Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review

Richard Walker

Brought to the fictional Mediterranean island of Cordona, for what starts out as an innocuous visit to his mother's grave, Sherlock Holmes was never going to be sitting on the beach, soaking up the sun and sipping a margarita – wherever he goes, murder and foul play is sure to follow. Though developer Frogwares' latest outing with Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective explores his early years, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One's version of the infamous sleuth is no less eccentric and fussy – before you know it, you're embroiled in a murder case at the hotel where you're supposed to be staying, and any potential for rest and relaxation is duly jettisoned. No holiday for you, Holmes – the game is afoot, as it always seems to be on your watch. Good job, too, because unravelling mysteries is, without exception, utterly absorbing.


Erm… Have you seen Eyes Wide Shut?

In Chapter One, Sherlock brings with him an imaginary friend named Jon, who affectionately refers to him as 'Sherry'. Jon follows you around, popping at random intervals, issuing dares, offering wry comments, strumming a few bars on his guitar, or performing some other weird action, like dangling upside-down by his legs from the branch of a tree or splashing around in water. Jon also has his own tab in the pause menu, where he'll scribble notes about your actions, so if you go around shooting bandits in the head, he'll express concern for your mental stability; while asking too many questions to random bystanders will annoy him. But Jon is an imaginary friend, so, really, who cares? Jon's journal-based musings may not impact the story, but his presence does serve a purpose.

With the absence of Dr. Watson, Jon provides a sounding board for Sherlock as he unravels the game's various mysteries, which, early on, are in fairly short supply. Once you exit the Cordona hotel, the game's open world unfurls in front of you, and you're henceforth free to take on side cases, or simply follow the critical path. Beyond the main cases in Chapter One, much of the content on the periphery feels a little like padding, such as Bandit Lairs, which serve up combat encounters confined to an enclosed area. Here, you can use non-lethal means to stun and arrest enemies, or you can just shoot 'em all, consequences be damned (including Jon's hand-wringing musings). Head to the local police station, and you'll find a handful of cases to solve, all of which involve determining the sequence of events; while other cases are to be found during your foppish sashays around the byways of Cordona.

Certain quests involve reliving memories from Sherlock's not entirely idyllic childhood, while others have you untangling riddles to locate hidden treasure. Where previous Frogwares Sherlock games favoured a far more linear approach, you'll find yourself having to put in a lot of legwork in Chapter One, running from pillar to post, through the island's sun-bleached streets, bustling piazzas, earthy alleyways, and exotic architecture. You'll visit marketplaces to purchase new outfits and disguises, as well as the Holmes' family furniture that's been removed from the dusty, derelict old manor where Sherley grew up with his stern brother, Mycroft. Spending a disproportionate amount of time sprinting around thoroughfares, I can't help but pine for the more tightly structured Sherlock games of old (although, unlocking fast travel points as you locate them, makes getting around a lot quicker).


Still, the hallmarks of Frogwares' series is largely unaltered, demanding the same process of evidence-gathering and deduction, as certain prompts send you into the ever-present 'Mind Palace' to wheedle out possible scenarios and conclusions that might have transpired. Puzzles come in the form of chemical compounds to mathematically reverse engineer, sequences to place in the correct order, disguises to don, and character observations to figure out. But forget to use the pause menu's casebook tab to 'pin' a relevant piece of evidence, and you're unable to access interactions and dialogue related to a corresponding thread. It's an entirely logical system, but one that can easily slip your mind, leading to confusion as to why you can’t progress. Eventually, the process sticks, but early on it can feel a mite fiddly.

Regardless of such minor gripes, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is at its best when you're embroiled in one of the game's broader main cases – interrogating suspects, investigating crime scenes, digging up clues, and making connections in the Mind Palace. Plus, in painting a portrait of the young detective, spending time exploring his childhood home proves an effective storytelling conduit. As well as featuring some snappy dialogue and a number of knowing winks to other games (like the trail of a ghost hunter, whose name is Luigi, leading you to his 'mansion'), the surfeit of side cases offer additional insights into how Sherlock came to acquire certain character-defining items, like his violin or his briar pipe, while gradually uncovering fractured revelations from his past.


Sherry's not afraid to pistol whip a bandit or two.

They may feel somewhat throwaway, but even the game's side cases have their place in telling the tale of Sherlock's formative years as a detective. And while abandoning a more linear structure in favour of an open world could have resulted in something lacking in focus, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One emerges as the most assured video game take on the literary sleuth to date. Main cases are engaging and suitably serpentine, while side cases and other distractions help in fleshing things out. Yes, you'll spend a lot of time legging it from place to place, but, more than anything else, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One demonstrates that Frogwares has a firm handle on what makes the character tick, including the peccadilloes and traumas that came to define him.

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One

Quite possibly developer Frogwares’ most accomplished crack at the iconic detective yet, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One combines a compelling story, detailed world, and involving investigation mechanics to great effect.

Form widget
80%
Audio
80%

Rock solid voice acting and lovely music. What more do you want?

Visuals
70%

A bit of clipping here, a flickering texture there, the occasional ropey bit... Ultimately, they’re minor flaws in what is otherwise a decent-looking game.

Playability
75%

Initially a tad finicky, the game’s various systems are streamlined, for the most part, and the combat sections are pretty good fun.

Delivery
85%

Five main cases, numerous side cases, and other activities translate to a generous runtime, and make for the most varied and expansive Sherlock game to date.

Trophies
55%

Not necessarily a bad list, but one that is primarily made up of missable objectives and some that demand you make specific choices during the story, dictating the way you play. Not exactly ideal.

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