64/128 Price: £19.95 disk
Amiga Price: £24.95
The story starts at 5 am on a Saturday morning in June 1887. Through the swirling fog, the door to 221b Baker Street can be just discerned by the light from a nearby gas lamp. Holmes’ landlady, Mrs Hudson, has called you. She is worried – Holmes has become withdrawn and looks ill. He refuses to eat. Downstairs is an important visitor, who refuses to go away. Equally adamant is Holmes, who refuses to see him.
Needless to say, you are Doctor Watson, and your first task is to snap your old friend out of his depression, for only then will the visitor be able to convey his message, and the game proper to commence. The Crown Jewels have been stolen, and Holmes is charged with the task of finding and returning them by Monday – Coronation Day.
The thief, suspecting that Holmes will be called in to solve the case, has left a note at the scene of the crime, containing cryptic verses that lead to a trail for Holmes to follow. Holmes deduces that he must know the way the great detective’s mind works, and has laid a trap. To fool him, another mind is needed to follow the trail – and so to avoid playing into the criminal’s hands, it is you who will conduct the investigation. Sherlock will accompany you, and be on hand to offer help and advice should you need it.
What follows is a quest to find and recover all the jewels, which have been cunningly hidden around London, and to apprehend the thief. Finding the gems is one thing – actually getting your hands on them can be another problem altogether!
Here is a tourists guide London. Along the way you will visit many of its historic sights. Westminster Abbey, for example, is there in great detail, and you can view many of the tombs of famous people buried there. Much of the text is irrelevant to the mystery itself, but is interesting enough in its own right. Did you know, for example, that a ‘growler’ was a four wheeled horse drawn cab? And that a hansom was a lighter vehicle, with only two wheels? I did not, but it proved worthwhile to consult dictionary and encyclopaedia on a number of occasions – if only to check up on the American account of things! But were there really crowds of tourists in London in the 1880s? Sherlock has its links with past Infocom games. The Nanny’s are out in force in Kensington Gardens, and a pair of cotton balls prove really useful in getting one of the gems!
Like Nord And Bert and Border Zone, Sherlock has built-in Invisiclues. Since the adventure is not separated into chapters, there are two menu levels of clues, to make access manageable. The first classifies them by place, and each place yields its own list of clues.
A criticism I made about Border Zone was that the clue lists themselves gave clues to the game. Whilst that is still true of Sherlock, it has been mitigated slightly by the inclusion of a number of red-herring clues in the list. For example, at 221b I was intrigued by the reference on how to enter the kitchen – a room I could not seem to find. The first of the sequence of hints suggested I should look no further unless I had managed to open the trapdoor in the hall. I searched for ages – but in fact there is no trapdoor, nor a kitchen! So if you use the clues – beware! Personally, I still don’t like them.
As in Border Zone, the 64 version that I played comes on a double sided disk. This does not interfere with play, for once the disk has been inverted during the initial loading of the game, it stays that way until a restart is required. What did interfere with the game’s enjoyment on the 64, was the dreadfully sluggish responses, and the interminable grinding away of the drive while the computer chewed up my input and struggled with the disk to get hold of its output. But that is the 64 for you. At least you can run the game on it – unlike some other popular machines I could mention. Responses on the Amiga will, of course, be virtually instantaneous.
Infocom’s Sherlock is infinitely better than the bug-ridden attempt by Melbourne House some years ago. It is not played in real time, but the day and time is displayed on the screen, only ticking away at each move you make. But remember – you do have a deadline to retrieve the jewels!
Altogether, this is a mystery that conveys just about the right atmosphere for the place, time, and subject, with a good helping of general historical interest thrown in as well. I take my hat off to it. Now that is something I could recommend you to do before you get very far into the game, too!
CU Amiga, May 1988, p.87