Mystery and Madness: A First Look at Sherlock Holmes The Awakened

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It often seems weird to me that, despite his near-universal ubiquity, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t really show up in more modern media—least of all video games. You would think that with the success of games like L.A. Noire or the Batman: Arkham series, games that seamlessly combine deductive sleuthing and action combat would be more than happy to include history’s greatest detective.

Thankfully—and somewhat surprisingly—Frogwares has largely stepped in to fill the gap in the Sherlock Holmes-shaped hole that has pervaded the game industry, making games based on the character (again, to my surprise) since 2002. CGM was given the opportunity to look at their upcoming game Sherlock Holmes The Awakened and get a taste of this combination of mystery and Lovecraftian horror.

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Sherlock Holmes The Awakened is a from-the-ground-up remake of Frogwares 2006 first-person adventure game of the same name. Built on the same foundation as Frogwares’ newer Sherlock Holmes games—and The Sinking City—the game takes the same story as the original, and reimagines it with modern graphics and gameplay. The game is focused on fear and a deep horror atmosphere; as Frogwares’ describes it, “for the first time in his life, Sherlock is truly afraid. A man of rationale and reason, he faces an otherworldly entity that defies all logic, and this discovery is as enlightening as it is shattering.”

Sherlock Holmes The Awakened is a from-the-ground-up remake of Frogwares 2006 first-person adventure game of the same name.”

CGM was given access to a short preview build of the game, set in the opening hour of Chapter 3 where while investigating a slew of suspicious kidnappings, Holmes and Watson find themselves in the Edelweiss Mental Institution. In order to better understand the nature of these kidnappings, Holmes gets himself admitted in order to move through its seedy underbelly and deduce the intention of its corrupt director.

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While this was certainly an early version of the game and not reflective of the final product—the demo made a note of that at the bottom of the screen—similar to something like The Sinking City, there was a certain degree of charming jank to the whole thing I couldn’t help but find endearing. The way camera angles focus on characters during cutscenes or how character dialogue plays over others was functionally problematic, I couldn’t help but laugh at the silliness of it.

Of course, it needs reiterating, this is an early version, so some issues are to be expected. But in a game where the premise is “what if Sherlock Holmes met Cthulhu,” a certain amount of silliness is more engaging than offputting. In spite of this, as I’ve seen with a lot of Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes games, you can tell there is an earnestness to it that keeps it from being outwardly offensive. The studio is trying its absolute best to create a weird, offputting environment, and in some aspects, they’re certainly nailing it. If they’re able to deliver the final product, remains to be seen, but I am hopeful.

The demo only provided a very vertical slice of the game, and without really playing any of Frogwares’ other Sherlock Holmes games, I can’t really say if it’s reminiscent of previous, more modern entries—though I will say I could see similarities between it and The Sinking City. While players explore the cells of the Edelweiss Mental Institution, they will examine items which can be used as evidence, investigate certain areas for clues, and speak to a collection of characters for testimonies.

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Every potential clue in Sherlock Holmes The Awakened will unlock options in Sherlock’s “Mind Palace,” which presents conundrums to the player, which they must use a combination of the three elements to solve and progress forward. Combined with this is Sherlock’s ability to recreate past events, by scanning rooms for clues, and then constructing how things took place.

It’s a fairly straightforward puzzle element that doesn’t exactly hold the player’s hand but isn’t too overly challenging either. It allows players to make mistakes—seemingly attributed to the idea that this is one of Sherlock’s first mysteries—and doesn’t punish the player for incorrect guesses.

The last part of the demo showcased a bit more of the horror element that I wished was more prevalent throughout the whole thing. After reuniting a patient with her doll, the scene takes an eerie turn, as the doll begins speaking to and threatening Sherlock. With the whole game being centred around the Cthulhu mythos, and supposedly leaning hard into the themes of madness and the occult, I had really hoped more of that would be on display.

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That being said, it was a charming bit of weirdness, made even better by a character like Sherlock Holmes trying to rationally interrogate a creepy, talking doll. For a demo that had largely been focused on the methodical deduction, saving something so bizarre for the end was definitely the right decision.

Sherlock Holmes The Awakened has a tentative release date of Q1 2023, however, given that Frogwares is a Ukrainian-based company, there’s no guarantee that it will release within that window, given the current situation that is ongoing there. Despite being a work in progress, if this demo is any indicator, then this game is shaping up to be something incredibly special. Just when I thought the Cthulhu had been done to death—or undeath?—Frogwares found a way to make it interesting again!

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