(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.