Nostalgia Review: The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes
Jonathan Anson / Jun 4th, 2012 No Comments
We’ll begin with a look at The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: the Case of the Serrated Scalpel for DOS. As of this article the game has stopped being circulated officially. Physical copies have been out of print for years and tend to go for some very eyebrow raising prices but you may find a cheap copy around somewhere if you look hard enough. You can also download it from the numerous abandonware sites that host it. Until its publisher, Electronic Arts (play the Imperial March here for better effect) officially rereleases the game then you’re out of luck.Let’s not procrastinate any longer. Here is a nostalgic look back at The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: the Case of the Serrated Scalpel.
November 1888: London remains locked in fear as Jack the Ripper’s presence is felt among the frightened populace. The killer has remained a base of operations in Whitechapel but the murder of a young actress in Mayfair behind the Regency Theatre. Her death is reminiscent of the ones committed in Whitechapel leaving the man in charge of investigation, Inspector Lestrade, believing that the Ripper has chosen to leave his natural habitat for more fertile killing grounds.
Unable to come to any definite conclusions, the Scotland Yard inspector swallows his pride and sends a letter to his intellectual rival, Sherlock Holme, to come and help. Holmes accepts and travels with his friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, to scene of the crime. After some investigation, even the detective is puzzled and uncertain if the ripper has indeed struck once more. It is only when through further investigation that they discover the case involves much more than cold blooded murder.Welcome to The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: the Case of the Serrated Scalpel. Developed by Mythos Software and published by Electronic Arts. The game hit the shelves in 1992 for DOS computers and later in 1994 for the 3DO as an enhanced edition. It is a traditional third person point and click adventure game that, as the title indicates, features Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous private consulting detective whom you have the privilege of controlling. It’s also the very first point and click adventure game the great detective was featured in having before starred in a few text adventure games.
The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes is done in the style of a classic Lucasarts adventure game. Anyone who has ever played games done in this style or any point and click adventure games will know that the game is controlled almost entirely by the mouse. With it you can move Holmes to different parts of the screen by simply pointing and clicking on the place you want him to move to. Clicking on the appropriate buttons and then clicking on specific objects and characters on the screen enable you to talk, examine, interact and pick up items which can be used and examined via your inventory. This easy to use interface means that gamers not familiar with playing adventure games can start playing quickly and those who have can just get right to it.While easy to get into The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes is a very challenging game that requires a great deal of wits and intelligence to beat. The game is merciful however and always does its best to nudge you in the right direction through subtle hints and recording conversations you have with characters in the form of Watson’s journal. Reading the journal is almost like reading a classic Holmes story with Watson relating the mystery from his perspective. It’s not as detailed and only tracks dialogue rather than actions you take in the game. Its main purpose is to record dialogue that you’ve had in the game with other characters which is often helpful as important information is imparted through talks with other characters.
Again it has to be said that don’t this is a challenging game. This is mainly because the developers have done their best to make you feel like you are Holmes. You must think and investigate like him in order to win the game. If you’ve ever read any of original Arthur Conan Doyle stories then you’ll find know that this is a tremendous task even with the helpful accommodations the game gives to you. You’ll have to interrogate suspects, solve puzzles, using deductive reason, traveling throughout London and even use Holmes’s personal chemical lab table to conduct on objects you find in the game to continue the mystery to its final conclusion. The only thing stopping you from helping Holmes to catch the killer is your willingness to keep playing.But no matter how long you do decide to play, you’ll come to appreciate its visual presentation. Because this was before the advent of 3D gaming, the game is completely in digitized 2D graphics. While gamers may find the graphics antiquated, many are unable to appreciate the time and effort it took to illustrate and animate graphics like the ones featured in this game. By 1992 standards the graphics in this game are excellent and to this day remain a testament to the hard work on the part of the developers to appeal to the eyes of gamers.
But what makes the visuals in this game so appealing is that they are part of an effort to try to make players feel like they are in Victorian London close to the end of the 19th century. The developer, Mythos Software, really went all out to reflect their heavy research on the world of Victorian London. The result is a historically accurate game that reflects the period this game is set in ranging for the culture, lifestyles, clothing, speaking mannerisms and locations. Examining specific objects like the Stradivarius violin Holmes played in a few of the classic Holmes stories will give you a small history of it. Such attention to detail and history in order to immerse players in the world Holmes inhabits is at times educational not to mention engaging.
Sounds also help to add to the atmosphere especially with the music which features Victoriana strains that match the mood of what goes on the screen. The tracks are wonderfully composed and fit the setting of this game. If you’re playing the CD-ROM version of this game you’ll also get voiceovers which are not present in the floppy version obviously due to space limitations. But these are only limited to the intro and the ending. Dialogue that you conduct with other characters outside of this is sadly just text with animated portraits. Nevertheless the voice actors manage to do an adequate job despite only being relegated to voicing only certain parts of the game.Accompanying such a historical atmosphere is a tremendous story. It’s difficult to really go into detail about it without spoiling much beyond the fact that Holmes may or may not be up against Jack the Ripper. What can be said is that it’s almost faithful in style and tone to the many Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is has a good length, great pacing, exciting plot twists, memorable characters and manages to capture the literary personalities of Holmes and Watson almost perfectly. Even if you’ve never read the original stories this game is based on upon, if you enjoy a great whodunit, you will enjoy this game’s story immensely.
Sadly the story is very linear and only has one ending. Still the challenges you undertake to get to the end is what makes this game enjoyable because you also have the ability to overcome obstacles in more than one way. For example: late in the game Holmes and Watson’s investigation leads them to a very dank pub. The man in charge of it holds vital information that will help Holmes continue his investigation but he refuses to give it up. The most blatant option given to you in order to loosen his tongue is to challenge the few willing bar patrons present to a game of darts (played via mini-game) and win. Once this is done then you’ll have to play against the bartender and defeat him for the information.
There is a second option as well that is sure to appeal to true sherlockians: using deductive reasoning. In this case, it will be used to uncover a shameful secret the pub keeper has and using that against him. By clicking on the appropriate dialogue option, you’ll begin a dialogue based puzzle where you have to choose the correct dialogue lines to make the pub keeper talk. Choose the wrong topic and the game will let you know you’ve bungled it. Not to worry, you can try multiple times until you succeed. It’s a great alternative if you don’t feel up to playing a monotonous mini-game of darts or would rather just save time.
Sadly, moments like that are extremely rare and you’ll find that there is only one solution per puzzle. But it does provide an incentive to replay the game in order to experience everything it has to offer.
The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: the Case of the Serrated Scalpel is one of the few Sherlock Holmes based games that don’t let you play as Sherlock Holmes: you are Holmes. That’s an honor very few games have and this game deserves it. But it is, as Holmes once said, a great mistake to theorize before you have all the facts. Play the game for yourself and decide whether the game really is afoot.
tags: nostalgia , pc , review