Sherlock Holmes has become the classic go-to for any detective related piece of medium; whether it’s in books, films, or even games. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up reading Sherlock mysteries, watching related shows or playing any relevant games. The developer, Frogwares, is known to pioneer and stake claim on the Sherlock Holmes namepiece in the video game realm, with their first Sherlock game coming out in 2002. Now, they’re taking it back in time to focus on Sherlock’s youth before he became the renowned case solver that he is known for today with Sherlock Holmes Chapter One. What better time for me to get acquainted with this series than now, especially with this next-gen prequel?
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is an open-world third-person detective thriller, starring the titular protagonist himself as he returns to his home island of Cordona to prove himself as a detective and to discover the truth of his mother’s untimely death. There are light combat elements present in the game but they are lightly sprinkled in and can be bypassed entirely if you prefer a true detective game.
“The world looks beautiful, with highly detailed visuals and character models”
Frogwares made the right decision to add convenient fast travel locations scattered throughout the city, given that the game is an open-world title. However, even though residents scatter the streets and go about their activities, the world still feels extremely barren and empty. Everyone says the same exact phrase of “Sorry, I can’t help you with that” if you choose to talk to them. You also can’t fast forward or skip the aforementioned dialogue, so if you tragically press the talk button to a random NPC, get ready to hear the same phrase again and again. Only specific NPC related to your current quest will reply with unique dialogue. Some vendors sell clothes and furniture for your house located throughout Cordona, but that’s about it.
Sherlock Homes Chapter One takes full advantage of next-gen consoles. The world looks absolutely beautiful, with highly detailed visuals and character models. Voice acting is decent for the most part but misses the mark as lip movements do not sync up with the words being spoken. Depending on which district of Cordona you visit, each area looks distinctively different, from the slums of Old City to the canals of Grand Saray.
Gameplay revolves around a handful of key mechanics that may seem very overwhelming at first but becomes second nature by the end of the game. Sherlock contains a journal documenting all the clues and leads he has gathered. Some clues have symbols marked on them, signalling an action for you to take, such as talking to a key person or going into focus mode.
“This reboot of the Sherlock Holmes franchise does not require any knowledge of the previous titles.”
Sherlock can enter a focused state of mind that allows him to track or piece together events in the past. While gathering clues, you are tasked to hover over key items that will become highlighted yellow for you to examine. After enough clues are gathered, Sherlock can meditate and reconstruct the exact event that happened in the past, such as murder. These clues and recollections ultimately lead to artifacts in something called the Mind Palace, a mental board where Sherlock makes deductions.
Certain cases contain combat portions. Combat is not possible outside of these predesignated scenarios. While you are equipped with a pistol that contains unlimited ammo, you are highly discouraged from killing your targets. Instead, you should shoot off an enemy’s armour, then disable them through environmental objects such as shooting at a lamp to cause a mini-explosion, then performing an arrest on them, which requires some quick-time events. You also can dodge roll to evade incoming attacks. Dressing up in different attire for a particular case is also necessary. You can now fulfil your fashion and crime-solving cravings in a two for one deal!
Fortunately, this seeming reboot of the Sherlock Holmes franchise does not require any knowledge of the previous titles, as it doesn’t necessarily fall canon to the lore and story of previous iterations. You will also notice that Sherlock’s partner in crime, Doctor John Watson, is missing, and instead replaced with another mysterious figure also called Jon. The narrative, for the most part, is quite competent, filled with twists and turns, depending on the decisions you make while solving cases.
“Unfortunately, the game suffers from a few performance issues on the PlayStation 5.”
The game contains five main cases, all centred around restoring Sherlock’s memories of his old childhood home and the death of his mother. Each main case generally involves some side cases as well, bringing genuine immersion with the residents of Cordona. Completing only the main quests landed me around a measly 9 hours of playtime, but there’s quite a lot of side ventures to undertake as well.
There’s a multitude of activities to do in the city of Cordona, including assisting the police on their cases as well as busting bandit lairs. Each side case is generally self-contained but provides an interesting enough slice of mystery to satisfy that detective itch. There’s more content coming in the deluxe version of the game, with extra cases to solve, but that comes at an added cost. It’s nice to see what the different outcomes of your decisions might be, but I’m not sure if that warrants another playthrough.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from a few performance issues on the PlayStation 5. From screen tearing to severe stuttering and frame drops, the graphical fidelity is lacking and needs polish. Performance issues aside, the game also desperately needs some quality of life updates. Given that it is a detective game, I can see why hand-holding in terms of solving cases or gathering clues should be at a minimum, but the way this game introduces you to increasingly complex mechanics is a mess.
“Sherlock Holmes Chapter One certainly does not break any new grounds”
Tutorials are unhelpful and you’ll often find yourself in the “How to Play” screen figuring out what each symbol means. There were times during my playthrough where I felt completely clueless as to what to do next, even after reading all the clues in my notebook. The visual box in which you zoom in while clue gathering is extremely small and comes off as overly frustrating. If you even miss a frame, the box will not be highlighted and not be counted as a clue, leaving you puzzled as to what you are missing.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One certainly does not break any new grounds, but it is up to par with Frogwares’ previous titles. I did hope that by now, Frogwares would have figured out their performance issues, especially when most of their recent titles have suffered from them. Chapter One sets a competent starting point for a fresh reboot of the series, especially with its gorgeous visuals and compelling look into Sherlock’s past. There’s plenty of detective work to dive into, albeit poorly explained mechanics, in this rendition of our beloved crime-solving judicator.
*Disclaimer: Previewed on PS5, code was provided by the Publisher.