Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter – review

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Frogwares are back, and they’ve brought another Sherlock Holmes game with them. They’ve already proven their ability to develop decent Holmes games, most recently with Crimes and Punishments. Not content to simply pump out more of the same though, The Devil’s Daughter sees them try something more ambitious. That’s admirable; but does it work?

For better and for worse, this is clearly a game where the developer has been allowed a lot of freedom by the publisher. It’s not only recognisably a detective game, it’s recognisably a Frogwares Sherlock Holmes game. You’ll walk around as Holmes examining objects and talking to people, using your Sherly senses now and again to pick out details that mere mortals would miss. You’ll combine facts to make deductions, ultimately deciding who you think the murderer is and what to do with them. But wait – there’s more!

This is a Sherlock Holmes game in which you don’t play as Sherlock Holmes. Well actually, where you don’t play as him for short periods of time, and then but rarely. The first time this comes up is when Holmes asks the dirty street child Wiggins to tail somebody for him. You then step into Wiggins’ grubby little shoes, and follow the chap in question while ensuring that you remain unseen. If you’ve seen the gameplay trailer, you’ll already know this. You may also remember that the tailing sequence was cut short after thirty seconds or so in the trailer, and now we know why; it lasts faaaaaaaarrrrrr too long, and utterly destroys the pace of the story.

Things pick back up again quite quickly after that, and there are no missteps quite so dramatic (the unwelcome stealth section later on is at least mercifully brief). The truth is that overall we love the fact that Frogwares seem to have been given free reign, having made a game with several decisions that would give the average commercial manager a heart attack. At the beginning of one of the four cases, for example, you play a game of bowls. Bowls! This is for no other reason than it’s the sort of thing Holmes would do, which is why we gleefully embraced it.

He’s gone a bit Doctor Who.

You see, it might be best to describe this as attempting to provide a sort of Sherlock Holmes ‘experience’. Although his age and appearance have been adjusted in line with recent Hollywood and BBC interpretations, this is very much Holmes in his world. He has an archive full of documents and newspapers, only a small number of which are actually used for the game’s cases; you can wander around the streets, to a (very) small extent; and, although your non-story related activities come to almost nil, this is a game that takes great pains to make you feel like a suave Sherlock.

When starting a conversation with a new suspect, client or witness, you can examine various elements under a time limit in an attempt to build an instant character portrait. Get it right – or right enough – and this may open up new dialogue options, or simply make you feel smug (which is of course even better). One client’s case you solve before she’s even had a chance to get back up from your sofa, and damn if that doesn’t make you feel like the legendary detective. There are also a few QTE-esque sequences that creep toward the action hero side of things.

In fact, while this is a strictly detective-flavoured game (the supernatural trailer overtones are rather misleading), there’s a heavier emphasis on action here than in previous games. As you might expect, this means that there are opportunities for Sherlock to die; but thankfully, you can usually restart pretty much where you left off. As it happens, this game is refreshingly eager for you to play through in your own style and at your own pace. There are certain puzzles and sequences that aren’t quick and easy to get through. After a short while, the game will subtly introduce an icon indicating that you can skip the sequence with a simple button press. To our shame, we ended up taking advantage of this more than once; though we do feel that certain puzzles are not adequately explained to the player.

Though not indicative of the experience as a whole, there is on occasion STUFF BLOWING UP.

The story consists of four cases, and a final part where your previous actions catch up with you in an unexpected way. The writing is good, the acting is better than you might expect, and the fact that it’s possible to wrongfully accuse somebody of murder ensured that we gave great thought to each and every case’s conclusion. You’re even given one final chance to reconsider things before committing. Indeed, despite our deliberations, on at least one occasion we still felt that perhaps we’d missed something, and worried that we might have done an injustice – despite the fact that, of course, none of these virtual people actually exist. Rare is the game that can make the player care like that.

The Devil’s Daughter may stumble and fall on occasion, but the variety pack of ideas ultimately pays off grandly. A humorous sequence where Holmes disguises himself as a priest is a highlight, and the end sequence – where you must make multiple dialogue choices under extremely tight time limits – is absolutely superb. The welcome option to skip certain parts of the game needs to be balanced with the fact that if some of these parts were better designed, fewer people would take the option. Nonetheless, the greatest criticism we have is that it all seemed to be over far too quickly. The four ‘proper’ cases are so well constructed that we were hungry for more, and we’re already looking forward to the next game.

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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