We've had quite a few Sherlock Holmes send-up adventures over the past year, so it's good to see someone going back to the original character and producing a terrific adventure as a result - knowing that the Sherlock character and stories are safely out of copyright, of course.
This is a two-part text-only adventure, so how come there are four programs on the tape? Elementary, my dear readers. The first prog's an intro and the last prog's a free bonus adventure called Yuppie. This revolves around a day in the life of an aspiring yuppie, Nigel Ffoulkes-Smythe. It's amusingly done, and raised a few chuckles from me.
The intro program, which is written in Basic, loads up a menu from which you can choose several options. There are the credits and some brief adverts (and no, I don't mean they're adverts for briefs!), with lists of some of the commands each adventure understands. Useful in Smuggler will be X for examine, Z to wait, ALL commands, FIND (another character), TALK TO/QUESTION/ACCUSE (another character), TS/TL for tape save/load and RS/RL for RAM save/load. Yuppie has even more interesting commands, like PROPOSE, REMOVE and INSERT, though sadly I didn't get far enough into the adventure to try those out.
Back at Smuggler, the scene-setting story is a really well-written piece, an extract from Dr Watson's casebook that's full of the feeling of the original Holmes stories. In fact it reads to me like it must have come from a real Conan Doyle story - either that or programmer Patrick Walsh is very good at pastiche (this month's big word).
In the intro you meet Victor Wathley, who's consulting Holmes about his uncle, George Wathley. George has been a tea-importer for 20 years, and is a very wealthy man, though Victor suspects the wealth may have more to do with importing opium, alcohol and other such stuff than just the old PG Tips. But he also suspects that someone has a hold on his uncle, and is forcing him to do this, so he wants to know if Holmes can help. He shows Sherlock a note he found at his uncle's house on a recent visit, which says 'REMEMBER JOHNSON, YOU WILL GET THE SAME'. Holmes recalls the recent murder of Nathaniel Johnson, whose body had a note attached which showed two crossed swords. This is the symbol of the Fellowship of the Swords, a masonic-like society. Holmes arranges to meet Victor at his uncle's house in Horsham, where they then find the decapitated body of the uncle lying in a pool of blood. Your task as Holmes is to find the killer, the weapon and the motive.
On loading up the first part, it's 2pm and there you are outside Wathley's country house with Watson, Victor and a headless corpse at your feet. Don't tread in the blood, it could be evidence. Watson finds a button and a note on the body - the note, needless to say, has two crossed swords on it. Victor runs off to fetch the fuzz, leaving you and Watson to explore.
In the entrance hall you find a walking stick, with an ivory tip and a top that's encrusted with diamonds. This suggests robbery wasn't the motive, though the stick requires a close examination. A fire is still burning in the grate, so the crime must have been fairly recent. If you can find the secret room, which is none too difficult, you will unearth a diary which explains quite a lot about what's been going on. You also trigger off an amusing little message, where Watson's startled by a spider that runs up his trouser leg. As you point out what it is he brushes it off "and tries to regain his usual air of dignity". There are quite a few of these random messages which add to the enjoyment of the game.
As I played further into it, I found it very slightly disappointing - not that it's bad, not at all, just that I think more could have been made of it, when so much trouble has been taken with the story background. There aren't too many problems, and those that are there are comparatively easy - more a case of examining objects to find clues, and watching your score slowly mount up. You hope.
This certainly didn't put me off the game, but it shows the difficulty of adapting a Holmes-like investigation into an adventure game. It can be done, but I think you need a bit of problem-solving to your evidence-gathering. It's a different approach to an adventure game, I suppose, as you're faced more with the way things would be in the real world - a lot of objects to examine and to see what you can make of them, rather than just trying to get through locked doors, although there's one of those for you too!
There's also the traditional adventure bug, which I hope the author sorts out. In Wathley's bedroom, if you open the wardrobe you're told there's a coat inside, which then appears in the location description. Try to GET COAT, and you're informed that it ain't there! GET COAT FROM WARDROBE? Nope. ENTER WARDROBE? Nope. EXAMINE COAT, WEAR COAT? OPEN WARDROBE, CLOSE WARDROBE? Nope, can't be done. I checked the hint sheet I'd been given, which suggested it would be useful to me if I got something from Wathley's wardrobe. I wish I could.
Assuming that bug's sorted out, this'll be an excellent game to play as what I saw of the rest of it was perfectly bug-free. The inclusion of a few tougher problems would have improved it, but it still rates very highly for entertainment value and professionalism. It's the first time I've heard of Patrick Walsh and Mental Image, but if The Case Of The Beheaded Smuggler's anything to go by it won't be the last.