I do not like Sherlock Holmes. While I acknowledge he has some pretty awesome adventures, there's just something about him that makes me want to slap that hat off his head every time he opens his mouth and girl-bully the heck out of him. Then again, that's par for the course when you're talking about a character who gets called "the greatest detective who ever lived"; with a title like that, you practically have to be campaigning for Most Insufferably Smug Genius of the Year. What I do like, however, is Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles the new hidden-object adventure game from Frogwares. In fact, I like it quite a bit. Combining rich visuals, moody environment, and a mass of tricky puzzles to crack, it's an exceptionally well made game... if not exactly wholly accurate to the source material.
If you were expecting or hoping the story would stay true to the original, well, uh, don't. The basic premise is still intact; Henry Baskerville returns home after his father's death, and seeks out the legendary Sherlock Holmes to find out the truth behind the curse that has taken the life of every member of his family. Holmes (and Watson, because they are Best Friends Forevar) follow Henry to the Baskerville estate, where you quickly find a whole lot of ominous lighting, strange shadows, and Dark Forces Are At Work™... or are they? It isn't long before Holmes and company begin to suspect they aren't dealing with any ordinary beast... and that's before the mystical powers show up.
As Holmes and his companions, you'll scour the spacious Baskerville estate, hunting for answers and solving puzzles. The game comes with two difficulty modes, and while "easy" marks interactive areas and offers more hints, "hard" comes with more difficult puzzles and hidden-object scenes. The only penalty for repeated misclicks is that the cursor will eventually go flying around the screen temporarily and Holmes will chastise you for being too hasty. Hey, shut up, Sherlock! I always liked Watson better anyway. Early on, you'll also gain access to the Book of the Baskervilles; while it might sound boring by title, this actually serves as a map you can use to instantly jump to any location you've already visited, and also marks places that still have clues with an exclamation mark.
Analysis: Clearly, this is not canon Holmes material. How big of an issue this is for you largely depends on how much of a fan/purist you are, and if your answer to that is "a very big one", you probably hit the words "mystical powers" in this review and your monocle probably popped right out in shock. In fact, one of the reasons that compelled me to finish (you know, apart from the game being fun and well made) was because I wanted to see if there really was some logical explanation for it all, true to Holmes fashion. Granted, it would have to be massively complicated and convoluted on a Scooby-Doo-like scale, or at least involve a Batman supervillain or two, but it could still happen. Does it? Well, that'd be spoiling things, now, wouldn't it?
What I will tell you is that apart from a woefully overexcited soundtrack, most everything about Hound of the Baskervilles exudes high production values. The design, clearly, is gorgeous, with deep, vibrant colours in highly detailed environments, but the gameplay is sort of a mixed bag. None of it is bad; as you'd expect from a Sherlock game, much of it revolves around solving puzzles, and both the variety and the scale of difficulty is a wonderful treat. However (there's always a however) the game has a disappointing tendency to have puzzle pieces just "show up" when they're required by popping up in places they previously were not in, which means you have to revisit places just on the off chance something you need has "spawned". The gameplay also winds up being a little predictable; track down all the missing pieces of a puzzle or lock, move to the next location, and do it again.
Fortunately, Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of Baskervilles is still worth playing for everything else it gets right, from its beautiful design, to its crazy (but interesting!) spin on the classic tale, to the absolutely brilliant addition of that simple but wonderful instant travel map more games should make use of. It's rare to find a hidden-object game that really forces you to use your brain, and the puzzle difficulty on hard mode ranges from simple tile swapping to code deciphering. Depending on your chosen mode and whether you skip any puzzles, the game should take anywhere from three to five hours to complete. While die-hard Holmes fans might be disappointed by how many liberties it takes with the source material, those looking for just a quality adventure with some challenging gameplay will find a lot to like here, and should definitely check out the demo. One might say... it's elementary.
A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains extra material such as three bonus chapters to play, an in-game strategy guide, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.