The shear amount of material the Sherlock Holmes novels have generated can only possibly be overshadowed by the output of Tolkien. So it came as little surprise to me when I discovered that Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter was the eighth game to be made by Ukrainian developer Frogwares that is based on the fictional detective.
I attended a preview event for Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
that was in a very old pub in the East End of London. With the room lit with candles and the only other light being emitted from the screens of the demo units that lined the walls, it was a suitable setting to find out about this new game based on the adventures of Mr Holmes. My initial impression was one of surprise as the level of production quality was exceptionally high from the outset, but more on that later.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
takes the eponymous detective through what initially appears to be a relatively run-of-the-mill case, only to see it rapidly take on a very different slant. Strange things are occurring and they cannot be explained using the traditional scientific methods so favoured by Messrs Holmes and Watson. The deeper they delve into the mysteries they uncover, the more twisted and distorted things become.
Played as a third-person action adventure, the player spends most of their time controlling Sherlock Holmes himself, as one would expect. However, there are many instances during a play session of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
during which the player will take on other roles such as Watson and street urchins Holmes has taken under his wing and tasked with doing errands for him. These errands go beyond the usual 'buy some groceries for me' and instead have them trailing someone on Holmes's behalf and reporting back once they discover something interesting, for example.
Evidence gathering is an obvious key component of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
and there a number of ways it can be acquired. Searching areas is an obvious one, but there is also the reading of people and reconnaissance, similar to the errand described previously.
The reading of others is a unique gameplay mechanic in Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
as the player is required to highlight aspects of a person in a split second, which thankfully is reduced to a frozen moment in time for the player. This is representing Holmes's ability to examine the tiniest of details and from that extrapolate a person's life story.
This ability doesn't come without risk, however. For while Sherlock is capable of spotting these details, he doesn't necessary connect all the right dots to form a picture. This is represented in Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
by highlighting details found on a character Sherlock is looking at and then selecting from a series of options. If any of the chosen options aren't quite aligned with the character's actual history, there is a discontinuity that can result in a missed opportunity or lead to information that can create a new branch for the player they were not initially wanting to explore.
During the demo I experienced the initial interaction between Holmes and others around him and his speech came across as both stilted and somewhat verbose. He constantly uses five words when one would suffice and his responses to other characters are somewhat at odds with the usual back and forth I have become accustomed to in video games. It took me a moment to realise that what Frogwares has done here is create an accurate representation of Holmes.
Despite him being a fictional character, he is still very much a product of his period. Language has evolved significantly over the past 150 years where once verbosity was encouraged, now brief exchanges are valued to the point where in some instances we are reduced to expressing ourselves using little more than 140 characters. People from Sherlock's era would struggle to write a shopping list with such a restriction placed upon them. It's certainly a brave decision on the part of Frogwares to portray Sherlock Holmes in such as a way as it could be off-putting for some. But once you buy into the world Sherlock inhabits his odd speech patterns and mannerisms make for a perfect fit.
Returning to the errand running mentioned previously, I did get a chance to play as one of Sherlock's hirelings after the tyke was sequestered to carry out a trailing mission for Sherlock Holmes. This segment had me playing a young boy running across roof tops and leaping onto horse drawn carriages, only to infiltrate a stately home within the heart of London.
The whole thing played out like an Assassin's Creed
mission, pushing the need to keep a distance from the person I was trailing while not drawing attention to myself. It was gripping stuff and did much to alter the tempo and feel of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
, which so easily could have fallen into the trap of 'find evidence, solve crime, find perpetrator, rinse and repeat'. Instead we have to find evidence in a variety of ways then proceed to crime-solving, which is not as core to the game as evidence gathering is, but it doesn't detract from its importance.
The crime-solving occurs within a mind map that has Sherlock link every shred of evidence together to form a cohesive set of events that led to the crime and who did it. It's wonderfully realised and actually does an excellent job of representing the neurons that are firing within Holmes's head as he pieces things together.
Portrayed as a third-person action adventure, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
is built using the Unreal engine. It is visually a very impactful game that does an excellent job of reproducing the world in which Sherlock Holmes inhabits. The streets are rendered in exceptionally high detail and the lighting does much to portray the grimy cobblestone roads that riddled London in the late 1800's. The characters are also rendered well along with their animation, which is very important in a game like Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
as the source material was always about the characters more than the plot that involved them.
My takeaway from my experience with Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
is that it is a very ambitious and deep game that needs to be experienced to be believed. It takes cues from a lot of other action adventure games out there, but not to the point where it is copying them wholesale. Instead it feels as if Frogwares has decided the evolve what others have done and dropped it into Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
. Such a design decision could have ended
in disaster of course, as attempting to evolve ideas can lead to dead ends, but what I saw and played in that old pub demonstrated to me that Frogwares has not taken a wrong turn here.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter is due to appear on Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4 on 10th June 2016.