The great detective tales of Sherlock Holmes are a brilliant work of fiction, even though some believe he’s real, mostly because he is so embedded into our national conscience. Since the 1930s, films have brought the distinguished detective to our screens and most recently we have had the BBC TV series that brought him to mind for a whole new generation of fans.
In games, it’s been the Frogwares team who have had a distinguished history of producing Sherlock video games, giving you the chance to become the genius sleuth. Now they’re back, but with Sherlock Holmes Chapter One we are found taking control of a younger Sherlock Holmes, one on a personal journey that reveals some deadly secrets along the way. So get out your notebook and magnifying glass – we are going clue hunting.
I’m a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes games from the past and have been taken a little by previous Frogwares games – the Xbox Series X version of The Sinking City, for example. What Chapter One does is borrow from the gameplay styles found previously, before turning it into something new and unique. It helps that this is a Sherlock experience which is truly open-world, allowing you the chance to wander around picking up cases, and discovering things to do.
The story takes place in the 19th Century and a young Sherlock is travelling with his companion Jon (not Watson) to the Mediterranean fictional island of Cordona. This is a sort of colonial place full of rich well-to-do folk and oppressed locals. You are there to visit your mother’s grave, in hope of obtaining some closure on your past. However, as soon as you arrive at your hotel you get embroiled in a case that needs solving; all while waiting for your room to be made. When you find your mother’s grave you find out that her death was maybe just a little bit suspicious, so off you go on the trail of something dark and mysterious.
The writing and stories found in Chapter One are brilliant, with some excellent world-building that pretty much perfectly captures the world of Sherlock Holmes and all its history. The quests themselves – or cases – that Sherlock takes on are equally sublime and nuanced, giving you the option of making choices and giving the final choice of what you think is wrong or right.
Gameplay-wise things are set in the third person; something which works well as you run around the city. You can explore interiors and exteriors of certain locations, pretty much to your heart’s content, examining objects and talking to people as you see fit. But the main focus of the game is in the unlocking of mysteries and crimes that need solving. How does this happen?
Well, in Sherlock Holmes Chapter One you might discover a location where a crime has taken place. For example, in the early stages there is a case when a seance has gone wrong, leading to an aristocrat’s valuable diamond going missing. Here you examine the room in concentration mode, much like you would in so-called ‘detective mode’ in other games. It’s here where the world moves into a monochrome state, allowing you to view the actions of the crime scene, like seeing ghosts of what has just occurred. It is then up to you to work with the clues gathered to determine the location and exact order of events that have occurred, and how the crime took place. This result could lead to more clues that require you to follow a lead or individual, or further clues which take you to a different location. It’s a good system and an idea that the developers have used in other games.
There are more ideas included in Chapter One though, including the option to take in the Mind Palace from the menus. Here you have a list of the cases you are involved in, with the clues on offer all present. The point of the Mind Palace is to link these clues together in the hope of forming other leads or assumptions about the result of the crime. When you get access to enough of them, you’re able to run a possible outcome, before deciding whether it’s time to arrest, or let them go.
Surprisingly, there is combat to be had in Chapter One, but it’s not a case of needing to utilise it at every opportunity. In fact, it’s an odd choice for inclusion in a Sherlock game and on a personal level it doesn’t feel quite right; a bit redundant at times. Nevertheless, it’s there and it involves a system of using tricks and the environment around you to make your enemies’ defenses go down, before you can quickly move in to knock them out.
There are some other pieces of gameplay that I enjoyed much more than the combat. There is the ability to search the archives of police stations and newspaper offices for clues. As well as working for the police and picking up a ton of side mission cases to take part in, you can also pick up disguises from around town to use in certain situations. These are a lot of fun and Sherlock in a vampire costume is something that just has to be seen.
Visually the world looks good with its colourful Mediterranean vibe and sun-soaked city of choice. The interior locations look great with nice attention to detail in terms of items, objects, and furniture. The facial animation of characters is extremely good too, something which is especially apparent when you have to examine the faces for clues in close up situations.
The soundtrack for Chapter One is just as exciting and dynamic. Running riffs across the action moments and situations that Sherlock finds himself in, these work brilliantly. The audio effects are great too, especially in detective mode. In terms of the voice work and that found in the lead actors is decent enough, but it has to be said some of the extras come across as a bit ‘Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins’. Overall though it’s still a solid affair.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is powered by a brilliant story and the chance to take in some superb cases. The ability to get accusations wrong and to choose whether to save or condemn is a solid touch that allows the game to deliver a great dynamic. There are a ton of hours included here too, with a huge main story and loads of side quests to take in.
It’s certainly going to be interesting to see where Frogwares takes the young Sherlock next.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is available on Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store