The renowned detective fighting crime and solving a family mystery in his younger days.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is an action-adventure game themed around mystery and detective work. The game was developed by Frogwares and released on 16 November.
I enjoyed reading Sherlock Holmes novels in the past, but that is not the main reason for my interest in this game. Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One covers unchartered territory that Arthur Conan Doyle never touched in his Sherlock Holmes stories.
Sherlock Holmes novels are told from the perspective of Sherlock’s sidekick Dr John Watson. Sherlock’s first appearance was in a hospital laboratory when John came over to meet his future flatmate in Baker Street.
But in this game, Sherlock is 21 years old. At that young age, the two have certainly not crossed paths yet. Instead, Sherlock’s partner is his childhood friend called, confusingly, Jon. Furthermore, the setting is on a fictional Mediterranean island called Cordona.
DISCLAIMER: There are no spoilers in this article. This is just an overview of the context in this game.
Sherlock Holmes returns to Cordona with Jon after being away for 10 years to visit the grave of his mother, Violet Holmes. He is also not convinced by his brother, Mycroft, who told him that his mother died of tuberculosis.
The main story consists of 5 cases, which includes solving the mystery of Violet’s death. After solving the first case, Sherlock returns to the manor he grew up in. He goes through the household objects that remain and relives memories from his childhood.
However, certain parts of the manor are inaccessible because Sherlock has not recalled specific memories. As the main storyline progresses, Sherlock will reacquaint with objects taken away from his family’s manor. These will trigger those memories and unlock the other areas of the manor to explore.
Eventually, Sherlock will be able to recall enough memories and deduce what actually happened on the tragic day his mother died.
Naturally, you should know what to expect from a detective game. You inspect the scene of the crime, look for clues and ask questions.
There is plenty of dialogue in Chapter One. In certain scenarios, you can change the order of the questions, avoid asking something or even lie to the person. Your choice in the dialogue does not appear to have any impact on the collection of key evidence.
As you gather more evidence, you will join pieces of evidence in pairs to form an interpretation. It is not possible to piece together evidence that have no association because the game does not allow this to happen.
However, an evidence pair may have 2 different interpretations. The interpretation you choose has a downstream effect and will ultimately determine the final deduction, so this is a crucial point in the investigation.
In cases with more than one suspect, you will need to make an accusation and decide on whether to arrest or quietly let the accused go. The wrong person can be accused, but it doesn’t affect what happens later on in the game, even for the main cases.
However, the correct answers to the cases are NOT provided. You decide what is the most probable deduction.
There are only a few cases where the accused admits responsibility for the victim’s death, particularly the first case where confronting the right suspect will result in a full-blown confession of the murder. Even the deduction of how Violet died is entirely up to your interpretation.
Besides the main cases, there are plenty of optional side cases to take on such as helping Mycroft or the police with their cases. You need to visit specific areas on the island, such as the police station, before you are assigned these cases.
The open world concept of Chapter One kicks in after solving the first case. Sherlock becomes free to explore the island of Cordona.
Although Cordona is vibrant and picturesque, there isn’t much in your surroundings to interact with in truth. You can ask almost anyone on the streets for help in your case, but most people will just shrug you off.
Cordona is a big island, and it can take a while to run to places. I don’t feel that Chapter One provides enough guidance on where to go next, especially when you’re required to look up information but are unsure of which of the 3 archive locations to visit.
On one occasion, the game mentioned that you needed to interact with someone without specifying the location. I didn’t realise that that person is in another location far away, and I ended up walking around in circles for a long time.
As your companion, you think that Jon will provide the assistance required. Instead, he is mostly cracking jokes or complaining about you wasting time when you keep asking people for help without success. Jon only provides helpful advice during combat.
You can dress Sherlock up in a variety of outfits for fun or as part of a mission to infiltrate an area. One thing I only realised till later on is that civilians are friendlier towards you if you dress like them, and may even provide hints. I suppose at the age of 21, Sherlock Holmes hasn’t commanded enough respect from the public yet.
However, the disguise system is both illogical and silly. I can change my detective outfit to the appropriate attire right in front of the person I need to get past, and the guy still lets me through. Sherlock also speaks in his usual voice despite disguising fully as a woman, but no one gets suspicious and he is even being addressed as ma’am.
In certain areas, Sherlock faces off with criminals armed with guns and knives and will have to fight back using his revolver and exceptional hand-to-hand combat. You cannot use your revolver in any other situation.
As exciting as combat sounds, this is quite an underwhelming aspect of Chapter One, and is laughable at times.
As a law enforcement agent, Sherlock is expected to take down criminals in non-lethal ways. He has to “stun” the enemy by shooting their weak points, an object in the environment or throwing powder in their face before he can knock them down.
Unfortunately, the hitbox seems a bit unreliable. There were a number of occasions where I killed someone with a headshot even though my crosshair is right on his face shield. And I don’t have a choice because you can’t stun an enemy without removing their face protection first if they’re wearing one.
Enemies really lack intelligence too because you can get them to chase you in circles until they come near an object (like a lamp or gas pipe) for you to shoot to stun them.
The more criminals you arrest, the more money you earn. But If you’re not bothered about refurnishing Sherlock’s manor with household items or buying new outfits, money is basically useless. There’s no punishment for killing everyone to get the combat done and over with quickly.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One has a number of flaws. There is a clear missed opportunity to add more interactivity in such a lively open world and combat is uninspiring. I also feel that some features in the game are unnecessarily tedious such as archive searching, eavesdropping and chemical analysis.
Despite all that, the story is engaging and told quite well, along with plenty of humorous dialogue and banter. The criminal cases are interesting and got me thinking hard about my interpretation of the evidence and final deduction. This is definitely still a decent game for the mystery lovers.