Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One looks to reinvent the mystery genre for a new generation of consoles – it’s out now and we tested it on a PlayStation 5.
It may sounds like an origin story in title, but developer Frogwares has had quite the journey getting Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One made and published. They’ve actually been making Sherlock Holmes games for years and years now, but those were all through a different publisher – as was their more recent game, The Sinking City. Their experiences weren’t all that great, so they went with the self-publishing option for Chapter One – though you can tell from some of the design choices that this is from the same people behind Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter and the aforementioned Cthulhu-inspired mystery adventure.
But even though Frogwares has developed a ton of Sherlock Holmes games already, Chapter One is a new direction for them – featuring a young (21 year old) Sherlock at the start of his career. As an origin story, the narrative doesn’t take place in London, but rather the (entirely fictional) Mediterranean island of Cordona. It’s here that you look into your own mother’s death, but the story quickly branches out and you’ll be solving a pair of murders as well.
You’re joined by your friend Jon (gone is Watson, for now), and Sherlock’s youth is a catalyst for a very different tone. Where “old Sherlock” is something you associate with pipes, magnifying glasses and newspapers, this Sherlock doesn’t shy away from fights or even wild parties. In between all that, however, you still have mysteries to solve, and this requires examining scenes, collecting and combining evidence and piecing things together in your “mind palace” – and if you’ve never played a Sherlock Holmes game before that will still sound familiar if you’ve played The Sinking City.
The game world is an open one, but this comes with a rather daunting learning curve where the game could’ve used a bit more hand holding in the first few chapters of the game. Without it, we regularly felt lost as to what to do – something that we experienced in previous Frogwares games as well. It’s a game you need to stick with for a while, but is ultimately quite rewarding. That’s especially true once things start to click together, and sleuthing, analyzing and fighting all adds up to you cracking the case – and a few skulls, perhaps.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is much more action-oriented than previous Sherlock games, although fight sequences veer towards the non-lethal side. You’re always looking to take enemies out rather than kill them, which I suppose is fitting when you’re dealing with someone who’s looking to let the law run its course. The latter is done through your investigative skills and the conclusions you draw, and sometimes you have tough choices to make in the Mind Palace. Here, you come to conclusions about what happened – though sometimes the proof isn’t ironclad and you might end up naming the wrong person. Whatever you do – your choices have weight, and how they affect the world around you, as is represented in the newspapers you’ll come across.
Stay on point, and the main story can be wrapped up in well under ten hours, but the other side of Chapter One’s open world structure is that there’s a lot of optional content to explore as well. It’s a game that invites you to take your time, get to know Sherlock and the island, and the content you come across ranges from interesting to downright silly – the latter referring to some of the wardrobe changes that become available to you.
This may be a self-published title, but Frogwares’ experience with AAA/AA publishers means they’re used to making games with solid production values. That shows in Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, which looks and sounds lovely – something that’s easy to enjoy in the game’s photo mode as well. It’s on par with some of their previous productions, but delivered with more cinematic flair – this is an enjoyable return and hopefully a sign of things to come.