Frogwares has been in the Sherlock video game biz for quite a while. The developers have created a number of classic capers for the world’s greatest detective to crack, sometimes with the hilarious side effect of things like Creepy Watson coming out of it. However, Frogware’s latest move with the Sherlock Holmes franchise stops taking a step forward and instead looks back. Who was Sherlock before he was the most famous detective of Scotland Yard? Sherlock Holmes Chapter One takes a dive into the character as a young man in his formative years of deductive crime-solving, and I got to take an early peek at what the game has in store in a limited preview.
Let's take it from the top
This preview look at Sherlock Holmes Chapter One started with a young Holmes and his friend Jon (not Watson) on their way to the fictional Mediterranean island of Cordona. What brings them to this remote place? Well, it turns out Sherlock’s mother is buried there and he wishes to get some peace he was never given when he lost her at an early age. It isn’t long before he’s caught up in matters far more complicated than emotional closure with his lost parent. I found myself at a hotel where a séance gone wrong resulted in Sherlock taking up the challenge to uncover stolen valuables from among a violent former naval officer, his frantic wife, and a mysterious medium.
Right from the get-go, Sherlock is a narratively intriguing take on the mystique of the legendary detective. Unlike the usual well-experienced Sherlock and his escapades, this Sherlock is brash and fallible, even if he keeps the trademark savant powers and instincts of deduction and investigation and the cool and bold demeanor that make Holmes an easily recognizable character. In the full game, the entire island city of Cordona will sprawl before you, full of mysteries and clues to both small cases and grander ones related to young Holmes and his goals.
I only got to get a taste of what the city would entail, but it was easy to tell that Holmes’ direct objectives are not the only cases the players will pursue. Each district of the city bustles with life and hides non-primary cases the intrepid detective and player might wish to pursue. I’m very interested to see not just how young Holmes’ story plays out, but also what secrets the team that made The Sinking City might hide in Cordona.
The powers of observation, logic, and reasoning
Much as in previous games, the pursuit of truth in a case is a multi-faceted affair combining the use of scene investigation, studying of clues, collection of testimonies, and mechanics tying it all together to form logical conclusions. At any given point you might be on the path of a lead you can pin as “active.” Having a certain lead active may result in you asking potential witnesses about the subject for which they might be of help or not. When you’re in a hot crime scene or other places of interest, you can search for clues or present pertinent clues you’ve found to notable persons in order to gain their testimony on the matter.
All of this works towards creating a branching path of deduction to piece the overall crime and culprit together. Players familiar with previous Sherlock games should very well recognize this mechanic. It’s alive and well-preserved in Sherlock Chapter One. Also interesting is that the clues you discover can lead to drastically different reasonings and conclusions. For example, by the time I had finished gathering all clues regarding the military officer, his wife, and the medium, I had four outcomes to choose from: two culprits and what Sherlock would do in reaction to them.
Jon is also an interesting figure. Much like Watson, he follows you closely throughout the game and acts somewhat like a guide. If ever you’re at a loss for what to do, Jon will no doubt be somewhere nearby to give you some form of direction. He also supplies just a touch of lightheartedness and comedy to an otherwise rather straight-faced game and I found myself welcoming his presence more often than not.
Young deductions of a legend to be
My time with the preview of Sherlock Holmes Chapter One was short but pretty sweet. It’s not always the best-looking game, though I find its use of character animations and reactions to your questioning rather standout, as well as its detailed crime scene investigation. The clues were cleverly placed, the logic and truth were interesting to uncover, and the path to a final conclusion felt very well formulated by the mechanics. There’s still a lot for this game to show and tell us about, but if you’ve been in for the Frogwares brand of investigation before, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is shaping up to be another meaningful entry in that trademark style.
This preview is based on an early edition of the game supplied by the publisher. Sherlock Holmes is currently slated for launch sometime in 2021 on PC.