Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Silver Earring

Review by Old Rooster
September 2004

Yesterday, I finished a ten-day visit with an old friend—Sherlock Holmes. Together with his associate, Dr. Watson, Holmes asked for my assistance in solving the Case of the Silver Earring.

Unfortunately, although I've always enjoyed visits to the gracious and visually elegant times of Queen Victoria, I also found this particular journey with the brilliant detective to be quite tedious, even rather boring.

"He Is of Low Birth, Has Few Friends and Poor Taste in Women" —Holmes

It is always entertaining when our sleuth can make deductions such as the above without even having met the person in question—in this case, Lord Bromsby. Our evening began with what was going to be a pleasurable outing. We were to visit Cavendish Hall, largely to hear one of our favorite opera singers, Gallia. Also, the hugely successful Lord Melvyn Bromsby was to give a short address highlighting some changes in his lucrative business. Tragically, Lord Bromsby didn't get too far into his speech before he was most rudely shot! Of course, Holmes and Watson immediately react to seal off the mansion and grounds, enlisting you and me, the players, to help them solve what develops into a most confounding conundrum of crime.

"The Game Is Afoot"

Let's be initially a bit pedantic and discuss the presentation of and mechanisms for playing this case. After three installations from the two included CDs, we couldn't get Silver Earring to run without immediately crashing to the desktop. Finally, I discovered two critical factors—turn off your virus checker while playing and, most important, set the desktop resolution to the resolution of the game, in this case 1024×768.

Once up and running, one can't help but be very impressed and properly motivated by the initial cutscene (and subsequent ones), as well as the stunning and detailed depiction of Cavendish Hall and other prerendered backgrounds. Indeed, your mystery tour will take you through 40 London-area locations over five levels, with the visuals being a major part of the appeal.

Voice acting seems professionally done and is generally "spot on," at least according to my English wife. Holmes sounds upper-class and pompous, while the "downstairs" Cavendish Hall staff display the London city accents one might expect.

In close-ups, the expressions of the multitude of characters are impressive, although lip-synching is not at all accurate. From a distance, though, you'll find that Holmes and Watson are controlled by the traditional point-and-click-on-the-floor method, with this movement being accomplished on a static screen. Tragically, pathfinding and precision of control are poor, and you may spend undue time literally going in circles!

"Hmm ... There Is Dust. Excellent!" —Holmes

As with most adventures, and particularly with ones of a scientific nature, you'll spend an inordinate amount of time pixel-hunting. This presents a problem to happy progress! Not only is there a dreadful lack of precision with movement, but also some of the items to be discovered are impossible to see unless your cursor "lights up" with a hand to alert you. A strand of greasy red hair comes to mind.

There are cursors for movement, dialogue, and action (open a door, pick up an object). These are accompanied by a very efficient inventory bar, accessed with a simple mouse right-click. Your notebook records the essence of conversations, reports, documents. Also included is a map of London, with the various locations opened as you progress in the game.

Holmes is equipped with a magnifying glass, tape measure, and test tube for taking samples. Occasionally, you and he return to his "lab" at Baker Street where detailed analyses must be performed. One thinks here of some of the tasks in the CSI and Law & Order games, although with 19th-century science.

Saving the game can be done anywhere (except during the fairly frequent cutscenes), and there seem to be an unlimited number of saves possible.

"I Have Not Yet Examined Everything" —Holmes

And we may add to that comment: "I have not yet spoken with everyone—again and again!" The complex and interesting story, which moves well beyond the initial murder, is laid out in a very linear fashion. Within particular scenes or screens, you must retrieve all items relevant to the case and move through all conversational trees. You are not allowed to proceed (meeting with Watson, for example) until and unless these tasks are completed. As earlier mentioned, the pixel-hunting can be most difficult, and I was hung up for a long time on that strand of hair, moving fruitlessly from room to room, wondering what I had missed. Further, you may think you have completed your conversation with a particular character, but something else may open up without your realizing it. So you sometimes have to go back and check with the multitude of persons to see if any additional queries have become available.

There are some interesting gameplay twists, including a timed maze, a stealth exercise getting past a guard dog and, most novel of all, a quiz at the end of each of the five sections! All questions must be answered correctly in order to move on, with the quizzes offering a few ringers that can be confounding. Still, it's an interesting and logical approach—the kind of thing Holmes might expect of you (and Watson) as you offer your assistance.

"I Need Something" —Holmes

The Case of the Silver Earring also needs something. Initially, the game impresses with attractive settings, decent voice acting and the promise of a thoughtful mystery to be solved. Unfortunately, this becomes bogged down by static scenes, poor character movement control, obscure pixel-hunting and the wearying need to redo conversations. As regards gameplay and mechanisms, Silver Earring is dated, not in the same league as the Law & Order series, for example. What I had hoped would be a relaxing, intellectual, drawing-room kind of experience became, instead, a tedious, boring, sometimes very frustrating exercise I was glad to finish. In my final exam for the game, I found Holmes to be barely acceptable.

What I Liked Most About The Case of the Silver Earring

  • The Victorian times visuals are detailed and outstanding;
  • Voice acting is professional and generally well-done;
  • Story and narrative show the promise of being interesting.

What I Liked Least About the Game

  • Each scene or screen is static;
  • Character movement is imprecise;
  • Required items can be almost impossible to locate;
  • Redoing conversations is tedious;
  • Rigidly enforced linearity can be painful. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: Digital Jesters (Europe—version reviewed); Ubisoft (North America—published as The Secret of the Silver Earring)
Release Date: August 27, 2004 (Europe); September 28, 2004 (North America)

Available for: Windows

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Screenshots

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System Requirements

Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium III 500 GHz (PIII 700 recommended)
192 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
32 MB DirectX compatible video card
1.5 GB free hard disk space

Where to Find It

GoGamer (Digital Jesters version) 47.90
Amazon.com (Ubisoft version) $19.99



Prices/links current as of 09/27/04
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