I finally got around to playing the latest Sherlock Holmes game by Frogwares (a series that I love to bits!), and it was certainly quite the experience. The developers have absolutely nailed the immersion of the investigations, and there has never been a more ambitious Sherlock Holmes game in terms of scale to date.
We finally got the chance to explore a non-linear Open World as the Great Detective, and Cordona is packed with cases to solve and mysteries to uncover. It wasn’t a perfect game, though – and I shall spell out why in this review.
You can check out some of my other related lists, including a couple of my previous reviews:
The story takes place on Cordona, an island that is central to Sherlock’s family history. He has returned to his childhood home as a young man – years before becoming the Great Detective we’re used to – in order to uncover the mystery of his mother’s death, so seeing a younger Holmes take the reigns was a welcome creative choice. Jon is still there with you … not quite the John Watson that you’d recognise, but a figment of Sherlock’s imagination that aids him when solving cases.
That’s the hook out of the way, so what did I think of the story as a whole? First of all, I really like the depth of the writing in these cases – every single main quest and side case had an intriguing setup that I was eager to explore, and the various murders and other crimes you have to solve are each treated with the same respect and complexity.
I also quite liked the overarching story surrounding the circumstances of the death of Sherlock’s Mother – was it suicide? Murder? Medical neglect? There is no clear answer from the get-go, and it’ll take various investigations and deductions before you even remotely start to piece together what really happened.
Unfortunately, I think they fumbled the main story at the final hurdle. I’ll get into it in more detail in my “Not-So-Good” section, but I really didn’t like how they concluded that overarching plotline. Without going into spoilers, I found it to be incredibly unsatisfying, and pretty much ruined any fun I’d had with the story up until that point.
Score – 6/10
(If that score seems a little low compared to all the praise I’ve been singing of the game thus far, I’ll expand upon my reasoning in the later sections)
The biggest positive I took away from Chapter One was that Frogwares have done an excellent job updating the gameplay elements from the previous Sherlock games and transformed them into something more akin to modern open world gaming.
Having the open world of Cordona to begin with was an excellent creative choice, and even if Frogwares stole a lot of gameplay elements from their other game – “The Sinking City” – I still thought it translated very well to the Sherlock style.
There have been some huge updates from the other Sherlock games in the series, and the depth of the cases makes the previous entries in the series look like child’s play: The new disguise system is great, exploring the open world to eavesdrop on new cases was a fun mechanic, and every side quest you find is almost as good as the main ones. I really hope they stick with this new style going forwards (if they make more Sherlock games at all, of course).
A couple of other positives I found were the gunplay sections and the voice acting – storming a bandit lair to take out an army of goons was surprisingly quite fun (… initially, at least), and most of the voice acting and dialogue is really well handled. The guy they brought on to play the young Sherlock did an exemplary job, and if the character’s mouth actually synced to the words being said I would have been truly immersed.
On the whole, the gameplay was the factor I enjoyed most while playing Chapter One, and I hope other detective games are as immersive as this moving forwards. It didn’t quite blow my mind as much as “Paradise Killer” (to give a recent example), but it was a good system to build cases off of nonetheless.
Score – 8/10
Now we get onto what is arguably the most important section of the lot – how fun the game actually was to play. You can have the most extraordinarily in-depth game ever, hand-crafted by a thousand creatives with an ingenious vision, but if I don’t enjoy the game in the first place then it was all for nothing.
Like I said before in my previous sections, I really liked how immersive the whole experience was. All of the new detective systems (like the disguises, for example) do an excellent job of making you feel like you’re really in Sherlock’s shoes, and this game was at its most fun when I was cracking the case and looking awesome while doing it. This enjoyment definitely peaked near the start of the game when everything was fresh and exciting, and that first case in the hotel was probably my personal highlight … but it’s usually not a good sign when the first case is the best.
It was cool getting to explore Cordona and all of it’s side quests – and some of them were truly great – but for the most part I got really bored of doing the same stuff over and over again in the optional cases, so I focused on the main story instead. That meant the game was over far quicker than I wanted it to be, and even when the credits rolled I had no intention of going back to solve any of the mundane cases I’d missed.
The main quests were definitely where I had the most fun, but I didn’t like how any of them concluded. I’ll elaborate more in the next section, but once every case was solved I just felt like I’d wasted my time. Solving a case is meant to be euphoric, not like a chore, and sadly Chapter One never discerned the difference between the two.
Score – 6/10
In this final section I’ll lay bare all of my gripes with the game, going over some of the aspects I’ve mentioned in the previous sections. This will delve into some spoilers, so you can’t say I didn’t warn you.
Starting off with the smallest gripe: the gunplay sections were fun at first, but they got a little stale by the end. All the game does to mix things up after a while is throw waves of even more enemies at you, and sometimes they have some really annoying pieces of bulletproof (somehow) armour on. If these sections weren’t so tedious, I would have gladly gone to clear out every single bandit den.
I’ve mentioned how solving the main quests never felt satisfying to me, and that’s because pretty much none of them have a proper conclusion. Anyone you accuse by the time the end of the case rolls around is effectively the right answer, as the game never tells you who actually did the crime in the end. It would have been cool to have one case like this maybe, but every single blimin’ one?!? Maybe the Frogwares devs were trying to make a profound comment on how morality and the truth can be murky, but I would’ve much rather found the truth and properly solved the case.
The biggest drawback – and the thing I’ll never forgive this game for – is the ending. They wrap up the Sherlock’s Mother storyline way too quickly, and the “truth” is incredibly underwhelming – although this final case doesn’t have a “true” ending either! I sat in stunned silence when the credits rolled, feeling completely hollow from the injustice I’d just been served. I genuinely felt like I’d wasted my life playing through to get this ending, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say this is up there as one of the worst videogame endings I’ve played in my life.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is a breath of fresh air in the franchise, and Frogwares did a good job integrating the open world elements into the classic detective gameplay. Unfortunately, they failed to stick the landing, and the lack of actual truth uncovering meant I never got too invested in the story.
FINAL SCORE – 6.5/10
|+ Open World setting of Cordona was full of mysteries to explore||– Ending was unbelievably bad, possibly one of my least favourite of the past 10 years|
|+ Genuinely intriguing mysteries, with a solid overarching narrative||– Main quests have no true resolution, which cheapens the experience|
|+ Detective Gameplay was intuitive and immersive, you really feel like Sherlock||– Gunplay segments got tedious quickly|
So there you have it, in the end Chapter One was a bit of a disappointment after years of waiting for the next instalment in the Frogwares franchise. While I cry myself to sleep, you can check out some of my latest blog posts below:
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