both the PS4 and PS5 (and others), I think I should start to potentially revisit some of these previous instalments, beginning with the 1 that’s plunk right in the middle. This is Sherlock Holmes vs Arsène Lupin, also known as Sherlock Holmes Nemesis in the UK.
Set within a few days in the middle of July, 1895 – our story begins in the morning at 221B Baker Street. Holmes is playing the Violin while Dr Watson is reading the Newspaper, where the deeds of the Parisian Gentlemen Thief known as Arsène Lupin is making the rounds. Shortly after this, Holmes receives a letter…from Lupin. Inside the letter it’s very clear – Lupin is challenging Holmes to a game of wits. After an investigation into the contents of the letter, which included a small poem as a clue to Lupin’s next cat-burglary, we end up in the National Art Gallery, where the game truly begins.
Now to deduce the details:
The art style and graphics, when you consider what else was released during this time, were good in 2007 (the original) and okay in 2010 (the remaster), as 2006/7 was the beginning of a transition of pique generations from Playstation 2 to Playstation 3 and X-Box to X-Box 360. The biggest difference between the two versions of the game was the addition of a third person perspective, some slightly crisper visuals, and some extra animations (internet lore will tell you with amusement about what is now known as “Creepy Watson”, which occurred in the original release because Dr Watson was not given a walking animation, and therefore appeared behind you wherever you go). The graphics themselves flowed at a nice fifty to sixty frames per second and the visual details were aesthetically pleasing, even with the hints of blockiness that remained prevalent in some PC games at the time. The art style is clearly inspired, as they managed to create some very attractive interpretations of real places, including the National Gallery Of Painting and the Tower Of London. After also playing previous instalments of the series, I can tell you that there were some clever shortcuts in the design. For one thing, the Character sprites in this game are exactly the same as the ones in Sherlock Holmes Awakened (which was released in early 2007, while this was out in October that year), they were making the 2 games at the same time with the same tools, clearly). In general, it was all charming to look at.
The level design and gameplay, much like every other game in the series, are all about the cross-referencing and puzzles, as well as some thinking outside the box. It’s also the first Sherlock game that I’ve played were I was recommended to have a notebook at hand…and no, I didn’t take that advice…too much. However, much of the game’s length comes from the puzzles, especially when solving them for the first time, and then sometimes you actually have to type in an answer, and even if you say the right thing, it’s not always ‘right’, it can be quite strict in its lettering. You’ll also get a lot of “I have no reason to go there”, and, I’ll be honest, the British Museum puzzles will have you visiting every room and exhibits about a dozen times each. It’s not a very flexible game, simply because while you’re controlling Holmes (and occasionally Watson) you don’t know what they’re thinking unless they talk to themselves.
The characters and story were…well, Holmes & Watson, with Inspector Lestrade thrown into the mix. Although this was the first Sherlock Holmes game to have a chase in it. We see how sharp Lupin can be throughout the ordeal, and it becomes a question of whether Sherlock can win the war of wits, let alone any of the ‘battles’. One thing I will say, the story doesn’t mind being a little bit silly. There was a scene that involved Queen Victoria that gave me a little chuckle, and then we see others, such as the musical librarian, the drunk who sees himself as being undercover and the journalist who plays Watson like a Fiddle. If there’s 1 bit of distinct continuity from Sherlock Holmes Awakened…it’s Barnes, the Bookshop Owner. The poor man has clearly fallen off the edge.
The music comprises mostly of classical music with a different piece representing a different location, and it already gets five stars in the process. Tchaikovsky’s Melodiè Op 42 No 3 is more or less the main theme of the Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games, or at least it is the main theme for Baker Street. Then you have Edvard Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 13: II (Allegretto Tranquilo) as the Main Menu theme, Franz Sherbert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat, D. 929, Op. 100: Andante con moto for the Museum, & Kalinnikov’s Symphony no.1 mov.2 for the Tower Of London…among others…personally I love it…and it’s free!
Would I recommend Sherlock Holmes vs Arsène Lupin? If you’re looking to introduce this series to a younger audience, this would be the best 1, as it has by far the lightest story in the series (That I’ve played). It is the only 1 that doesn’t have a murder in it, and it is also the only 1 that doesn’t delve into either frightening confusion on Watson’s part, or into the realms of either the Supernatural or Lovecraftian Horror. Instead it focuses on simply catching a thief. I would also say it’s possibly a good game for a parent and child to experience together. So, if you have Steam or GOG on a PC, have a look.
Art Style: ****1/2
Level Design: ***1/2