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Graphics: An impressive cinematic opening, featuring a long tracking shot that takes the player on a tour of the streets surrounding Holmes’ apartment, starts the game. With all graphics settings at maximum, the images are crystal clear and nicely detailed. This is especially true of the art museum scenarios, during which dozens of famous paintings are meticulously reproduced.
Unfortunately, as good as the background renderings are, they can’t make up for the shortcomings of the character animations. The body movements of Holmes, Watson and the others are wooden and seem to be almost random. Havok ragdoll physics might have been a better choice than the Ageia drivers for this feature. The lip-synch animations are sometimes so far off that you’d swear the characters were speaking a foreign language if you weren’t hearing their voices in English. All reflective surfaces in the game are frosted to avoid having to show characters in mirrors or windows. Also, Dr. Watson must have done some cat burgling of his own in his past. Watson always walks behind Holmes, but in several instances when playing as Holmes, I closed a door behind me, only to find Watson waiting in front of me. And at least once, I watched a wrought-iron door actually pass through Watson’s body as it closed.
Interface: The downfall of many adventure games, including some of the better ones, has been a tedious activity known as pixel hunting. The player moves the mouse pointer across every square millimeter of screen, searching for the one pixel that changes the shape of the pointer, indicating that there’s something there with which to interact. Nemesis takes away much of the drudgery of this gameplay mechanic by allowing you to zero in on these often vital items without physically touching them with the pointer. All you need to do is get within a minimum distance and an icon shows their locations. Map screens feature reproductions of period maps of the actual places, which enhances Nemesis’s already impressive attention to detail, but some of them can be difficult to read and the buttons used for the transportation system can blend into the background. Using a darker color for these buttons would have made them easier to find.
Success in this type of game depends on an intuitive, easy-to-use interface and Nemesis definitely has one. Its only glaring failure is not on-screen, but in the manual. Some puzzles that require the use of the magnifying glass icon to closely examine items cannot be solved without clicking the mouse while looking at a specific spot on the item, something that the game’s documentation fails to mention.
Gameplay: Without physical conflict to manage, Nemesis is dominated by reading, searching and puzzle-solving, and here is where the game is both entertaining and supremely frustrating. There are volumes of information that must be read and interpreted. Some of the game’s mind-benders are simple and rewarding to solve, but there are also puzzles whose clues are so obtuse that only the most observant gamers can figure them out without a walkthrough. Also, the writers have adhered to the Victorian prose style throughout, making some puzzles even more confounding than they already are, and an early-game subplot involving Watson and a back-room turtle race proves to be more distracting than entertaining.
Fortunately, there are a few comic moments, such as watching Lupin surfing in mid-air on a 1500-pound slab of granite while desperate bobbies shoot at him with handguns (which is odd, since British beat cops weren’t allowed to pack heat on duty until more than a century later). There’s also a music puzzle that has Holmes playing pop music supposedly written by a group called the Scarabs, but the sheet music from which he plays is a copy of “Get Back” by the Beatles (get it? Scarabs…Beatles…). Anyway, in the end, there’s more frustration than satisfaction to be had here. Make sure to get that walkthrough.
Sound FX: Ambient sounds such as birds and footsteps are well-rendered, although the footsteps can be inconsistent. Characters sometimes walk on hard surfaces without making a sound, and the character that you do not currently inhabit makes no sound at all, even though he’s usually right behind you all the time. Voice acting is pedestrian at best and embarrassingly over the top at worst, and the default volume settings for sound, music and dialog have to be adjusted so that vital conversation can be heard and understood.
Music: The background score for Nemesis is totally classical, featuring violin solos, piano concerto segments with full orchestra accompaniment and similar elements. They are played very well, but each scenario in the game has its own theme that repeats continuously throughout the segment, and sometimes the mood of the music does not match the situations under which it plays.
Intelligence: Enemy AI is not a factor in Nemesis, as all of your conflicts with Lupin are resolved through puzzle solving. But some good attention is paid to pathfinding issues concerning Watson, who avoids trapping Holmes in inescapable positions by not following him into narrow spaces and walkways. On the other hand, ancillary characters are rarely seen moving from their assigned spots, and the streets of London are almost always deserted. Even a small amount of pedestrian traffic would have made for a more believable setting.
Difficulty: I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: all but the most experienced adventure gamers should have a walkthrough on their desks while playing Nemesis. You might also have to alt-tab out to your favorite search engine as well, unless you happen to know things like which Henry was the youngest when he became king, as in several instances, solving puzzles depends on knowledge not provided by the game. This can make Nemesis frustrating to play, because a single unsolved puzzle can result in one being unable to reach the end.
Overall: You have to admire the developers of Nemesis for their dedication to their craft. Their attention to detail is impressive. The settings, the maps and the character models all help to bring the game to life, but some of the considerable effort devoted to background items should have been diverted to making the gameplay more satisfying. The constant bouncing back and forth from one room to another chasing clues, the necessity for examining galleries full of paintings to find the one needed to solve a puzzle, and the head-scratching difficulty of some of those puzzles make Nemesis a tedious experience that many gamers won’t have the patience to finish.
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