Sherlock Holmes and The Silver Earring from Frogwares was first released on CD in 2004 and is now available as a download. It’s a point and click adventure with dozens of characters and clues. The mystery is excellent, but gameplay is ugly, with large rooms, tiny clues, and insufficient tutorials. Adventure lovers who like feeling they’ve worked really hard to solve a mystery will be satisfied, but many players will find the game frustrating when compared to more smoothly-designed competitors.
Holmes and Watson have been called in for a little undercover sleuthing in preparation for an Important Birthday Party. But while doing a background check on one of the entertainers, they witness a murder and "The game’s afoot!" Graphics are fine, if not impressive, and the voice acting is mostly very good. You can wander anywhere you want in most locations, and the story is complex and interesting.
However, the gameplay is just awful. I play a lot of adventure games, so it wasn’t too hard for me to figure out that a right-click would bring up the inventory screen. But everything about the navigation is harder than it should be. If you find a document clue, you have to go through 5 steps to read it: pick it up, find it in inventory and click READ, see a brief statement, click the journal tab, then find it in the journal index. There’s no indication which document you just picked up, and sometimes you get documents for free, so you’re constantly rereading to make sure you didn’t miss any clues.
Character movement is just as awkward. Sometimes you can just click on part of the scene to move in that direction. Sometimes you have to find specific hot spots. Some areas look completely open, but your character won’t go there. There’s a map in your journal, but no room labels. Also, there’s a weird journal feature where you can swap between Watson and Holmes, who are often in different rooms. I did this by accident a couple of times, and it was very confusing.
Even the conversation mechanics are awkward. After you click on someone, you get a topic list, but you always have to ask about everything to proceed. If you want to ask about something in inventory, you select the item and hover it over the character. There are no choices and no branching. Pretty soon you feel you might as well have just clicked on the character once and then sat back and listened.
Physical clues are often tiny and unmemorable, so you have to resort to either a walkthrough or a pixel search to find everything.
You can’t name your save files, but at least they show a thumbnail picture of where you were.
There are several untimed logic puzzles in the game. Lots of sequence puzzles and adding things up to particular numbers. They’re OK, but not very interesting. All the lab work back at Baker Street turns out to be trial and error and gets repetitive.
There is also one place where you have to sneak past a guard. I can guarantee you’re going to get caught here the first time, because the solution depends on finding two specific hot spots just to get your character to move. You have to get past this guard twice. I had to replay 3 times to get through, and it just felt frustrating since the only issue was clicking in the precise place at the precise moment.
There is a Quiz at the end of each chapter that explains how the clues fit into the mystery. Some people will find it annoying, but I thought it was a good feature for a Holmes game.
There is one timed maze. It was decent and fit the story. Just save before you start.
There are multiple murders in the story, but nothing too graphic, and everything fits well with the atmosphere. There were a few slip-ups diehard Holmes fans will notice, like one early on where Holmes says he doesn’t read newspapers when we know he reads them diligently looking for hidden crimes.
The mystery, as I mentioned, is really good, with many different characters, evidence from multiple locations, and even a chance for Holmes to get into one of his famous disguises. It’s just that it’s so much work to collect everything! More than once I thought I’d finished a scene and had to go back through multiple rooms to figure out what I’d missed. A walkthrough will help, but a game shouldn’t have so many places where even experienced players can get stuck.
People just looking for an entertaining adventure story might prefer something with more play and less work, like the Nancy Drew series. Fans of deep adventure games should also try a newer title like Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern, which has much more sophisticated game mechanics. Still, the developers deserve credit for creating an original and interesting Holmes story, and players willing to put in the work will find the mystery rewarding.