“Wait a second you saucy word-slinger!” is a phrase likely on your lips if you’re a figment of my imagination, “I’ve just checked the date and it is February 2017! What are you doing reviewing a game from October 2016?! Especially with the absolute nerve, the colossal gall, to make it a non-retro review”. Well, truth is I have more time than sense and I had no other work to do. It has also been less than 6 months, so it is hardly retro. So I thought I’d dig through my pouch of games I bought at Christmas and review something I bought then. In this case, it is Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter. Something that is the follow-up to a title I have a lot of love for Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishment.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is the 11th Sherlock Holmes title Frogwares has made since 2002 (or, according to Wikipedia, 8th in the chronology, I guess with some being non-canon in the dubbed “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” series?). Each one in the core series is an adventure mystery title based on the famed character while being a new original tale written by the developers.
In case you’re new to the circuit, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter has you solving four cases that have some variety to them, with one root connection: Murder. You must do the classic adventure game trend of walking-n-prodding your way to hoarding clues like a kleptomaniac. Although this doesn’t exclusively call for you to stare at your shoes while mulling about. There will be talking, that has the odd interactive element of showing a contradiction in what they said to prise more details, and judging someone’s character based on parts of their appearance. All these parts together really allow the clue gathering not to be a tedious rubbish-picker exercise that adventure games can end up being but rather something more alive and active.
If you are a veteran to Sherlock’s adventures, you may find a lot of familiar solid ground here. Although there are new expanses. The “judge the character” part not only has added a timer but also gives you the possibility to infer the wrong conclusion to a piece of clothing. A decision likely intended to beef up the crawling difficulty of the prior game, but instead, serves as an unnecessary tripping post. This is especially as all the information you could blunder on doesn’t really serve a purpose nor does it entirely get referenced back to directly.
In addition, there’s a greater emphasis on active mini-games. While these include QTEs, they go beyond it into other forms like stealth missions (the non-infuriating sort), tracking and dodging gunfire. A more action-orientated approach could have missed the point of its own game via over-use, but fortunately, it more spices up the investigations like cinnamon in a cup of tea.
As well as this, areas are noticeably bigger and more sprawling. Fortunately either the area is stocked enough to keep you engaged, complex enough to present an intentional puzzle or the quick-travel allows you to just get to where you need to be if you desire. This option to just wander around the streets, soaking in the early-1900s environment, really adds to a more lived-in atmosphere within the title.
In a similar way, the game returns with the deduction system from before that gave life to the narrative. If you’re unfamiliar, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishment flung out the idea of being dragged on a choke-chain through the mystery and having it solved in front of your eyes. Instead, as you collect clues, you’ll start to notice two clues can be combined into a deduction. A bit like finding a dirty frying pan clue and a hint your housemate loves fry-up breakfasts, which when combined leads to knowing your housemate made the god-damn mess in the kitchen.
Deductions can, of themselves, then be combined with 2 or more others to make another deduction. Some of these theories can be multiple-choice in nature, which whatever you pick at a time will determine what will and will not connect with other ideas. Finally, through this process of finding all the clues, combining it all you can and deciding how your deduction tree will piece together, you’ll be presented with a potential ending to the case. One where you may condemn or absolve the individual.
While I confess I’m likely explaining the system badly, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter continues to pull it off in a sleek and interesting manner. While it will often give you early “out”s, where you do catch someone but not the right one, finding the true culprit will usually require the most digging. In fact, too often I had worked out the correct answer (which there is only one) as it is the last one to unlock. Although this ending system is one that I think is fine as you can still be caught-out a little.
Said ending system comes with a lovely option that sadly I see too little of; it gives you the choice to replay a new ending if you desire without having to reload a save. The only grumble I have is you have to head to the main menu to see if you picked the right ending, while Crimes & Punishment could be done at the episode conclusion tab. I would have liked to know if I had the right person before I skipped on to the next case.
Since we’re talking about cases, I’d like to propose a question: What use is a mystery in an investigation if you don’t care to solve it? I’d argue that the writing was always going to be something that makes or breaks Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, maybe just as much as the mystery solving mechanics. This is especially as it seemed to be shrugging off the stifled professional atmosphere and was rolling with something more casual and dark since the trailers appeared. I admitted curiosity, but also anxiousness of if it could nail the tone while keeping the quality of writing high.
Well, to put simply: The four cases are just simply worse than those found in Crimes & Punishment. If you’re a newcomer or even a veteran, please understand that isn’t to say they are bad. Just not nearly as interesting, unusual or thought-provoking. I’d discuss in particular details that tarnish particular murder mysteries, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers. However, there are running problems throughout.
The alarming part is The Devil’s Daughter constantly feels like it is fighting with itself on what tone it wants to present. Sometimes it’ll delve into the dry mysteries purists love, but then sometimes it’ll pull a bizarre Hollywood-styled investigation into the mix. One moment you’ll be pouring over a microscope to examine a blood-stain, next you’ll be magically deducing what went on in a temple by a model someone built. It felt like Hollywood’s somewhat recent interpretation of Sherlock Holmes served as a bad influence, but not so much as one to feel consistently schlocky.
Another way this fight between classic/Hollywood rages on is who they want Sherlock to be. I do honestly appreciate the decision to try to make Sherlock more of a human being, but it seems they can’t work out if they want him with the classic “refined intelligence with a heart of gold” or “flawed genius whose well-meaning can be misunderstood”. Instead, they settle on a middle ground that, while not inconsistent, ends up feeling like the NPCs dramatize everything. A small forgetful moment turns into apathy, a growl of anger is verbal abuse and inquisitive questioning is harsh interrogation. I am interested in the idea of a flawed hero you have to follow around, perhaps in a somewhat gritty way (e.g. like obviously cradling an opium addiction), but they just never manage to make him flawed enough to provoke interest or to humanize.
That said, the NPCs definitely do not help. Mostly they work as intended and are inoffensive enough, even with Watson now being slightly more forceful with his desire to help people than he was previously. However, one major reoccurring character (i.e. Kate) and one major character in a case (i.e. Orson Wilde) ended up wanting me to just kick them out the window. Kate was never built up as an interesting 3-dimensional character before simply hating you no matter what you do or say, making me curious if putting her up for adoption was possible. Meanwhile Orson Wilde, well, one person I saw compared him aptly to Jar Jar Binks. It just grinds out a lot of the sympathy and investment in every scene that is related to these two sentient bags of potatoes.
Although speaking of the humanoid tantrum machine, the ending of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is actually greatly improved upon Crimes & Punishment‘s weak attempt by the simple manner of tying it into Sherlock himself. Sure it has the problem of being significantly shorter (to the point I’ve been saying there’s 4 cases rather than the technical 5) and does sadly chain you to the radiator of what happens (as there is only one ending), but it feels personal. Something that does feel appropriate for an ending of a game centered on someone. It also manages to actually feel like the end of a chapter, which I recall C&P failing to achieve through an anti-climatic finale. That said, there is the grumble that considering the incredibly short length of the final investigation you really only have 4 cases to Crime & Punishment’s 6.
This is exacerbated by how one of the investigations has so much padding you could drop it from a 20 story window and not break any part of it. Remember the temple I mentioned earlier? It feels like a dragged out version of Crime & Punishment‘s Saint Albans in the Blood Bath chapter, as though it was vomiting all the puzzles they could think of into the section and didn’t care if it took too long.
The final score of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is a 7/10. Overall it is an enjoyable time, still wielding its excellent deduction system that taps into the common love for solving murder mysteries. While it does sag compared to the prior title’s Crimes & Punishment, it does so not out of poor choices or slothfulness (well, perhaps the length?). Instead, it took the daring plunge of updating Sherlock’s writing style to today’s character-driven preferred world. However, with the indecisiveness of style (i.e. Hollywood vs classical) and annoying cast came the generally lower quality and quantity of mysteries to unravel.
If you are hankering for a thoughtful title that allows you to solve what happened (with the potential to get things wrong) rather than being dragged along a linear plot, then Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is a solid recommendation to fill the hole. If you’re a veteran of the series, then it still is an enjoyable time and an easy purchase. However, if you’re new to the series and want an entry point, Crimes & Punishment is still the stronger party between the two. Either way, your investigative thirst will surely be quench by both titles.