Review: The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 (PC)

The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Publisher: Legacy Interactive
Release Date: 03/10/10
Minimum System Requirements: OS: Windows Vista/XP/7, Processor: 1GHz Pentium 3 or better, Memory: 512MB or more, Video Card: 128MB or more, DirectX 8.1 compatible or better.
Buy it Here: The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2

So, much like the last time I reviewed one of these games, I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this.

Almost two years ago to the day, I received a review copy of The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes from Alex, and with nothing particularly exciting going on at the time, I figured I’d give it a shot. Well, two years later, one morning I opened my E-mail to find an E-mail from a representative from the developer, Legacy Interactive, asking if I’d be interested in reviewing the sequel. The original game, as the review notes, was a solid puzzle game with a neat Sherlock Holmes theme that, while not amazing by most standards, was a lot of fun all in all. It lacked in replay value, as most hidden object finding games do, and it wasn’t as well paced as it could have been all in all, but it was engaging and well presented, which helped to make up for a lot of its shortcomings. A sequel that took these criticisms to heart, it would seem, would be a great product, especially if it were released at the budget price of its predecessor. As such, the question becomes, is The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 such a sequel? Does it indeed improve the pacing and design of the game, and is there more depth and reason to return to the game than in the first, or is it simply another sequel with some new hidden object puzzles slapped onto it?

Let’s take a look.

The storyline here, as in the first, is actually pretty solid: you are presented with sixteen “lost” cases of Sherlock Holmes and tasked to resolve them. Unlike the prior game, this time the cases are all independent of one another and do not directly refer to one another, though several cases refer to past cases the detective has dealt with. Generally speaking, the overall writing of the game is once again quite faithful to the Sherlock Holmes character and universe; Watson once again acts as Holmes’ sounding board but occasionally shows that he is also a brilliant medical doctor in his own right and in one instance even solves a case on his own, the various other characters from the Holmes universe who pop up are generally written either as their characters dictate (Mycroft, once again, is shown to be incredibly well informed and basically full of every single piece of knowledge one could think of, and another old Holmes foe shows up at the end, and is written exactly as one would expect) or as people of the time period would act and talk, and Holmes himself is of course once again deductively brilliant and completely sure of himself. There are a couple instances of Holmes completely unraveling someone’s deception right in front of them, as in the prior game, and while the final case doesn’t go as well as the detective would hope, Holmes still gets a few Crowning Moments of Awesome throughout the game. The best of which comes up when Watson incredulously asks if they’re going to dig through the trash, only for Holmes to respond, “No, YOU’RE going to dig through the trash.”

Once again, Sherlock Holmes is the biggest prat on Earth, and it is absolutely awesome.

The cases still don’t lend well to the player following along, though in a few instances you’ll be able to deduce the identity of the criminal before the end of the case. The cases do seem to make sense once they’ve been resolved, though they don’t always work on the same level as the cases of the first game, and some feel noticeably contrived, once again. As with the last game, the final case this time around feels like one big game of cat and mouse, though there’s a bit more investigation going on to make it feel more like actual detective work in some respects. In an interesting addition, the game also comes with four Sherlock Holmes stories you can unlock as you complete the cases, and while sitting in front of your computer reading a Sherlock Holmes story might not be an ideal thing to do, it’s a nice inclusion that helps to make The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 a better product than its predecessor. All in all, once again, the writing is fun, accurate to the characters, and enjoyable, and the end result is a budget game with a very impressive overall feel to it that Legacy Interactive can be proud of.

Visually, The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 is about on par with its predecessor, meaning it’s once again artistically interesting, if not always great. The game alternates between showing large drawings of case environments, which look better than in the prior game and do a better job of hiding clues than before, individual puzzles, which also look a good bit better than before even if they do occasionally lack needed animations once again, and various static and somewhat animated cinematics that pop up at various points during a case, which aren’t as well animated as the talking heads of the prior game but generally look better overall. The game also does a good job, production-wise, at making the experience ambient and convincing, though as the second and third screenshots in this review show, sometimes some unfortunately modern elements pop up here and there. The in-game music is generally populated with soothing classical music that, while it tends to repeat constantly and seems almost identical to that of the prior game, is generally not at all bothersome or disagreeable, and chances are good that you might well not even notice the repetition depending on how casually you play the game. The voice acting is also rather good overall, as Holmes and Watson are reprised by their prior actors here, and are once again quite convincing. The various other voice actors who pop up here and there as the cases dictate are very good at best and acceptable at worst, which is also quite surprising, and a few standout performances (such as the criminal of the last case) are actually surprisingly good. There are also the odd sound effects here and there to indicate when you’ve located a clue or solved a puzzle, which are adequate and do their job well, as in the first game.

Now, as before, The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 is once again a puzzle game, but for those who may perhaps find this a bit questionable, don’t: the puzzles presented in the game, as before, generally work in context well enough that they make sense for a Sherlock Holmes experience. Generally, at the beginning of every case, Holmes will be approached to take on a case by whoever needs helping at the time, and will then proceed to engage in various events until case completion. While several of the various puzzles vary from case to case, and while the final case adds some additional elements that don’t pop up at any other point in the game, all of the cases generally tend to incorporate the same basic elements throughout the game, which are:

1.) “Spot the Differences” puzzles which will present two pictures: one of the location prior to whatever crime has occurred, and one after. At this point, it is your job to find the various differences between the two pictures by clicking on them, whereupon they will be added to evidence. The game tells you how many of these sorts of clues you’re expected to find, but doesn’t tell what they are, so you’re tasked to find them on your own.

2.) “Find the Hidden Objects” puzzles, which will present one picture and a list of things hidden within it that you will have to dig up on your own. In this instance, the game will tell you exactly what it is you’re looking for, but it’s your job to find these things, most often in the middle of very cluttered images.

3.) Sorting the suspects, which is done at the end of almost every case. As you discover clues, various suspects of the crime will be presented (some as legitimate suspects, others as red herrings with little bearing to the actual crime itself), and after all of the evidence has been catalogued, you will be asked to sort the suspects into paired categories, like MARKSMAN and GREEN CLOTHES, or EMPLOYEE and BOW TIE, or whatever. In early cases these will be obvious, but in later cases suspects will fit into multiple categories and there will be more suspects AND categories, thus making the decisions harder.

4.) “Memory” puzzles, which will present each of the suspects, along with the item that ties them to the case. At this point, the suspects will fade out and back in, only one will have their “evidence” switched with something else. You, of course, are tasked to figure out what item has been switched, which then starts the process over again until you are left with one suspect, who will then be revealed as the perpetrator of the crime.

As you play through these games, you’ll also be presented with other mini-puzzles to solve as you go. Some will adhere to the above styles of play, but most will be simple puzzles of all different kinds; one puzzle has you sliding blocks around to fit four blocks into different holes on the outside of the board, while others play like Memory or involve deciphering word codes, and of course, there are many more. The game has incorporated a good bit more puzzles into the cases than its predecessor, as you’ll often find at least one minigame per location you investigate, which helps break up the monotony of hunting for clues. The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 still feels somewhat like a cross between a collection of flash games and a PC version of Professor Layton, and should more than scratch the itch of the casual puzzle gamer, but it also feels like a bit more of an actual game than its predecessor. The minigames are all generally very easy to play and often pretty fun, and they progressively increase in challenge and difficulty, which acts as a nice compliment to the hidden object searching parts of the game, as these generally don’t become much more challenging as you progress.

The game also retains several of the positive elements of its predecessor that helped to keep things interesting and accessible. First off, on the off chance you are having some sort of a problem with one of the hidden item search puzzles, the game offers you a “hint” system in the form of Holmes’ trusty pipe; by clicking on the pipe, a clue is revealed to help you along, which can be useful if you’ve spent ten minutes looking for the last clue on the screen with no luck. You’re given five pipes to start with in each story, with additional pipes hidden in each of the investigation sections, giving you plenty of chances to use hints when needed. Also, by default, you’re provided a small magnifying glass to click on clues with, but by simply clicking on the magnifying glass on the left side of the screen you’re given an actual magnified view of whatever you’re looking at, which is actually VERY useful, as it not only expands the area you’re looking at, but also the area your click affects, which means you might well “discover” something you weren’t even aware of. Now, once again, in theory, one need only click around the map like a madman to find the last few clues instead of using the tools provided to progress, but the game punishes you for doing so by making your pointer spin around like crazy for a few seconds after five or so rapid, random clicks, which wastes time in timed games and is annoying either way. The game also offers you the option of timed or untimed games, though it doesn’t have a specific time requirement that it places against you in either mode. Instead, the game simply uses that as a scoring metric, so there’s no reason to disable the timer unless you simply don’t want to be bothered being scored on your time taken.

The core game will probably take around five to eight hours to go through, but you are also offered several reason to replay it once you’ve completed the main cases. First, each mission is scored on a number of factors (speed of finding clues, time left in the mission, etc), and by returning to the game one can attempt to achieve a higher score if one is interested. Second, upon completing the main cases, you unlock a minigame called Sherlock’s Lab, which involves turning tubes to drop colored droplets into a test tube, which is a fun and interesting mini-game, and more interesting than the original Sherlock’s Lab from the previous game. Finally, after completing several cases, the game allows you to read over four separate Sherlock Holmes stories, each of which is fairly lengthy and in-depth, which is a nice addition. As noted previously, sitting at your computer reading a short story might not be ideal, but it’s not a bad thing to include and considering this game is the half the price of its predecessor, it’s essentially a free addition to the game that’s pretty neat.

Now, The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 is a surprisingly well-presented and engaging product at budget price (only $10), but one thing it still isn’t is particularly long. The sixteen cases, as noted, range in time frames, but even if we timed out each case at twenty minutes, give or take, you can pretty much complete the game in around five hours. The trouble is, this isn’t a fair assessment of the actual time it takes to complete the game, and in reality you can get through it in under four hours, cutscenes and all, and while it’s amusing to go back to later, it’s probably not going to have you coming back to it any time soon. This is mitigated somewhat, however, by the fact that you probably won’t want to play “spot the difference” and “find the hidden object” puzzles for more than an hour at a time unless you want your eyes to go crossed, which extends the experience slightly, but less in the “legitimate game length” sense and more in the “if I have to find one more hidden playing card I’m going to scream” sense. It also bears noting that while there are a good bit more minigames included in the package this time around, once again, the fact that you literally end up playing a game where you look for things in pictures something like fifty or sixty times might not be everyone’s cup of tea. As with the prior game, most of the later cases have you doing this sort of thing three or four times PER CASE, between digging up evidence as normal and placing these sorts of puzzles in the game as minigames. This becomes very tedious if taken in large doses, which basically sums up the biggest problem with the game: if you play it too much, you find the game to be tedious and repetitive, but if you play one or two cases in a sitting, you’re only getting half an hour of gameplay at a time, which, once again, feels vaguely unfulfilling. While the game breaks up the monotony a bit more than its predecessor and is generally a better value overall, unless you’re the sort of person who LOVES hidden object puzzles, this might be a bit tedious and annoying to you.

That said, The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 is an improvement over its predecessor in nearly every possible respect, and as such, is a better, if not fantastic, product. The puzzles are as easy to play as ever and should be solvable for most people, hints are readily available in case you’re having a problem, and the game is generally pretty amusing. It’s nice to look at, generally well written, sounds good overall, offers enough content to make it worth returning to, and it’s very cheap, all of which help the game in the long run. It’s certainly not going to please everyone, mind you, as someone looking to BE Sherlock Holmes instead of READ ABOUT Sherlock Holmes will find this game to be a bit off-putting in comparison to something like Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, and the fact that the game really repeats variations of the same puzzle over and over might be annoying after a while, but taken in small doses it’s generally a fun, amusing, and not very intensive or expensive experience that’s fun and well-written throughout.

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GREAT
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT
Final Score: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 is a better overall product than its predecessor, and while it still might not appeal to everyone, its budget price and simple gameplay are more than enough to recommend it to anyone who likes puzzle games or casual games that can be played in small doses. The writing is pretty solid, the game looks and sounds good, and the game is easy enough to play that anyone should be able to pick it up with little difficulty. The puzzles are easy without being childish and challenging enough to be interesting, and the pacing of the game is solid enough that it should keep you interested in small doses. Unfortunately, the game is really meant to be taken in small sittings, as it’s still somewhat short and repeats itself, and while there’s some nice content to keep your interest after you’ve completed the game, it’s unlikely you’ll come back to it more than a handful of times. Overall, though, if you’re looking for a simple puzzle game that can be played in small doses, The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2 is certainly worth a look, as it’s inexpensive, fun, allows short bursts of play that challenge your brain sufficiently, and not terribly involved or complex, allowing nearly anyone to enjoy it without a problem.

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