Quietly in the background for many, Frogwares has been developing a string of Sherlock Holmes games over the years. Always a little clunky, always never quite hitting the spot, but still solidly fun, we’re up to the ninth instalment now in the form of Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One. A prequel to the others, it’s larger than the others and pursues a different path, following the origin story of Holmes as a nosy 21 year old exploring the Mediterranean island of Cordona. Again, it doesn’t quite hit the spot at times but for sleuthing fans, it remains a tempting tale.
Holmes might be young, but he’s still just as obnoxiously sharp as ever. This time around, he’s assisted by his childhood friend, Jon, rather than Watson. As you’ll soon discover, Jon isn’t actually real. An imaginary friend, he chips in with occasional advice if you talk to him and tends to offer some cheeky comments too. Given much of the game also focuses on Holmes piecing together his mother’s death from years ago, there’s quite a lot of Troubled Holmes afoot here.
Action is similar to other Sherlock Holmes games, with a hefty dose of how things were done in Frogwares’s most recent game, The Sinking City. Previous Sherlock Holmes games were fairly tightly woven. You’d always be automatically moved between locations not being able to take in London truly. Chapter One changes that by allowing you to roam Cordona quite freely. It’s down to you to figure out many of the clues to know where to go next. That’s both good and bad. You feel like a ‘real’ detective figuring out what you should do next compared to previous games guiding you a bit more obviously.
On the other hand, it can be tricky at times to know where to go next. Still, it’s frequently satisfying to chip away at things and come to your own conclusion. As a side note – exploring Cordona is reminiscent of an older Assassin’s Creed game. The urge to be able to climb rooftops lingers even though it’s completely impossible.
Once you do reach a location (not by climbing unfortunately), there’s often plenty to do. Witnesses need to be interviewed, bodies inspected, clues to be spotted, and a fair few puzzles too. Interviewing witnesses is rarely varied although there are some basic ways to spot things about them much like in earlier Sherlock Holmes games.
Instead, detecting clues is where it’s at. It’s possible to use a concentration ability to see a bit more of what’s going on, piecing together what may have occurred earlier. One case has you dealing with a man trampled to death by his pet elephant and you initially have to piece together the timeline before spotting that someone else was there at the time too, thrown against a shed by the creature.
Another part of the case has you rearranging statues at an archaeological dig site to detect where a tomb is located. As you detect clues, you’ll use Holmes’ powers of deduction to piece together what may have occurred, often being able to either condemn someone or dig deeper to see if the obvious solution isn’t actually the correct one.
It’s reasonably varied stuff that pieces together some unusual elements that still work well together. While the likes of Frogwares’s Crimes & Punishments and The Devil’s Daughter had some tightly woven cases, Chapter One expands upon this and makes things feel more far reaching and varied. Things are never as straightforward here as they were before (or should we say later as this is a prequel) for Holmes.
At times, you need to change clothes or your appearance to fit into wherever you’re trying to visit such as a yacht club, or to simply jog an old woman’s memory. Again, a feature that we’ve seen before in the series but one that is implemented more so thanks to the the open-world approach that means everyone reacts to you differently. A small but entertaining touch.
You’re constantly also trying to learn more about your mother’s past. Gathering documents, talking to people, and piecing together past events that may not be quite as Holmes remembers them. It adds to the longevity of the game while also giving you some extra mystery to solve. This is far from a short game which is refreshing to see.
It’s clunky, of course. Never forget it’s clunky. The controls work but never quite gel in a fluid manner. Looking at a body or investigation area involves moving your cursor around the screen to detect anything special and it’s so clearly designed for a PC as it doesn’t quite connect as well on a console. However, these are all things that afflicted other games and, honestly, it’s far from a dealbreaker.
Where things are a bit more irritating is when it comes to the introduction of combat. At times, you’ll need to fight it out to arrest criminals. You can throw snuff at enemies to confuse them as well as target where you shoot them but this really isn’t a game about combat and it’s far from fun. So, it’s worth switching off combat – something that fortunately is an option under the game’s settings. Instead, the mystery side of Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is where it prospers most.
Essentially, it’s a game you chip away at. I frequently found if I got stuck on a sequence that a short break away (sometimes just by wandering Cordona) would help me figure things out. Browsing through the many documents you collect or reacquainting yourself with the clues you’ve gleaned often helped. That’s where Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One feels at its strongest too. Each Eureka moment instantly making you feel good about yourself.
Is it a game for everyone? Far from it. It’s a slow burner. While it’s the best looking Sherlock Holmes game yet (as expected on the Xbox One Series X), that doesn’t mean it’s going to entice everyone with its looks. Its origins are still squarely that PC game you stumble upon and find surprisingly beguiling. Instead, its storytelling and mystery solving is what’s most fun. It’s a Sunday afternoon game – albeit numerous Sunday afternoons, given it’s pretty lengthy compared to its predecessors.
Frogwares may have yet to throw off its mildly clunky shackles, but fans of solid mystery solving will still enjoy what’s on offer here.
If you’re keen to test your cerebral matter then Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One will delight frequently. Occasionally clunky it may be, it’s still hugely satisfying and offers some compelling cases to solve. There’s some work to be done to make this the definitive Sherlock Holmes game but for now, revel in its wonders.
- Intriguing storytelling
- Satisfying exploration
- Captures Holmes’ essence well
- Occasional filler content
- Combat isn’t really needed