I’ve been a fan of detective-type stories for as long as I can remember. It’s just like it was yesterday, sitting on the floor of my bedroom with the Dick Tracy comic book and cassette tape to follow along with it. To say that I was excited about reviewing Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, would be an understatement.
As I said in my preview, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is set in the fictional Mediterranean town of Cordona, which is where our favourite detective appears to have grown up. He now returns as an adult after a length of time away to investigate the mystery surrounding the death of his mother.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One begins aboard a boat where Sherlock and his companion Jon are bemusing about the return to Holmes’ childhood home. Once they step off the boat, the game is on, as Sherlock is met with his first case in Cordona at the hotel they are staying at. Apparently, a very large diamond has been stolen, and it is up to Holmes and Jon to figure out who stole it and why.
One of my favourite things about Holmes in the books comes to life in Sherlock Holmes Chapter One: Holmes’ ability to observe a person or thing and learn intricate details about it/them. This is one of the core mechanics of investigation and I couldn’t have been happier about it. When the prompt to examine a person or object appears, you’ll enter what is called “Concentration”. It can be used for a great many things in Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, but the developers want to make it clear that this is not considered “Detective Vision”, where you turn it on, and it shows you everything you need to interact with.
Frogwares have made this game a ‘no hand-holding’ adventure. This means there are no roadmaps, guiding lines on the road to show you where to go, or glowing arrows in the sky to show you where an objective is. If you’ve played the Uncharted series, you’ll be familiar with their mechanic of giving you a big hint if you aren’t pursuing the objective. There’s none of that here. You are truly free to explore Cordona as you see fit.
The controls are simple enough, I played on PC, so the WASD keys are used to move Holmes around town, and the mouse to change the camera angle. Various buttons are mapped to various functions, but you can completely re-map them as you see fit. Hand-to-hand combat was a bit unusual for me, but then again, this isn’t, strictly speaking, a fighting game.
When it comes to solving cases and gathering clues/evidence, you have a casebook in your menu as well as a “Mind Palace” where Holmes can piece together clues to form conclusions or theories of the event in question. You have to pin evidence in the casebook to make it the focus point when you interact with people. Based on that, they’ll either have info for you, or not.
Oh, and I should mention that people may not interact with you if you aren’t dressed appropriately. This game is set in the late 1800s, so classism is very much present here. If you need to speak to an upper-class individual, then you need to make sure that Holmes looks the part. You have many outfits at your disposal, and you can purchase even more as well. It’s little details like this that Frogwares has paid special attention to, to keep things authentic, and the game is all the better for it.
There is even a warning when you load up Sherlock Holmes Chapter One to let the player know that this game depicts prejudices and mistreatment of cultures and some minorities. They make it clear that this was wrong then and wrong now, but they have been included to acknowledge the “harsh reality of life for many in that era”, rather than pretend they didn’t exist.
“Sherlock Holmes Chapter One might just be my favourite game this year…”
In addition to solving cases, Sherlock has some rather fun interactions with Jon, and the dialogue between them is very well acted. In fact, pretty well all the dialogue is well acted and never feels repetitive or unnatural. When I say that, I generally mean when Holmes is speaking to a person in the course of his investigations. When talking to someone to see if they know anything, the dialogue quickly becomes repetitive, as each class of citizen has a set number of lines. You’ll hear them all pretty quickly if you talk to enough people.
Acquiring cases is a fun adventure. Some come up naturally, through interaction with a person in the town, and some come up when Holmes is running around town and overhears something a citizen is saying. Holmes can then stop and eavesdrop to try to pick out important pieces of info to acquire the case. Eavesdropping can also be used in the course of some investigations as well. Our first experience of this was in the first case at the hotel upon arriving in Cordona. I won’t go into detail for spoiler reasons, but eavesdropping is necessary to learn about a certain guest at the hotel.
Running around the map is fun but can take a fair bit of time. There is not a minimap, instead we get a compass with a white bar underneath it that changes to gold when Holmes is near an undiscovered clue. The white bar is also your cooldown meter for your “analyze setting” function. I would have really liked to have a minimap. It would make navigating the town so much easier, as there are a lot of tiny side-streets and alleyways to get lost in.
Your map in the menu will quickly fill up with points of interest, fast travel locations, clues, collectibles, etc. and your investigations will take you all across Cordona’s five districts. It won’t just be the main cases either. There is a plethora of side quests to obtain and complete. From the first two cases of Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, I already had 8 side quests by the end of the second case, and I wasn’t even looking for them.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One might just be my favourite game this year. It has charm, it has elegance, it has a beautiful environment. You can tell Frogwares developed this game with the utmost amount of respect for Doyle’s original character. Being able to see a younger and less sure of himself, Holmes gives me greater appreciation for the character. His mistakes and naïveté help him become the Holmes we have seen in the movies and books for so long.
There are a couple of minor things that I would have liked or changed, but they are a small pittance compared to the enormous love I have for this game. I haven’t truly enjoyed a detective game in a very long time. The last was LA Noire. My favourite literary character has been brought to life in a way I could never have imagined, and I am absolutely all about it.