Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is your chance to roleplay as the famous detective, running around the fictional, multicultural island of Cordona as an angst-ridden youngster. You'll solve murders, track down stolen property, fight bandits, and wear more costumes than Lady Gaga on tour. When Chapter One is bad it's really bad, but like the handsome Sherry himself, you can't help forgive it when it gets weird, then flashes you a handsome smile.
Release Date: November 16
Platform(s): PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC
As you'd hope, once you've arrived in Cordona with your mysterious, bossy companion Jon, you barely have time to buy a souvenir fridge magnet before you're working on a case. Cases range from sprawling investigations tied to the main storyline, to smaller mysteries that focus on one location. The best part is absolutely working your way through the bigger cases, using Sherlock's full skill set to do so. Searching the crime scene for every last piece of evidence, dressing in disguises (purchased from various vendors) to win the confidence of sailors, workers, bandits, or vagabonds, and searching the archives of the local paper or city hall for relevant clues. Sherlock can also focus his concentration to see the likely path of a suspect, or do quick chemical analysis (a math-based logic puzzle that - thankfully - you can skip without incurring any sort of penalty) on mysterious substances and observe suspects and witnesses to glean clues from their clothes and demeanor. It's this set of gameplay mechanics that really are what keep people coming back to the Frogwares series, a chance to play pretend from inside the mind of a genius, to feel like a bit of the Sherlock cerebral superpowers have rubbed off on them.
The real mystery at the heart of the whole game is the root of Sherlock's psychological trauma, one that is slowly revealed through the medium of... shopping. Now, we've hit all headed to Amazon while in the grip of depression and boxed wine, but I did not expect the world's greatest detective to need to purchase a bunch of paintings before he could figure out why he has mental health issues. Sherlock will also encounter different memories as you refurbish the family home, and as you search around Cordona.
At first, Cordona feels a little like an animated screensaver, something you just move past in order to get to the next destination, but the game tries its best to keep you engaged with some side quests later on. A treasure hunt, Sherlock lore, even an overheard conversation that could trigger a case. Don't look too closely at the locals though, because terrifyingly, a lot of them appear to be clones. Perhaps this is a bigger part of a Sherlock-worthy mystery, but I suspect it has more to do with budget constraints. There are also bandit hideaways, which you can enter at any time to try your hand at some fisticuffs.
Murder he won't
These action sequences - which you can trigger with the hideouts or will occasionally happen as part of a case - start out interesting, become tedious, and then sort of circle back to hilarious. You're thrown into a room that serves as an arena with a few objects that can be triggered to deal environmental damage that stuns enemies. Exploding canisters, bags of flour, valves, lamps, the Victorian equivalent of red barrels. Enemies also handily wear accessories that you can shoot at to stun them too, hats, armor, little vials of combustible substances. Stunning an enemy means you can arrest them after a simple QTE punch-up. Crucially, despite being equipped with a gun, you're not supposed to actually kill anyone, and Jon will berate you if you do. When you're shooting off a man's hat while he's moving, it's surprisingly easy to do. The sequences are too easy to clear once you get the hang of them, new enemies are funneled in a few at a time, and they start to drag on. Someone could have budgeted for a few more voice lines for these sequences too, prepare to hear "I will end you" and "I didn't want to miss the party" in indefinable accents at least 237 times. These whole sections could have been scrapped or reduced to just the optional bandit hideouts, and the game would have been better for it.
One of the more subjective struggles I had with the game was some of the more nuanced stories it attempts to handle. Despite an early disclaimer about the game being set in different times, there are few cases that hang on characters and twists that feel clumsy rather than capable. When you're racing through a case about a lovelorn, possibly homicidal elephant, you're suddenly hit with an awkward fumbling of issues of gender identity. A search for a controversial stolen painting becomes an investigation into a traumatic sexual assault. Add to that some of the more caricatured portraits of the diverse inhabitants of Cordona and it all just feels a bit old-fashioned, and not in a periodically appropriate way. Tackling difficult subjects in games is a worthy endeavor, but you need to make sure you're doing it right.
Despite the issues, the moments of cringe, and the occasionally budget feel, developer Frogwares has carved itself a niche delivering Sherlock roleplay to the masses, and this will still scratch your investigative itch. It pulled me in and kept me intrigued - sucker as I am for pretty boys with an air of gothic melodrama about them, and I hope we get to see more of the hot and handsome young Sherlock soon.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One was played on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.