As an avid fan of detective mysteries, I'm always looking forward to the next entry in the Sherlock Holmes games. While the series began to stagger a bit with the last title, Sherlock Holmes: The Devils Daughter, It's obvious that developer Frogwares took inspiration from their previous game The Sinking City, and brought some of those ideas into the world of Sherlock Holmes. From the start of the beta build I played it was obvious that this reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes games is looking to change things in a big way and in the best way possible.
It's hard to imagine that a Sherlock Holmes game hasn't had an open-world setting until now. Sherlock Holmes and his stories seem perfect for an open world, and while the previous entries in the Frogwares Holmes titles had experimented with less linear stages, it's never been as open and engaging as it is in Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One. If there's one thing the Sherlock Holmes games have been good at is the convincing world the games take place in. The art direction, camera work, and general vibe given by the game's characters helped immerse me in the mystery and world of its fictional 1880's Mediterranean island of Cordona.
Crime and Punishments
Like the other games in the series, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One doesn't hold your hand whatsoever. While there is the option for custom difficulty settings and you can get hints from characters in-game as well as Holmes notebook, you still have to find every clue as well as use deductive reasoning to figure out who the suspects are and if you want to convict them. Even though this may seem like a pain in the ass at first, it's a rewarding experience coming to your own conclusions and putting the pieces of the puzzle together at your own pace.
Gameplay in Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is a much more fluid and natural feeling than previous entries. While the game is more hardcore in its non-hand holding approach, I never felt lost or frustrated. This is due in part to the game's concentration mode where you can focus on your surroundings and easily spot items and people of importance. In addition to this, the game also contains dialogue options and the ability to enter Sherlock's "mind palace" and piece the clues together into a web of evidence that can lead to various branching paths. While I won't give away too much, I was able to go back into a previously saved game and get different results by coming to a different conclusion. The gameplay loop here suggests that there's quite a bit of replay value here.
The game also features various abilities and scenarios that take advantage of Sherlock Holmes' legendary set of skills such as eavesdropping, character observations, and the ability to change your appearance. All of these skills had their own unique use and gameplay mechanics tied to them. For example, when eavesdropping on a pair of maids I had to select the important bits of info Sherlock overheard while racing against a timer. If I selected the wrong info it would deduct time from me and force me to start over. By making more mundane gameplay elements more interactive, I felt like I was actually gathering evidence instead of just playing to get to the next checkpoint.
A Worthy Start
I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of fun I was having gathering evidence and that's one of the biggest takeaways from my short time with Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One. By making traditionally boring gameplay elements in mystery games such as eavesdropping, journal entries, and questioning NPC's more interactive and engaging, I found myself enjoying the mystery-solving part of the game much more than I ever would have thought. Now, this isn't to say the game didn't have its set of issues during my demo time as well. There were a few spots where I didn't quite know what to do next simply due to the game not letting me snap my view to a clue easily and causing me to overlook a few things. The map and journal can be a bit overwhelming if you don't check it often and early on it took me a bit of adjusting to figure out how the game wanted me to use its toolset. Regardless, these are small problems that didn't really affect my overall experience.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is looking to elevate the series in the best way possible. From its excellently crafted and intriguing world to its cinematic camera work and visuals, and its intuitive and fun gameplay. This game is definitely shaping up to be a worthy sequel to one of the better mystery game series out now and is totally worth looking into if you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes, mystery games, or just want to play something that makes you think a bit.
Techraptor previewed Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One with a Seam code provided by the game's publisher. The game comes to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S on November 16th, with a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One port following later.