Secret of the Silver Earring (released in Europe as Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring) is the latest entry in one of the newest genres in computer games: the investigative game. These games, which include the CSI and Law & Order mysteries, are often called adventures, but they tend to lack puzzles and instead ask you to find clues, analyze evidence, and interrogate witnesses. That is, they emphasize patient pixel hunting more than creative thought, and they quite possibly don’t appeal to their target audience, adventure game players. Silver Earring features more puzzles than similar style games, and it looks more like an adventure game, but otherwise it’s a perfect fit for the genre.
Silver Earring opens with -- what else? -- a murder. During a dinner party, the host, Sir Bromsby, is shot through the heart and killed. None of the guests see anything useful, and it’s not even clear where the shot came from. You then play Sherlock Holmes (and every so often Dr. Watson), and you’re called in to investigate the crime. Was it the daughter, who stands to inherit everything, or the business partner, who has an eye on the company holdings, or perhaps somebody else? The case ends up being a little convoluted and detached, but developer Frogwares does a nice job of bringing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters to life, and Silver Earring feels authentic.
As for gamplay, Silver Earring takes a page from other investigative games, and you spend most of your time hunting for evidence. The game uses a third person perspective (the engine looks similar to the one employed by the Syberia games), where simple mouse clicks move Holmes around and allow him to use things like his magnifying glass and a tape measure. The camera positions are fixed, and that means finding clues involves scanning the screen hoping that the cursor changes to indicate you can do something or look at something. However, unlike some other games that emphasize pixel hunting in this way, Silver Earring at least tells you when there’s more evidence to be found. You’re not allowed to move on to a new part of the game until you’ve found everything in the current part, and so if you get stuck you at least know why you’re stuck if not where you need to go to get unstuck. Still, searching a room for the umpteenth time isn’t any fun, especially when Frogwares went out of their way in a few situations to place dark items in dark corners and expect you to find them. In fact, a significant portion of the game is much too dark, and I had to manually set the brightness on my monitor all the way to 100% just to tell what was going on.
To assist you in your search for justice, you have a helpful casebook. The casebook features tabs for documents, evidence and conversations, and so it makes it easy to keep track of and go back and review what you’ve learned. And just to make sure you’ve understood the evidence you’ve found, at the end of each of the game’s five acts (strangely called “levels” on the game’s box) you have to take a quiz. The quiz isn’t timed, and you’re allowed to refer to your casebook, and so it ends up being an effective way to make sure you’ve been paying attention and are caught up with what’s been going on.
Investigative games usually don’t rate very well. Looking at gamerankings.com, the CSI and Law & Order games have both scored in the 60’s. Silver Earring is a similar game to those, and I’m guessing people will like and dislike the same things about it. That is, its engine is polished and features some of the best voice acting you’re going to see in a computer game, but there just isn’t a lot for you to do, and what you can do can get a little tedious. So know yourself here. If you’re like me and you’ve enjoyed other investigative games in the past, then you’ll probably like this one, too, but if you’re hoping for a true adventure, then you should probably look elsewhere.