Sherlock Holmes Chapter One Review – PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC

Elementary, or lemon entry?

Elementary, or lemon entry?

Sherlock Holmes needs no introduction. Quite the cultural phenomenon, he is the star of numerous books, tv shows, films and all manner of entertainment, yet Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is the first video game I have played where he is the star. 

Don’t let the title fool you – this is but the latest game in the series developed by Frogwares, and this time around the developer is taking us back to the earliest days in Sherlock’s career.

Having not played any of the previous games in the series, this felt like a decent jumping-on point. Not only does it have Chapter One in the title (thus the implication is fairly obvious…), the game introduces us to a young and fresh-faced Sherlock Holmes, who returns to his childhood home on the fictitious isle Corona to investigate the mysterious circumstances around his mother’s untimely death.

Game Information
Release Date: , 2021
Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: Frogwares
Availability: PSN, Microsoft Store, Steam (Digital)

The game opens with Sherlock’s arrival as you check in to your hotel, and it isn’t long before you are up to your neck in cases with Watson in tow. There is a nice little twist here concerning Watson that I won’t spoil, but this new take was enough to get me interested beyond the casual interest I have already in the titular character.

It is here that the game starts to let you peek behind the curtain so to speak, and starts introducing you to the many skills that you, as Sherlock, have at your disposal. Chapter One utilises a lot of the detective’s famed skills from the books, whether that be using your powers of observation to deduce what has happened, or disguising yourself through some simple wardrobe changes so you can milk that informant for some information he wouldn’t have divulged otherwise.  

sherlock chapter 1 review image

These gameplay mechanics, although simple, add an extra layer to the game, and help to make you feel like you are as skilled as he is, even if it is pretend. Some of the slightly more challenging puzzles have you deducing the composition of unknown substances as you mix chemicals to try to match a numerical pattern, or combing through archives using snippets of information you have uncovered to try and gather a bit more info. These are largely text-based puzzles, so don’t go having any grand illusions of mixing acids together or scrolling through reams of newspaper articles.

Jumping in as Sherlock, the game allows you to explore the world in the third person, taking in the sights and sounds of the hotel you find yourself in at the start of the game, and later, the town of Corona. The world of Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is incredibly detailed, covering five different sections spread out over the world map. Each area is open to explore upon completion of your first case which takes place in the hotel and serves as the game’s tutorial.

 First-timers pay attention, as I found this initial opening segment quite heavy on the info – there is a lot at work under the hood in Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, and if you don’t quickly pick up what is going on it can make or break you once you get into the game proper, so be warned. Spend a little bit of time getting to know what each of the little red icons mean as you explore your casebook, and you won’t go far wrong.

sherlock chapter 1 review image 2

While we are on the subject of the casebook another word to the wise – if games that involve a lot of reading aren’t your cup of tea, then I would think twice before booting this one up. Although each character you come across is fully voice acted, there is a lot of reading to do in addition to what you are told, and skimming articles and notes on evidence quickly become second nature, and Sherlock Chapter One feels like a modern addition to those point-and-click adventures from yesteryear.

Frogwares has done a great job of instilling a sense of personality in each area, and the does offer a few surprises around each corner. There is a fast travel system in the form of hand-drawn carts that work as a sort of bus stop within the world, but you can only travel to sections you have already unlocked as you visit them. This system works, but it can be a massive pain when you need to travel to an area across the map that you haven’t already visited, and some of the fast travel points can still leave you with a lot of legwork to do anyway.

In addition to unlocking fast travel spots, exploring and talking to NPCs is another way of unlocking investigations. Sometimes Watson might even chime in with a memory from your childhood as you stumble upon a familiar landmark or location, and these personal memories further help to flesh out the game’s story.

sherlock chapter 1 review image 3

Each investigation follows a very similar formula, which can be broken down as follows. Sherlock uncovers an unusual story or piece of information, which unlocks or points you in the direction of an area to explore. Upon arrival at the scene, there will be a set amount of items that you need to find and interact with, and these are handily recorded in your casebook, which you can access and refer to at any time in the pause menu. 

As I have already mentioned, this quickly becomes second nature, as often these written pieces of information contain additional details that are crucial to solving the case. Once all pieces of information have been uncovered, you then have to walk around the scene putting it all back together in his head before heading back to the quest giver to tell them what he has uncovered. 

Each piece of this jigsaw has you controlling Sherlock, but as each case has a very similar structure it isn’t too long before these investigations start to feel a little repetitive. Not only that, but sometimes the evidence is a little too ambiguous, leaving more than one potential solution or not being clear enough to pinpoint exactly what happened in order for you to solve the current case and move on, regardless of how many times you look at something or read your casebook.

sherlock chapter 1 character

This does get frustrating, as there are no clues as to what it is you are missing. It could be in the form of finding the last piece of evidence in a certain area, or, in the part that I found the most annoying, using all the uncovered evidence to piece together the events that had transpired using the Mind Palace.

This is a phrase coined in the novels to note when Sherlock travels into his head and uses all that he knows to work out what has happened. In the case of Chapter One, that means the world becomes washed out of colour as Watson walks from place to place within a crime scene clicking his fingers in order to arrange each event in the correct order. 

These Mind Palace sections are an interesting idea on paper, but in truth, they rarely work as intended. Often the evidence isn’t explicit enough, meaning there is the odd event that you simply have to guess at, and for every mistake you make you are chastised by John for not trying hard enough, which is a mechanic that is clearly designed to stop you guessing but without the option of any tips or help it only ever comes of as chastising and annoying.

sherlock chapter 1 sherlock leaning

This is not the only way to hit a brick wall with an investigation, as there were numerous times my progress came to a jarring halt because I was missing something that would allow me to continue my story.  Sometimes with a bit of digging through the evidence uncovered this does become obvious, but early on it is incredibly frustrating as things are introduced so quick and fast it is easy to forget certain mechanics that come into play later.

As it is impossible to progress through most investigations until you have uncovered all the evidence, this quickly starts to feel like jumping through hoops instead of using your skilled powers of detection to solve a crime. A number of times I merely had to brute force my way past a difficult section by simply selecting all possible outcomes until eventually one of them stuck – not quite the elegant and profound detective skills that Sherlock is famed for but it worked (and this would have been a rather short review if it hadn’t).

This further frustrates in that it takes away any of the skill of solving a puzzle, or ingeniously putting all the evidence together to uncover what happened. In that area, the game is very linear, merely providing you with the illusion of choice when really you have none – you either solve the case, or you are stuck unable to progress further until you do.

sherlock chapter 1 combat

On that point, it seems to miss the point – you never truly feel like Sherlock. Each case has you merely jumping through a series of steps until the solution presents itself, and once you realise this some of the fun is lost. You don’t feel clever or intelligent, just that the game has been designed that way in order for you to progress.

Luckily the majority of the cases you end up investigating are either interesting enough to keep you engaged until you have them cracked, or short enough that you can blast through them without much problem. It is on the few cases that aren’t interesting that this flaw is at its most obvious, and it was here where I felt the game lost some of its charm and momentum.

Investigations aside, there are a few times when Sherlock has to rely on his brawn instead of his brains. During these sections waves of enemies pour into a closed location, intent on causing you harm. The strategy here is to avoid their attacks while hitting their weak spots which glow orange when you “concentrate” (read aim), before getting a quick QTE to take them down. Or you could go for the quick and easy method and headshot them all, but John isn’t very happy with you should you take this route.

sherlock chapter 1 review landscape

These fighting sections serve as a nice way to break up the repetitive investigations, but they too suffer from the same problem – after a while, they all feel very similar. Each of the handful of enemy types has a set pattern that once learned makes each encounter feel a little bit too easy to navigate, and it is this receptiveness where Sherlock Holmes Chapter One trips itself up.

Overall, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One does do a fairly decent job of making you feel like the famous detective, but puzzles rely heavily on you reading a lot of information and not so much on using your smarts. This quickly boils down to a repetitive grind that could be enough to smother your interest.

Luckily the story and characters are interesting enough to alleviate some of this frustration, should you give it long enough to find its feet and you manage to overlook some of its flaws. If you can, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is a charming little detective story just waiting to be told.

Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.

Primary version tested: PS5.

Finale

Finale
70 100 0 1
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One takes young Sherlock back to his roots and gives players a bigger insight into how he came to be the revered detective we all know and love. As usual, the detective gameplay is up to scratch but with a few shortcomings and an over-reliance on trial and error, but it's enough to get your brain fizzing more than your typical shooter. Combat is cumbersome and not all that satisfying, but it gets the job done and adds a bit of variety to the gameplay and shows that Sherlock isn't just an arrogantly clever man - he's dangerous, too, so don't be silly enough to commit murder when he's in town...
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One takes young Sherlock back to his roots and gives players a bigger insight into how he came to be the revered detective we all know and love. As usual, the detective gameplay is up to scratch but with a few shortcomings and an over-reliance on trial and error, but it's enough to get your brain fizzing more than your typical shooter. Combat is cumbersome and not all that satisfying, but it gets the job done and adds a bit of variety to the gameplay and shows that Sherlock isn't just an arrogantly clever man - he's dangerous, too, so don't be silly enough to commit murder when he's in town...
70/100
Total Score

The Good

  • Interesting characters to interact with and setting to explore
  • Story goes at a decent pace, with plenty of side content to get distracted by
  • Some interesting mechanics help extend the gameplay without feeling overly used

The Bad

  • Puzzles do start to feel repetitive, and become more a case of going through the motions as opposed to using your grey matter to do anything “clever”
  • Combat suffers from boredom through repetition
  • Not necessarily a con, but there is a lot of reading which might not be to everyone's tastes
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