Game Theory: The Adventures of the Tentacled Cosmic Spawn

Game Theory: The Adventures of the Tentacled Cosmic Spawn

A sinister cult is trying to awaken the Great Old One Cthulhu from his watery slumber, and only Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson can stop it from happening!

No, it’s not a description of my high school fan fiction (well, actually, it is, but let’s not talk about that); it’s the premise behind Frogware’s latest Holmes game: Sherlock Holmes—The Awakened. Recruiting Holmes into the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft is a popular geek pastime that sometimes actually works.

With The Awakened, the exercise gets a solid 3D presentation and narrative that reminds us of the more sedate pleasures of the puzzle-adventure game. Adventure gaming never quite dies but continues to dwell in a shadow realm, on the fringe of the mainstream. Each time I play a new example of this genre, it reminds me of a time when the puzzle-adventure was the dominate PC genre, in the golden days of Sierra and LucasArts. The ascendancy of 3D action gaming signaled the decline of the narrative adventure, and it has never—and likely will never—recover its position.

Yet these games still reward the person who adjusts to their slower pacing. As always, I only really understood that when seeing such a game through the eyes of another. My son sat by my side for about an hour as I played through The Awakened. Since the environments are in 3D, he assumed it was another action game. When we’d approach a character, he’d say, “Can you shoot him?” “No, I have to talk to him,” I explained. When he saw that Holmes carried a knife, he asked, “Can you use that as a weapon?” “No, but I can use it to cut this rope in order to open the trap door,” I said.

At that, he began to get it. He began suggesting places to search, items to combine, ways to test and examine objects back at 221B. And slowly, he got caught up in the story, the puzzles, the process. He adjusted his expectations and took the game on its own terms. Sometimes, we need to step away from the latest 3D adrenaline rush, slow down, light a pipe, pick up a magnifying glass, and let pure story take us where it will.

Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is Editor-at-Large of Games Magazine

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