Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis is the fourth Sherlock Holmes adventure from Frogwares, an international developer with studios in Ireland and the Ukraine. Nemesis uses the exact same engine as Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (released last year), but its tone is far different. Whereas The Awakened was a little on the dark and morbid side, with an emphasis on murders, sacrifices and cults, Nemesis is more of an intellectual exercise. That makes the game much more family-friendly, but unfortunately it also removes a lot of the tension about the outcome, and too many of its puzzles feel like hoops you have to jump through rather than necessary components of the story.
As the game opens up, you (playing mostly as Sherlock Holmes, but also sometimes as Dr. Watson or Inspector Lestrade) discover that a notorious French jewel thief named Arsene Lupin plans to steal five of Britain’s most prized artifacts. Worse, you learn that Lupin’s objective isn’t just to steal the items, but also to humiliate the British Empire. To that end he gives out advance warnings of his thefts, just to show everybody that the British Empire can’t stop him even when they know he’s coming.
The nice thing about the premise is that it isn’t as dark and dreary as the one from The Awakened. There aren’t any murders or kidnappings or ancient rituals to deal with, and you don’t have to explore any mental asylums or dank caves. Instead, you get to visit places like Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, and the Tower of London, and since the puzzles make great use of the rooms and contents of those locations, the game sometimes feels like you’re taking a virtual tour of 19th century England, which is nice.
The bad thing about the premise is that it gives away the entire arc of the story. You learn right away that Lupin plans to steal five items -- but obviously you’re not going to catch him while he’s pilfering any of the first four. The only question is whether Lupin will get away after stealing the fifth item (perhaps setting up a sequel), or whether you’ll catch him and send him to jail. That takes a lot of the excitement out of the game, since you can see early on just where it’s going, and it makes some of the puzzle sequences a little tedious. For example, at one point Lupin sets up a chain of about 14 clues that you have to find and solve to figure out where he’s going next. A chain of maybe five clues would have been fine, but 14 felt like the game was simply padding its playing time.
The puzzles themselves work pretty well. Nemesis is definitely a tough adventure. You don’t just pick up a few inventory objects and then use them in obvious places. Inventory management comes into play, but you also have to solve riddles, decipher codes, look for patterns, and more. Unfortunately, some of the toughness to the puzzles comes because the interface isn’t especially friendly, because sometimes it isn’t clear what you should be doing, and because some of the puzzles require information that isn’t in the game (for example, the ages of English kings). The Awakened had some of these same problems as well, so it’s something Frogwares definitely needs to work on before they release another sequel. And it’s too bad, too, because both of their latest Sherlock Holmes games would have been far better off with a little more attention paid to detail, and the puzzles still would have held up well.
And so, like with The Awakened, I’m giving Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis a mixed review. The graphics aren’t anything special, the storyline is completely predictable, and the interface could use some improvement, but the game contains numerous tough and clever puzzles, it has a relatively long (15-20 hour) playing time, and I found it fun to explore 19th century England. So if you’re a patient player who doesn’t mind kicking around puzzles for long stretches of time, you might have some fun partnering up with Sherlock Holmes during this adventure.