2004’s Secret of the Silver Earring, originally known as The Case of the Silver Earring and sometimes known as simply The Silver Earring, was Frogwares’ second stab at a Sherlock Holmes adventure, and it’s much more like what you’d expect from the concept. Based on an unpublished novel by the game’s main writer, Jalil Amr, Silver Earring switched from a puzzle heavy mystery mansion set up to a more classic investigator concept with a focus on character interaction. It still wasn’t quite what the rest of the series would be like, but it was a major building block in what would come.
The story follows Holmes and Watson going to a birthday party to look into a famous singer on the behest of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft. Said party is for Sir Melvyn Bromsby’s daughter Lavinia, and as you’d expect from a party where Sherlock Holmes was attending, the elder Bromsby is shot in the middle of the room at the start of a speech and dies on the spot, the shooter vanishing I the crowd. Sherlock takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of things in a week long investigation, and things only become more complicated the longer things go on. Add in pressure from the government to get things settled around Bromsby’s missing will (the man being a construction mogul and a major gear in the economy), and you have quite the chaotic case.
For an original story, Silver Earring is quite solid. There’s a ton of thought in how every event ties into the core mystery and how it affects it, not to mention the reasoning behind every decision each character makes. This could have been mistaken as a classic Sherlock Holmes tale itself in a lot of ways, especially in how Holmes is characterized. Now actually having people to bounce off of, you get full view of Holmes’ egotistical personality, along with his classic deductions and moments of humanity.
The actor they picked for Sherlock is pitch perfect, though he’s still getting a feel for the role here. Fast talking, a bit snotty, emotions restrained, and feeling like he’s in control even in a bad situation. Watson’s was also a good pick, but he’s directed in this one to be a bit too comedic, sounding inept when he really isn’t. Everyone else is a crap shoot, the one consistency being the overall focus on camp and exaggeration in accents rather than anything resembling a realistic voice, as was the style at the time. All of this is backed by a great score, a collection of classical music that really get your gears turning, fitting the new tone of this entry. The only major hiccup sound wise is that some performances tend to have audio clipping, which would sadly be a running issue for awhile in this series.
The first person perspective has been replaced in this entry with a more traditional third person one, dividing the areas into multiple screens with set angles. Since you’ll be visiting different places every day, the change makes sense, allowing for a lot of nice looking screens with pre-rendered backdrops. It makes up for the character models being a bit rough, certainly better than in the previous game, but not without a bit of odd details (particularly the eyes).
Unfortunately, the digital version on stores today has issues. While it does properly work on larger resolutions, you’re stuck in a 4:3 ratio, and the UI and certain assists do not scale properly on high resolutions. What this means is that subtitles during play are very small (non-existent in the movie cutscenes), as are the pre-made text documents among your clues.
This means business cards, papers, posters, letters, and everything else in the documents section looks like it was made for ants instead of humans. It is readable, but if you have limited eyesight, you’re not going to be able to play this version comfortably. There is also the issues of the awkward movement, your character having to stop and slowly turn when going in a new direction, and how finicky certain screens can be with showing the foot icons to signify you can move to a new screen.
The game itself is quite fun in the moment to moment. You’ll be looking for clues (including measuring shoe prints), speaking with witnesses with small dialog trees, and solving puzzles to progress through. It’s a solid mix of dialog heavy areas and puzzle heavy areas that feel closer to The Mystery of the Mummy in their structure. Every new day introduces a new element to the case as well, keeping the story interesting and making you second guess just what is occurring. Most of it works quite well as adventure game stuff, getting off on the right foot with an eventful initial night of collecting testimonies and scanning for overlooked details.
You feel like a proper detective, even getting tabs in your UI to keep track of important observations, documents, and testimonies. Inventory puzzles are kept at a minimum, and the majority of the brain teasers put in are quite enjoyable to mess around with. There are some that are a bit much, like the last of the card set puzzles, but it overall works. You even get neat little moments that change up the basic gameplay of exploring, like having to find water and put out a fire before all the clues burn up.
The only real stinker of these moments is the two stealth segments midway through the game. The concept is fine, but the execution is awful, with broken AI in the guard dog that can see you through solid objects. The only way to pass them is to sit on one particular bit of the area and wait for a guard to pass, making it obnoxious trial and error you may not even realize is trial and error for a long while. It shows among online guides, both used for this article never figuring this out. Had to use a youtube playthrough to notice the issue.
The actual case itself is also a derisive point for many. People seem divided on the game almost entirely because of that core mystery, as while it does have a satisfying set of answers, trying to go through all the details to put everything together is absurdly complicated. The game gives quizzes at the end of every day to get you thinking, even making you use gathered evidence to back your claims, but said quiz questions often feel disconnected from the core questions. It often feels like you’re both making progress and none at all at the same time.
There’s no pacing here. You do not answer some questions and get closer to the big ones as you go on to keep things from being dense. Instead, every new event just makes the mystery all the more messy to get at the heart of, not helped by the sheer mountain of text to read through and the surprising amount of red herrings. Your overall enjoyment will come down entirely to how much you like complex mysteries, and if you think you love them, you may get tested here. Suggested you bring a notebook and jolt down anything you see as significant because the in-game notebook is so verbose that finding important details in it is a challenge in itself.
Silver Earring is a somewhat frustrating experience, but it’s difficult to be too mad or upset by it. The team did a lot here you don’t see from many devs in the scene even in the modern day, just lacking the UI design to really make that complexity easy to take in and sort through (see Paradise Killer for a better example of how to do a set up like this). It looks nice, has a lovely score, lots of amusing moments between Sherlock, Watson, and the larger cast of characters, and is ultimately pretty satisfying once you reach the end of the story. The only issue is that getting there will test your ability to put things together, not helped by a few revelations in the ending movies purposefully kept from the player for the sake of a last few set of twists. Nothing major, just stuff it would have been nice to know before.
Frogwares would once again do something different for their third Sherlock Holmes game, learning lessons from what did and didn’t work here and applying it to a new adventure. The strange part is I don’t think anyone was expecting that new adventure to involve Cthulhu. And yet…