No matter who you believe to be the best detective of all time is, Sherlock Holmes has to be near the top. His wonderful style, incredible skills, and undeniable charms make him reliable and likeable. It is, therefore, understandable that we yearn to solve mysteries with such ease. Well, wish no more as you can step into a young Sherlock Holmes’ shoes in Sherlock Holmes Chapter One.
Developed and published by Frogware, this is an open-world detective adventure title. You control the much-loved hero as he undertakes an array of missions to prove his prowess while solving every crime he discovers. However, his ungodly skills don’t mask the many strange and underwhelming elements you will experience. The developers have jumped from zero to hero from the off, and this leaves a massive character progression hole in its wake.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One has a promising start.
The story revolves around a young Sherlock Holmes who must return home to the fictional island of Cordona. This wonderful Mediterranean paradise is full of era-specific imagery, interesting characters, and lashings of crime. It gives you the impression of a game that has massive scope and a large sprawling landscape to explore. However, this quickly dissipates as the game progresses.
You return to Stonewood Manor to explore the allegations that your mother’s death is more suspicious than first thought. However, your journey is time-consuming as you immediately become embroiled in crime after crime the moment you land in port. Strangely, though, each of these investigations is fuelled by odd encounters and weird characters. This bizarre but intriguing gameplay pushes you from pillar to post as you stumble towards Stonewood Manor.
Where is Watson?
The crime-fighting duo of Holmes and Watson is obviously formed at a later date. In Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, Holmes is accompanied by Jon who acts as a guide and friend from the off. Unlike Watson, who offers assistance and a kind word, Jon is abrupt, judgemental, and not so helpful. When you struggle to piece together clues or solve problems, Jon lacks empathy or a helpful tone. However, he will highlight your shortcomings and make you feel inadequate in every scenario, so, all in all, he’s a top-notch mate.
Luckily, the game offers some excellent tools to help solve crimes on your own. With superhuman powers to observe any crime scene, piece together clues, and question any witnesses, solving problems should be easy. However, this rarely happens! Each case requires you to study, understand, and build up a picture of what occurred. Moreover, the developers decided that hand-holding wasn’t necessary. Sadly, this can leave you scratching around in the dirt for a solution to your problem.
Even with the introduction of a “mind map”, a helpful evidence section, and the ability to question people freely, it was still challenging. Clues can stare you in the face, but unless you complete your job in a specific order, then you will not progress. This was equally frustrating, as it was fascinating. Therefore, many profanities were muttered before the scream of eureka as the solution slapped you in the face.
Frogware could have solved every issue while making Jon a more appeasing and helpful fellow. If they used him as a last-ditch hint system, then his witty and cutting comments wouldn’t have been so bad. Sadly, however, this was never to be and Jon is simply a bit of a pain in the arse.
From detective to action hero.
When all-out fighting is incorporated into a detective game, I get excited! The idea of deciding someone’s fate intrigues me. Unfortunately, though, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One has no moral compass. For unknown reasons, no one cares whether you arrest the goons you face or kill them. It, therefore, drives you to shoot first and ask questions later. What makes matters worse is the silly combat mechanics. You must remove specific bits of armour before you can complete associated tasks. I wouldn’t mind, but each action rarely marries up and this led to confusion.
Furthermore, the developers undercooked the level design for each of these encounters. With the same spaces rehashed repeatedly, the gameplay quickly becomes tedious. You are encouraged to use the environment to your advantage, but every tool and obstacle is identical, no matter the location. Yes, this helped to overcome the problem at hand, but it made the action tiresome and predictable very quickly.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One: Déjà vu.
I don’t mind when a developer decides to reuse its assets, but in a detective adventure game, this has to be well-considered. When the solution is already tough to find, I don’t want to meet the same looking character repeatedly. However, this happens more often than not. This confusing approach makes it tough to identify who you have questioned and who is a suspect. Consequently, it makes it that much harder to work through the main story or any side quests. This rinse and repeat idea also impacts the open-world nature of the gameplay. When assets are constantly being reused, it makes a beautiful and stunning world dull and lifeless.
The era-specific elements of Sherlock Holmes Chapter One are enhanced by the jazzy and dated soundtrack. Furthermore, the well-considered dialogue transports you to the late 19th century. Moreover, I enjoyed the well-acted lines and the combination of different characters you encounter. Thankfully, the developers have delivered an accurate representation of the time. Sadly, though some may find the inclusion of racist or sexist comments offensive, however, I appreciated the honest and brutal reflection of the era.
Where Sherlock Holmes Chapter One excels is its tutorial and well-planned setup. Thanks to its lack of hand-holding, you can feel lost amongst the NPCs and many clues. Fortunately, though, Holmes’ superhuman skills allow you to scan any environment with ease. Furthermore, he can investigate specific areas and highlight anything that needs examining. Where it falls short, however, is its lack of interactivity. You have a vast world to explore, but much of it feels out of reach. This was frustrating and forced me to utilise the fast travel options more than I wanted! I would have loved to lose myself in the era accurate world, but unfortunately, there was not enough depth to keep me interested.
Thanks to its vast list of side quests, elaborate crimes, and main storyline, there is plenty to keep you playing. With around 15 hours of game time to enjoy, you get a reasonable return for your money. This is extended if you aim to unlock every achievement in its large list. Subsequently, if you are a completionist and you fall for its charms, you’ll experience a title that has plenty of longevity.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One: fun, challenging, but missing something.
If you love the detective genre, then you will adore the challenge that awaits. With some interesting and bizarre crimes to solve, colourful characters and vivid era-specific imagery, it’s a treat for the senses. However, even with all these positives, it was missing something! I can’t ignore the rinse and repeat character models, the rehash of many scenarios, and the lack of interaction. It left me wanting more, as I could see its potential. Despite its shortcomings, I recommend you to buy it here! Can you explore the wonderful Mediterranean island and solve every crime you encounter?