Note: This review was written in cooperation with fellow editor Annagram.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter (PC)
(France 2016, developer/publisher: Frogwares), platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch)
The sleuthing skills of Sherlock Holmes are again required to solve and survive 5 new cases, but Holmes’ parenthood experience is also needed with his adopted daughter Katelyn, offspring of his late nemesis Moriarty.
5 new stories and more dangers
Prey Tell is about the disapparances of poor people who are used by aristocrats in a sick game of survival, something that is quite similar in its depiction of brutal violence to the 1993 action movie Hard Target by John Woo. While previous titles of the Sherlock series have already shown poverty in its ugliest form, here one is again reminded of what inhuman acts some people are capable of if they’ve run out of options.
A Study in Green starts out rather boring with a lawn bowl tournament Holmes takes part in, but as one member of the sports club is found murdered, apparently by a statue that has come alive, which is connected to a Mayan expedition, the supernatural and Indiana Jones-like adventure elements become prominent. This obviously means that environmental puzzles have to be solved as well as traps and other dangers have to be survived, too.
Infamy at first appears to be a parody of the detective’s investigation methods, as an actor visits Holmes to study him for a future role, which is a bit reminiscent of the 1991 buddy cop action movie The Hard Way by John Badham. But as Holmes’ life is soon threatened by a bomb and the cast of possible candidates who could be responsible for it increases, things start to become a bit more complicated and violent.
Chain Reaction throws the investigation duo into the aftermath of a road accident during which not only multiple people got injured, but which was used to cover up a big heist. It’s one of the few cases which mostly takes place in one specific setting, and while the crime twist isn’t particularly exciting, it offers a few interesting opportunities to make Holmes’ deduction skills shine. This becomes apparent when one has to recreate the order of accidents with 14 sequences. The case is also rather touching with one of the suspects caring for his bed-ridden daughter in a hospital.
Fever Dreams is the culmination of the overarching storyline about Holmes’ daughter he adopted after the death of his arch nemesis Moriarty in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes: She is kidnapped and the detective’s fears about her becoming the next enemy seem to come true. It’s one of the creepiest and weirdest episodes, as can be seen in some hallucinatory segments when Holmes stumbles outside a room into a cemetary and behaves in a way one usually associates with the survival horror genre, thankfully minus the death sequences.
The bigger story picture
Similar to Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, all cases are independent from each other, except when one finds letter correspondences of people one met in a previous one. The game’s title obviously refers to Katelyn who might become the next Moriarty or not, depending on how or if she can cope with the revelation that has been kept a secret from her. While the developers tried hard to incorporate her in the individual cases’ beginnings by presenting a few dialogues with Holmes, one rarely feels any compassion for the two. This is mostly because she comes across as very annoying, which is not only down to some bad voice acting, but the writing itself.
Some Rosemary’s Baby paranoia or the general fear of the unknown is hidden beneath the surface of the story, as can be seen with the mysterious new neigbor Alice who becomes very friendly with Katelyn but who hides a dark secret. Granted, the creepy atmosphere becomes apparent soon, but it comes a bit too late, and anyone who has watched the trailer that is steeped in supernatural imagery will be disappointed to learn that there are only very few scary or suspenseful elements like this in the main plot. Unlike Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, the finale and overarching storyline feels completely out of sync with the individual cases and could have worked much better as one coherent whole. Granted, some of the decisions one made are mentioned during dialogues, but not in a very meaningful way.
Old and new deduction skills or investigation methods
Many gameplay mechanics or investigative tools Holmes used in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments make a return: looking for information by using the archives (Holmes’ collection of books and newspapers); following scents by taking control of the duo’s dog Toby; re-enacting past events with clues that are found on-site; and looking at characters to establish profiles, to name but a few of them. Some of these parts are subtly changed, as observing a person isn’t enough, with additional information being found around the interviewee, e.g. objects like documents or painkillers. This obviously results in more pixel hunting, but it makes these parts a bit less repetitive.
Again deduction is hit-and-miss at times when it comes to either creating a character profile or finding the right conclusion on the deduction board which can often be more guess work, as clues can be divisive or lacking (and it doesn’t help that the description of clues move around in circles too fast to read) even after one has collected all the evidence. Sometimes every suspects seems to be guilty or the right solution is so strange that one only learns in retrospect what the developers’ thinking behind it was.
Putting on disguises becomes more important in the individual cases, e.g. when Holmes impersonates as a doctor and even a priest. The latter results in probably the funniest or strangest scenes in the entire game, as the detective acts as an exorcist to trick a lady with the help of his Baker Street Irregular Wiggins’ who does all the apparently supernatural sights and sounds.
In addition to these deduction skills, there are also new ones, although they don’t always make much sense in the real world and aren’t really that much fun. One of them is the ability to listen in to people’s conversations. If it weren’t already awkward enough to have Sherlock try different positions in a bar to find out if any of the patrons has some useful information, the way how one tries to gather intel turns out to be a fiddly mini-game: trying to keep two symbols in the same center of a circle while they try to break out like a drunken person is as clunky and unfun as it can be.
Try or die
Something that won’t sit well with adventure game fans is the heavier focus on action and stealth sequences. Unfortunately, these usually involve trial-and-error quick-time-events, as can’t only be seen in some tense bar fights but also when Holmes and Watson have to work together to survive. In the former example, one has to use the right sequence of defensive and offensive tools, including various objects like a stool or a bottle. This becomes especially annoying because the buttons one has to press change each time one has to restart, making memorizing the correct order unnecessarily difficult. The latter QTE is a bit more strategic, but not any less hectic: While Watson distracts an armed suspect by shooting at him behind cover, Holmes makes a run for it, only to be warned by the doctor that something is ready to hit him from above or any other direction.
Sneak and run or do other things without dying
A much better but also not perfect example of using QTEs for tension can be found in one segment when one can play as Wiggins who has to follow a suspect through London’s streets, backyards, and even on rooftops. It provides a great sense of place and is quite exhilarating when one has to go around sudden obstacles, like police, dogs, and street gangs, without losing sight of the suspect, but it also brings back bad memories of the terrible chase sequence in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened – Remastered, only involving more work.
As one is constantly under time pressure, there’s very little room for failure which happens quite frequently, e.g. when one has to climb a chimney, clean it and reach the top before one suffocates from the coal dust. Then one has to clean someone’s shoes to blend in with the environment, but the game doesn’t tell the player how it’s properly done, i.e. one doesn’t know which tools are used in which order.
All in all, it’s a chase/stalk sequence that has too much going on, as can also be seen when one has to balance on a board on rooftops and constantly take cover behind walls and barrels on the ground. As Wiggins later investigates the premises of the suspect and simply takes notes without the fear of being caught, one wonders if this wouldn’t have made for a smoother game experience with less frustration.
More stealth and death
Another frustrating stealth or survival sequence can be found in the first case when one is hunted by people with guns. It feels as if the developers wanted to imitate Metal Gear Solid, especially the third one, but it all comes down to is running away and wait to fill up the stamina bar when hiding behind trees, checking on a radar how far the enemy is and then running again, crossing one’s fingers not to step into a trap or drowning in water. The latter is especially annoying, as one has to use the detective mode to see where one can step or where one can’t. As this can only be done when hiding, one has to somehow memorize which parts of the swamp are safe and which aren’t.
Trying and dying like Indy or Lara
Unfortunately, action sequences become more common, as one enters a Mayan temple that is full of traps. As if the developers wanted to imitate the Tomb Raider games or Indiana Jones movies, one is consecutively chased by more than one big boulder, has to run away and jump into small openings to let it pass by. Then one has to be careful when stepping on tiles that give way (as in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) while a wall of spikes slowly moves forward.
Probably the most aggravating part is when one has to run past statues that can instantly kill Holmes with poison if they face him. This wouldn’t be a problem if one had more time to look at their features which clearly indicate which is safe and which is not. But of course the room one finds oneself in has the ceiling crashing down and the fast camera movements or narrow viewpoints make it even more difficult, so good memory and fast reflexes are as much required to survive as patience.
More or less time pressure in other mini-games
If all this sounds too exciting, there’s at least a very boring bowling (or boule) mini-game that Holmes has to or can play in the second case. Due to the opponent’s terrible AI, it’s only a matter of time before one either falls asleep or skips the whole ordeal. Skipping is an option with some (but not all) action scenes, too, which is obviously a good idea. Timed sequences can unfortunately be part of some puzzles, as can be seen when defusing a bomb in which one has barely enough time to figure out how the mechanism works.
Finally some puzzle solving
Fortunately, a number of puzzles are often quite inventive and fun, e.g. when one has to decipher Mayan symbols that can have different meanings depending on the context or finding a hidden person in a photo by using chemicals. A particularly great puzzle sadly only crops up at the end when one switches between the past and present to figure out what is missing in a room. Looking for a specific tomb by learning about each occupant via Holmes’ detective mode is also a highlight.
Of course there are numerous puzzles that are less entertaining and downright annoying, e.g. an over-complicated mechanism involving cogs that have to fit on various levels. A very repetitive lock picking puzzle that becomes increasingly harder due to unintuitive controls when choosing different tools is another example, while pushing levers and buttons on a machine has more to do with trial-and-error than logic.
One often can’t shake the feeling as if the designers wanted to include even more Tomb Raider-style environmental puzzles, e.g. when moving stone columns to match clock times in the Mayan temple which is more tedious than lateral thinking work. The worst examples are when one has to fill and empty water in the sewers, pushing crates so that they can be used as floating stepping stones later on. It’s probably one of the laziest ways to extend playtime, but completely unnecessary, as it has been done in countless FPS games with better atmosphere.
Same old or new looks
Anyone who has played Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments won’t see many changes in the graphical quality, as both settings and characters look great, especially in the animations department, e.g. Wiggins’ realistic movements when climbing during his stealth sequence. However, the new looks of Sherlock and Watson need some more adjusting, as they’re reminiscent of the modern Guy Ritchie movies.
Sounding mostly good
The music is often subtle, melancholic, and even creepy at times with various piano variations, but as there’s also a lot of action going on, it can become expectedly more dramatic with louder instruments that add to the adrenaline factor. There’s even a fun interpretation of the main Sherlock theme of past games in the Toby section. Voice acting is great throughout, but unfortunately the whiney voice of Holmes’ daughter becomes so annoying that one is thankful for every scene she isn’t in.
A shorter and more thrilling but also frustrating experience
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter tries very hard to differentiate itself from Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments by having a more modern look and an emphasis on action and stealth elements. Unfortunately, these parts are what bring it down, because they’re frustrating and only work in a few cases, but even then it’s a case of trial and error. While the theme of justice held the previous game together, there isn’t really anything that connects the cases here. The main plotline is underdeveloped and could have used some more time to establish a convincing relationship between Holmes and his daughter, resulting in an emotional payoff.
Be it as it may, The Devil’s Daughter still has some fun deduction parts and puzzles, even if the former rely too much on guess work and the latter don’t always fit. With individual playtimes of between 1-3 hours for each unique if not always memorable case and in total 12 hours, the game is shorter than its predecessor, especially if one decides to skip all the action segments, reducing playtime even more.
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the Xbox store
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