Sherlock Holmes:
The Secret of the Silver Earring

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

(March, 2013)

Just as Sir Melvyn Bromsby begins his speech at a welcome home reception for his daughter Lavinia, he is shot dead, in full view of numerous guests and onlookers. It appears that the shot came from the doorway where Lavinia was standing, thus she is the primary suspect in the opinion of the investigating police. However, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are tasked with finding the true killer, even if it is Lavinia. Holmes begins his investigation, assisted by Watson. Later they are joined by Inspector Lestrade.

The storyline is interesting. The graphics are crisp and clear, for the most part. Dark scenes usually are lightened when Holmes lights a lamp, although the night time outdoor scenes at the cement factory remain fairly dark which inhibits the play somewhat. The music is enjoyable and compliments the story without being intrusive. The navigational elements are cumbersome. Holmes is moved by placing the cursor on small footprint icons within the scene. Sometimes he moves "as instructed," sometimes not. Sometimes he blunders into a wall or table and gets a bit stuck there. Sometimes, Holmes needs to move to another area but there are no footprint icons. At best, he just ambles at the urging of the regular cursor, which is an icon of the famous Sherlock Holmes smoking pipe. At worst, he does nothing or turns in an annoying circle then walks straight into an immovable object such as a wall, or couch, or desk.

The game is divided into five game-days. By day two, I thought I was beginning to get the hang of things like how to use the appropriate tool when Holmes announces, "I need something." (Rather than shouting at the monitor screen, "What? What do you need?!?") Holmes has a test tube, a measuring tape, and a magnifying glass in his inventory for use on examining things he finds of interest and for collecting evidence. Evidence is held in the inventory until such time as Holmes returns to 221B Baker Street to analyze it.

Among the many things this game is programmed to be picky about, each and every scrap of paper, letter, or photograph must be read by the player. Not just read but clicked on in the journal as proof it's been read. Ironically, the player can click on the items without actually reading them, and get "credit" for them or actually read them but forget to click on the item in the journal and not get credit for them. The items will have to be read at some point, for the clues they contain. Not clicking on the item(s) in the journal may (and usually does at some point) prevent progress in the game.

I think it would be nearly impossible to finish playing this game without the use of the strategy guide or tips from other players on the forum.

It is difficult to rely only on the strategy guide because while it seems to be explaining how and what to do, the player will find the explanations confusing and frustrating when applied to the actual game. Case in point, when the guide instructs the player to hide behind the wheelbarrow for one maneuver and then advises the player to hide behind the wagon for another, similar maneuver while trying to move through an outdoor area and avoid a guard and a guard dog, the player returns to the game confident in what to do next only to find that technically there are three "wheelbarrow" like structures which the strategy guide might be referring to and, there is a "wagon" (or horse drawn cart-like object) which the strategy guide later refers to as a "wagon" but first refers to as a "wheelbarrow."

For my own preferences, I hate hand/eye coordination elements in a game and I hate timed sequences, unless there is a skip option that I can employ after attempting the task or puzzle several times on my own. I was "not best pleased" as the Brits say to find myself facing not only one but two timed elements in this game. The object in the first timed element is to sneak past a patrolling guard and a guard dog in the cement factory's grounds, late at night, in the dark, to enter the office building and then later from the office building across to the warehouse. I made it to the office building and safely inside after 20 or so frustrating attempts. From the office building to the warehouse was considerably more challenging. After 15 minutes of repeated tries and having to listen to Holmes' bad grammar referring to how he hopes "the guards does not see" him, the game ceased to be fun. After two additional hours of repeated attempts to reach the warehouse — click, click, click..."What? Who goes there?"...start over — it was sheer stubbornness that kept me pounding the poor computer mouse, tapping none too gently, click, click, click...expletive, start over, click, click, click, expletive, expletive, start over! At one point, I seriously considered trying to stab the guard, whose name appears to be Marty, with the knife that was added to our inventory sometime ago for no apparent reason.

I finally consulted the online forum. I found no answers there, only other gamers who were experiencing the same failure I was encountering, and others who announced the game wasn't fun anymore and they were giving up. Quitting.

Frustrating as the game had become, I was determined to figure a way through this obstacle. I kept getting caught at the warehouse door, key in hand but not in the lock. Once I re-evaluated what needed to be done and figured out what I was doing wrong (Hint: don't move before the guard dog has reached the outermost point in his patrol — sounds easier than it is, believe me), the solution was easy. Yes, easy. Got it in one. Whew! The game was back in play for me. (If the player doesn't get past Marty and the guard dog, the game is over and Lavinia is hung for killing her father because Holmes didn't complete the case or reveal who the true killer was.)

A short time later, there is a second timed incident, rather like escaping from a maze. Holmes must trek through a forest, find some old ruins, discover the evidence he seeks is on fire, "race" back to a pond he passed on his way to the ruins, stopping to pick up a bucket along the way, get some water and "race" back to the fire and douse it.

Ha! Holmes couldn't outrun a blind, three-legged tortoise in this game if his life depended upon it because the game's mechanics barely allow Holmes to move at all, when it is crucial. If the player doesn't hit each "hotspot" the Holmes character just stands in place, or does a circle, or walks off into a rock or tree. It took a full 10 seconds to get Holmes to turn left off the path he was on to the next path on the way back to the burning ruins. 10 seconds may not sound like much but when the game is timed, with only 60 seconds to complete the twisted journey along the paths, both to and from the pond, and still have time to compel the clumsy Holmes character to actually throw the bucket of water on the flames, well 10 seconds for one turn out of many means the task won't be successfully completed, the game is over, and Lavinia is hung, again.

I gave the fire-to-pond-to-fire task a few tries; all unsuccessful. I couldn't even find the ruins in the first place, and once the timed portion of the game began, I couldn't find my way back to the bucket or the pond. Poor Lavinia died at my hands in every attempt.

My gaming partner managed to traverse the paths from the fire at the ruins to the pond and back segment of the game successfully and impressively, I might add, after only 20 minutes! He relied on a tip from the online forum — if you can get Holmes and the bucket to the pond in under 30 seconds, SAVE YOUR GAME! and then work on the return trip. Finally Lavinia was saved from the hangman's gallows long enough at least for Holmes to announce who the killers were and who killed whom.

The end of the game was disappointing and unsatisfying to me (except that I was glad to be done!). The conclusion was laborious and tedious — with a lengthy, boring, convoluted, and seemingly never-ending exposition by Holmes. First the player was asked to guess who killed who. If incorrect, the player has the option of guessing again or getting on with the end of the game, which only involves the player listening while the Holmes character expounds his theories. I managed to name Sir Bromsby's killer (I had suspected that murderer from the very beginning). I hadn't figured out correctly who killed the rest of the victims. Rather than continue guessing, I chose the "let Holmes explain it all" ending right away. Best to get it over with, I thought, though I didn't realize at the time how long-winded Holmes was going to be.

There are several Sherlock Holmes games available that are more interesting and more fun to play than Sherlock Holmes: The Secret of the Silver Earring. One of my favorites is from the same company that created this game. It is Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles.

I strongly encourage players to use the one-hour free trial, when available, before purchasing the Sherlock Holmes games. In my opinion, Sherlock Holmes: The Secret of the Silver Earring is more frustrating but more interesting to play than Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Persian Carpet. Both of these games are more interesting and easier to play than Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy.

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is also by the same company. I haven't finished playing that game yet, so I won't comment on it for now.

The list price for this game is $9.99. I chose it for free after purchasing a requisite number of other games. Again, I am sorry to say, I did not follow my own advice. Try the game before you buy it!

I bought the $6.99 strategy guide at a discounted $5.99 but it is practically useless. Explanations and diagrams are confusing or non-existent when and where players need help the most.

Game System Requirements:

OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8
CPU: 1.0 GHz
RAM: 256 MB
DirectX: 9.0
Hard Drive: 1477 MB

Game Manager System Requirements:

Browser: Internet Explorer 7 or later

Link to: Sherlock Holmes: The Secret of the Silver Earring

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