Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Review code provided free of charger by the publisher.
Frogware have carved out an interesting niche for themselves in the form of their Sherlock Holmes series, which currently has no real competition. To my knowledge they are unique within the gaming world, which is probably why the many fans that play the series are willing to put up with its rough edges. Now Frogwares are back with another new adventure, so have they managed to tidy things up in their quest to bring more action to Sherlock? Spoiler; nope.
Surprisingly both Sherlock and his best-bud-forever Watson have somehow grown younger and gained new voice actors, despite this being a continuation of Frogwares’ Crimes & Punishments. With their new design comes an altered personality, too. If you’re used to the incredibly blunt, anti-social Sherlock Holmes of the TV series or Robert Downey JR. flicks then Frogwares’ version might leave you feeling a little confused. He’s actually a surprisingly nice chap, and only occasionally exhibits some of the more famous Holmes personality traits. Hell, he even seems to be entirely drug free and never really insults anyone. As such he often feels like one of the least Sherlock-esque Sherlock to ever grace a screen, and that’s a huge mistake because if you remove the Sherlock traits then what you end up with is another generic hero who just so happens to be pretty good at solving cases. Frogwares’ new version of the character strays worrying close to crossing over that line.
Like before most of your time will still be spent idly wandering around environments (either in 1st or 3rd person) looking at various objects, talking to folk or reading documents that will help you solve whatever current case is giving you a headache. These objects, dialogue choices and pieces of paper need to be carefully observed because they can provide useful hints that aid in solving the mystery that has been laid out before you. In one instance, for example, it was a single sentence contained within a letter that convinced me to accuse a specific suspect. When it comes to combining clues and drawing conclusions everything is handled in a swirling area that represents Sherlock’s mind. In here you can join up clues to form new ideas which will be added to a large neural map. These typically have two possible deductions that you can pick from, such as simply deciding if you think someone is lying or telling the truth, or if their electrical knowledge would be enough to construct a deadly trap that you encountered earlier. You can always alter you decisions later, but neurons will connect to form new trains of thought as well from which you’ll have to draw further conclusions. Once enough are joined they’ll form a potential answer to the case close, accompanied by a moral choice that asks how you’d like to treat the accused, be it letting them go or perhaps sending them off to a mental hospital. But there isn’t a single outcome. You can’t simply switch conclusions around until they form the answer for you. Cases will typically have two or three different outcomes that you can pick from, and the game’s brilliance is that it rarely makes the correct answer too obvious, although I have to say that Crimes and Punishments was far more subtle with its hints. It’s this lack of complete clarity that makes you feel like a genuine detective, leaving you to pick through all the acquired documentation, dialogue, character portraits and other information for anything that could help convince you of your choice. There’s only one moment where this really, really slips up, and it comes because the writers so blatantly attempt to generate sympathy that they give the game away.
Some of the old problems still remain with this system, though, like how the game will state that certain deductions are incompatible with others, despite that not actually being true. There also remains the rather silly fact that the game won’t let you leave a location until you’ve interacted with every marked hotspot and gathered up all the clues, which sort of makes a mockery of being a detective. Surely if I miss clues and facts that should be a part of the game? Should I miss a vital piece of evidence and then proceed to condemn the wrong person to death that should be something I have to live with. Even more baffling is how occasionally the game will stop this hand-holding and suddenly leaving you a tad lost for a brief period of time where it’s not entirely clear what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s a contrast in a game unsure if it wants you actually be Sherlock Holmes and figure things out, or just wants you to pretend to be Sherlock.
Like before the cases themselves all stand as separate tales of murder and intrigue, but running through them is a main narrative involving Sherlock’s daughter Kate and a mysterious woman by the name of Alice who has moved into Baker Street. It’s an intriguing little story with a reasonable enough premise, yet it does suffer from never being given enough space to breathe since Sherlock’s cases make up the majority of the runtime. There’s a lack of build toward the finale, too; you finish up a regular case and then suddenly get thrust into the final sequence, a sequence that also feels slightly out of place with the tone of the rest of the game thanks to awkward jump cuts. As for Watson he gets uncaringly pushed to the side throughout all of this, his character constantly making excuses to be elsewhere, and when he is present his entire existence is superfluous to what’s going on. Not once does he ever add anything of note to the story.
So what of the cases themselves? There are a couple of engaging stories, but overall they feel weaker than Crime & Punishments tales. You’ll investigate the strange instance of a statue seemingly coming to life and murdering someone with a spear, a baffling road accident and a spate of disappearances. In total there’s four cases to tackle that vary wildly in length and complexity; the first is simple and short, the second is quite lengthy and much more involved before you move onto a fairly “eh” case and then a short one with very limited travel. Less time seems to have been given to fleshing out the people and the cases in general, leading to some of the weakest writing the series has seen yet. Motivations are properly established, exposition is curtailed. This feels like it’s because of the heavier focus on action, a choice made to keep the pace quicker than ever before. Because of that, though, the storytelling suffers. Perhaps most importantly The Devil’s Daughter feels like it’s easier to nail the right person. Maybe I’ve grown better at paying attention to the details or become more adept at my deductive reasoning, but it’s a lot more likely that The Devil’s Daughter is simply easier than its predecessor. To be fair, however, this could be a deliberate design decision by the developers since one can argue that Crime & Punishment’s cases were sometimes a bit too fuzzy so that pointing a finger felt more like making an educated guess.
Other established mechanics return, such as forming a character portrait by examining a person and picking out potential clues. The only change this time around is that sometimes you’ll be given the chance to choose between two possibilities, such as whether an occult piece of jewelry is simply an affectation or indicative of a belief. You can also occasionally interrupt someone mid-sentence by selecting a piece of evidence that contrasts their statement, provided you’ve located said evidence beforehand.
Other small aspects of the game haven’t changed or been expanded upon, which is slightly disappointing. You can still perform research by trawling through newspapers and encyclopedias, and occasionally get to take a piece of evidence to the analysis table where you go through a somewhat tedious process of doing a few things like using a pipette to apply a specific solution. Like before Sherlock can disguise himself by changing outfits, altering his hair and applying a moustache or full beard, but it’s a mechanic that appears a mere twice and still feels like it needs some serious attention from the developers to turn it into something worthwhile.
Where the game really trips over its feet is almost everything it attempts to do outside of its core detective mechanics. With Sherlock and Watson’s new look and new-found youth comes more emphasis on action, but the problem is that the game engine isn’t built for that, so what we get are lots and lots of quick-time events or awkward stealth sequences. It’s like a poor man’s Uncharted, which is a shame because I’m not adverse to the game’s taking a few cues from Robert Downey JR’s portrayal of Holmes provided it’s done in moderation. The game provides a very example of its own follies when you take control of a different character in order to tail a suspect. You’ve got to run between marked pieces of cover to avoid detection using a loose control system that was never designed for accuracy or speed, and somehow the developers manage to jam a short sting as a chimney sweep into the mission where a terrible mini-game has you literally cleaning out soot and coal to progress. You bloody what? There’s also a sequence which involves Sherlock running away from a hunter, trying to take cover behind trees while managing a stamina bar which goes on for far, far too long and was so horribly botched in its execution that I briefly entertained the idea of throwing my computer out the window. Thankfully there’s an option to skip most of these, including the bloody awful stealth sections. Somehow, though, nobody thought it might be an idea to let people skip the hunting bit. Muppets. At least the QTEs are sort of enjoyable. Provided you nail then correctly they make Sherlock seem quite amazing.
Oh, and somehow the developers manage to fit in a bowls segment using clumsy physics in what has to be the most blatantly obviously example of trying to pad out runtime ever seen. Bowls? BOWLS!? Who picks up a Sherlock game to play bloody bowls?
Sticking a pipe in my mouth an affecting a terrible English accent (I’m Scottish) to examine the graphics it became quickly clear that The Devil’s Daughter is something of a mixed bag across the board. There are plenty of examples of very nice texture work that lend the world a more authentic feel, something which comes in handy since the developers have decided to add a few locations where you have some space to wander the streets of London, soaking up the atmosphere of bickering folk and dirty cobblestones. These small areas, though, only really serve to make you wish for larger environments since in their current state they add absolutely nothing to the game aside from a touch of atmosphere. With some larger environments the door would be open for more expansive cases that compliment the smaller, more intimate ones. On the flipside there are also quite a lot of blurry textures that stand out and animations often appear stiff and unnatural, something which becomes even more noticeable during conversations with characters where their face looks….well, odd. Because of that you can’t really read somebody during one of the disappointingly rare interrogation scenes.
The audio work is much the same; inconsistent. Environmental details like the creak of wood and the sound of footsteps falling on stone are strong and crisp, and frankly sound more realistic than I typically hear. The voice actor for Sherlock does a reasonable job, while Watson sounds flat and lifeless. The rest of the cast does a solid job, with the exception of Alice and Kate. Sherlock’s daughter grates on the ears, and Alice…well, it’s not good.
Although I have to commend the developers for at least attempting to change and improve their Sherlock Holmes series, their decision to go for more action-orientated style rather than expanding and improving on what makes the series so enjoyable hurts the game, creating a weaker title overall. Amidst the daft QTE sequences, though, remains what fans have come to love about the game; compelling mysteries. They aren’t quite as well written as Crime and Punishment’s cases, but they are still a lot of fun to solve. In other words the game is at its very best when it lets you run around pretending to be Sherlock Holmes and muttering, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” under your breath. If you’ve yet to experience the series go and pick up Crimes and Punishments first. If you’re a veteran then you’ll still want to pick this one up, even if the action sequences might make it worth waiting for a sale first.