Review: Sherlock - The Riddle of the Crown Jewels

(I was amazed when I found that this classic had zero reviews on IFDB.
Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels - Details (tads.org))

"Where have you been, Watson? We have work to do."

That’s how the great Sherlock Holmes impatiently welcomes you back to London when you restore a saved game. This and other dry or witty remarks make sure that you never forget Holmes’ presence, even though it is you, Watson, who is in the driving seat in this investigation.

Sherlock - The Riddle of the Crown Jewels is a fantastic Infocom mystery. In the beginning of the game Holmes senses that his adversary is very cunning and has studied his, Holmes’, methods. Therefore, he puts you, Watson, in the lead. With the great detective breathing down your neck and occasionally making snarky remarks, the two of you explore London in search of clues as to whom might have stolen the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The setting, London in the late 19th century, is magnificently rendered. Foggy streets, dim sunshine if there is any, grand and imposing buildings,… But also a busy market square, avenues full of tourists,… The author uses the fog and the busy streets to make the game world seem much larger than the part of the city that is actually accessible, giving a great sense of freedom to the player. You can roam the streets and go sightseeing as you please…

Were it not for the fact that you are on the clock. You have but two days to solve the theft, or the disappearance of the Crown Jewels will become known to the public and all faith in the monarchy will crumble (yaay!). Being on a timer, together with some well-placed twists in the story gives the story its drive. It creates the tension that makes this a good mystery. However, the trade-off between telling a straightforward story with its natural tension-arc on the one hand, and allowing the player lots of freedom to explore the map and solve the puzzles in his own order on the other hand does get in the way sometimes. If you misunderstand a clue (as I did), then the tension falls flat until you stumble upon the answer. Felt kinda like pushing the motorcar until the engine fired again.

For the most part, the puzzles are fair. Do remember that you are Holmes’ assistant in this game, so don’t just gather clues but think about them and put them together. In the words of that other famed detective: “You must excercise zee grey cells.” I thought one puzzle was underclued, and it being dependent on the time of day, it took me a lot of time to complete.

The NPCs are very well characterized, even though they do not have all that much to say. In a few strokes and a few remarks, the character is there with you.

The descriptions are very strong, bringing the locations to life when you first enter them. The city of London’s atmosphere in the fog permeates the game, adding to the tension of your search. The suspense of the overarching story suffers somewhat from the trade-off I mentioned before, but once you get near the endgame and the pieces fall together, the game picks up speed again.

A truly great adventure, a joy to play.

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You know, I’ve never played a single Infocom game (they were never a ZX Spectrum thing) and I’m wondering if I should now set aside a portion of my life to do so.

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Three letters: YES.

:smiley:

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Die-hard Infocom fans may consider Sherlock not a real Infocom game. Bob Bates approached Infocom for licensing the Z-machine and its development tools as he needed a proper engine for a series of games he had envisioned. They eventually worked out a development deal, Bates did the game design and writing, coding was done by contract programmers and publishing was done under the Infocom name. Bobs series was marketed as “Immortal Legends”. The second game being Arthur - The Quest for Excalibur, which I enjoyed a bit more. A third installment in the series, which was meant to be a Robin Hood game, never saw the light of day because Activision closed Infocom down.

Sherlock is one of the better adventures out there for sure. You might want to take a look at Bobs Thaumistry - In Charms Way if you haven’t already. If I’m not completely wrong, it was written in TADS3. Wonderful game which I enjoyed so much.

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Ok, I’d better get dressed and hurry along to the party then (a mere four decades late).

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This game never quite clicked for me, at least not as a Sherlock Holmes game, though it may be a case of unmet expectations. I had hoped for a fairly straight mystery, but from what I recall (I haven’t played the game in many years) a lot of it is played just for laughs. For instance, while Holmes showed quite a bit of disdain for Lestrade in the original stories, he was still described as capable if unimaginative. Here, to the extent that he’s mentioned, he’s reduced to a complete joke.

Playing as Watson is an interesting idea, but the whole thing with the thief deliberately leaving clues for Holmes to find feels more like something out of the Adam West “Batman” TV series than a Sherlock Holmes story. And it’s a pet peeve of mine that so many modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmes feel the need to include Moriarty. I see the temptation, but in the original stories he is used very sparingly.

Also, putting part of the copy protection in the sample transcript in the manual felt like a bit cheap to me.

I enjoyed Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur a lot better (with some caveats), but that may be because I know very little of the Arthur legend to begin with. With Sherlock Holmes, I’ve read the original stories so I though I knew what to expect. I plan on replaying both at some point in the not-too-distant-future. Maybe this time I’ll feel differently about them?

I didn’t know this bit of history. Thanks.

I know what you mean. I feel this way about Excalibur. I’m known to shout at the screen of yet another bogus Arthur movie. I mean, I know it’s a legend, and there’s enough source material there for a cat to lose her kittens in, but at least show some respect instead of just throwing in whatever mixture of it and adding extra CGI.
As a ploy by Moriarty to challenge Holmes to a game of wits, I could buy into him leaving clues, but you’re right about him being overused in adaptations (I did enjoy the Star Trek TNG stories with Data as Holmes pitted against an AI Moriarty.)

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I guess that’s always the danger of adaptations. I’ve been told that Legend Entertainment’s “Death Gate” is a terrible adaptation of the original books, but since I’ve never read them I think it’s a very good game on its own.

But it’s certainly possible to make decent Holmes games. I’ve played some of Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes games, and while I don’t remember much of them I do remember thinking they were fine. (Except for “Mystery of the Mummy”. I thought that one was wretchedly bad.) There’s even a Moriarty cameo in one of them, that I didn’t mind at all.

I also rather enjoyed Mythos Software’s “The Case of the Serrated Scalpel” and “The Case of the Rose Tattoo”, even if I got hopelessly lost in the story of the latter one. (“Ok, so I’m investigating an explosion at the Diogenes Club, except now it’s a spy story, or maybe a murder mystery, and why am I suddenly giving violin lessons to this crazy old woman!?! Aaaaaaarrrggghhh!!!”)

Maybe I would have enjoyed Sherlock better if it had either stuck closer to the source material, or deviated a lot further. Hmm… I wonder if there’s a game where you play as Lestrade…?

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