Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review

Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: Frogwares
Release Date: 16th November 2021
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is an open-world adventure game charting the formative years of the titular Detective. With best-friend Jon by your side, you explore the fictional mediterranean island of Cordona in search of a devastating secret buried deep in the past.

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is the latest release from indie game studio, Frogwares, the team behind recent Lovecraftian horror The Sinking City as well as a slew of Sherlock Holmes titles spanning back to the noughties. This latest instalment focuses on Sherlock’s early years, a period that was barely explored in Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, giving the devs relative freedom to create a compelling origin story.

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Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review PlayStation 5

Gameplay

After the death of his Father, Sherlock’s Mother, Violet, leaves London to start a new life with her children. Ten years after Violet’s death, you return to Cordona as a young Sherlock in search of answers. Despite protests from bureaucrat big-brother Mycroft, you begin investigating the mystery surrounding your Mother’s demise.

The open-world map is surprisingly large and detailed. Whilst sometimes the world can feel a little superficial, it’s satisfying to take a stroll through the vibrant neighbourhoods and stumble upon a mystery to sink your teeth into. Unfortunately, some of the residents ain’t so smart. Walk past NPCs and you’ll notice that some of them don’t really do much at all. Others will mumble gobbledegook rather than speaking actual, you know, words. To be fair to the game, Frogwares have promised an AI overhaul as part of the day-one patch so hopefully that will iron things out.

Sherlock Holmes Chapter One Review finding clues

The Game is Afoot!

The game’s bread and butter consists of interacting with the environment in order to gather clues to solve your cases. When you’re at a crime scene, you can inspect items with a tap of the X button. This hones in on a more focused area and challenges you to find a set amount of clues by reading letters and examining weapons amongst other things.

Once you complete an area, you can toggle the Menu to bring up your casebook which records all your clues. Scroll across with R1 to the ingenious Mind Palace and you can combine certain clues to formulate a theory. Easy enough, right? Elementary, you might say? (I’m so sorry). Sadly, genuinely great detective gameplay is held back by a convoluted casebook mechanic and a clunky, sprawling UI. Certain clues may give you a lead; a person of interest to talk to, a place to visit. However, in order to interact with your new lead, you first have to ‘pin’ the relevant evidence in your casebook. If you don’t, you’ll rock up to a shady businessman’s lair and not be able to interact with anything. This can be really confusing, particularly in the early sections of the game when you haven’t quite mastered the UI system.

Again, this is something that Frogwares have promised to address, with a complete UI overhaul allegedly arriving in the day-one patch.

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review combat

No Hit, Sherlock

Aside from sleuthing your way around the mean streets of Cordona, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One adds a flavour of fisticuffs to the Detective’s repertoire. Armed with a pistol, you can disarm thugs by strategically shooting down objects to incapacitate them for a swift arrest. You can also stun enemies into submission by picking off their armour with a well-placed bullet.

The actual gunplay isn’t bad; the DualSense giving a satisfying push-back when you pull the trigger. The real issue here is that it’s completely superfluous. Aside from the odd side quest, most of the combat is contained within Bandit Lairs (essentially dungeons you can clear). It makes you wonder whether there’s a certain apprehension around not having combat in a modern game.

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review reconstructing a crime scene

Whodunit?

One of the best elements of the game is the casework; finding an item and finally getting a new lead is a joy. As is questioning suspects by presenting them with your findings. The dialogue is well written, from Sherlock’s witty back-and-forth to Jon’s childlike innocence; each character feels well-drawn. You may not warm to the duo initially but the final scene is surprisingly poignant.

In most crime scenes, once you collect enough evidence, Sherlock will be able to visualise the events that took place. It’s your job to reconstruct the scene based on the clues in your casebook. You do this by interacting with floating markers and scrolling through various freeze-frames to choose who you think was present at the time and what position they were in. There’s more than a passing resemblance to Return of the Obra Dinn but the satisfaction you get from correctly piecing together the clues is immense. This is detective work at its best and the game really shines here.

There’s a fundamental flaw, though. When you near the end of a case, you’ll have combined enough clues in your mind palace to come to a conclusion over whodunit. However, the mechanic allows for multiple outcomes – presumably so it doesn’t feel like it’s holding your hand. This makes sense and the ability to get a case wrong adds tension and jeopardy.

The problem here is that it gives you absolutely no indication of whether you were right or not once the case is closed. This completely robs you of the satisfaction of cracking a case after all your hard detective work and is one of the main reasons people play these games. In trying not to hold your hand, the game seemingly withholds information to keep each clue ambiguous which makes it less about detective work and more about guesswork.

Graphics & Audio

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is a good looker. With a richly detailed open-world full of various cultural influences and styles, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the story. Exploring the different neighbourhoods, you wind your way through the dimly lit cobbled back-alleys and out into a wonderfully vibrant market place. Sure, it’s not the most impressive next-gen graphics, but it succeeds in creating oodles of atmosphere.

Unfortunately, you’ll experience consistent frame-rate drops and stutters throughout, mainly when moving around in the open-world. It feels like it dips well below 30fps at times which can easily break any sense of immersion. Again, Frogwares have said that performance and optimisation issues will be addressed in the day-one patch.

A subtle but atmospheric soundtrack underscores your journey, flowing from upbeat middle-eastern strings in the City to a tense classical affair when sleuthing around a crime den. There’s nothing particularly stand-out about the music or sound effects but it does a good enough job of tilting the tension in all the right places.

Final Thoughts

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is full of thrilling detective gameplay worthy of the great man himself. However, not knowing whether you solved a case correctly robs you of the satisfaction you expect from mystery games. The game is dogged by frequent graphical issues that breaks any semblance of immersion created by the richly detailed open-world. Whilst the developers have promised to iron out a lot of these problems with a day-one patch, the jury is still out on this one.

Disclaimer: A review code was kindly provided by the Publisher.

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