Ah, good old Sherlock. He hasn't featured in an adventure for... ooh, at least 3 months! But to show there's life in the old 'tec yet, here's a very tasty adventure written by a name I don't know, Ian Eveleigh. Ian's to be congratulated on a very professional game. Apart from the lack of graphics, The Lamberley Mystery probably bears comparison with the old Melbourne House Sherlock. And that's not to denigrate that classic - it just shows how standards have improved in the last few years. One-time revolutionary features are now bog-standard. In fact there are so many features here that I decided to stick them together in a box, leaving me to get on with telling you the story.
It's 1887 and the game begins, as per usual, with Holmes and Watson at home in Baker Street. The first location description's so lengthy it scrolls off the screen, which is a bit of a nuisance as you have to keep typing LOOK to remind you what's in the room (fireplace, table, book shelves and so on). Before long, though, your faithful pageboy enters with a telegram. (Ah, the inevitable telegram!) This is from your little-known brother, Mycroft, who informs you that a friend of his called Dr Fordham will be calling in on you at 11.30. A quick glance at the clock shows that it's 11.06, giving just enough time for a good nose round and a quick tune on the old violin.
Fordham arrives and tells you he's bought a new house only to find the remains of a dead woman in the garden. Hopkins of the Yard seems to be getting nowhere with his investigations, so Mycroft suggested Holmes might be the ideal man for the job. Yes indeed, we've all heard of Ideal Holmes. (You're fired. Ed)
While the game's just chocka with detail, it does have a few features that could have been improved, so making it easier for beginners. If you don't quiz Fordham fully while he's there, he'll scarper without giving you the all-important info about where he lives. That'll leave you with a street full of hansom cabs outside your front door, but no directions to give the chirpy cockney driver. So where will you go? Nowhere, that's where.
While we're on the faults, another is the way it uses containers. You might open a drawer and find an object inside, or even just examine the hat stand in the hall to learn there's a coat on it. Try to GET COAT and you'll be told you can't see one. The new player might think there's a fault in the program, and not realise that you have to type GET COAT FROM HAT STAND to make it work. There's no credit to PAWS that I can see, but this is a sign that it's been used, with the hat stand designated as a container (so therefore what's in it isn't regarded by the program as being in the same location as the player). A bit naughty.
On the other hand, there's a lot of good stuff that lifts Lamberley out of the ordinary. Plenty of other characters wander around, going about their business. Press the bell in Holmes's sitting room and the landlady Mrs Hudson pops in with a beef sandwich! And in the hall there's a stool where the pageboy sits waiting to open the door for visitors when he's got nothing else to do. There's a cash balance given, and this alters as you pay cab drivers, buy rail tickets and so on.
The game's in 3 parts, hence I suppose the slightly higher price, but unlike most 3-parters you don't automatically progress from one to 2 to 3. You can move to any part any time you like, and as often as you like, with instructions given when you save your game in order to load it into the next part. As far as I can see, you will need to come back to Part 1 at least once. With the problem-solving part of the game, however, it is more a case of slow logical progression while you discover what's happened and try to sort it all out. It'll have more appeal to the experienced player because you'll need to come up with the right questions to ask the right people at the right time, and those aren't always easy to figure out (or get word perfect). The Lamberley Mystery isn't a great game. But it's a pretty damn good one.
The Lamberley Mystery has got some innovatory features that you'd be more likely to find on a 16-bit game, which always makes an adventure more interesting to play. Type MENUS and across the top of the screen you get 4 genuine WIMP-type drop-down menus. Coo. First is BUFFER, which includes an OOPS command that allows you to take back the last move, and a choice between RAMSAVE and AUTOSAVE. The latter is a RAMSAVE that automatically happens every 10 moves, if you select it. Other menus are ACCESS for saving/loading commands, EXIT to get back to the game, and KEYS, which gives you what 16-bit people refer to as stored macro commands. This means you can put lengthy inputs onto a single keyboard key, in this case the 1 or 2 keys. If there's a command you think you'll be using regularly, and that isn't one of the game's many abbreviations, just stick it on one of these keys so that every time you press the 1 key it types something like FOLLOW WATSON or HIT THE RED DRAGON WITH THE SWORD (or whatever).
Across the top of the screen is a permanent status line, giving your score, the date, time and how much cash you've got. Most of the regular commands can be typed in as one or 2 letters, eg X for EXAMINE, L for LOOK, A for AGAIN or T for TWO... sorry, T for TAKE.
There are occasions when you'll want time to pass more quickly, for example on train and cab rides. Here you can choose WAIT (WA or Z) for time to pass in one minute intervals, SLEEP (SL or C) for 15-minute intervals, or HOUR (HO or 0) for, yup, hourly intervals. B or BACK is a useful little command you don't often see, and this simply takes you back to the previous location. AGAIN repeats the last command, and FOLLOW (F) allows you to tag on to a character who's just left your location, provided you type it at once. For example, where does Mrs Hudson go after she's delivered the beef sandwich? Just F Mrs Hudson and you'll find out.
Doors open automatically, if you have the right key, and so do cab doors if you HAIL A CAB, PAY DRIVER and you automatically cough up the right fare (no tip). You can (indeed must) QUESTION people you meet, and you can SAY TO WATSON "READ THE TELEGRAM" and he might just do it. An example of the complexities lurking in the program is that you can also use a command like SAY TO WATSON "FIND DR FORDHAM" and it might just work. Then again, it might not, but what have you lost? Finally HELP gets you a lovely Holmesian response.
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