Sherlock Holmes must surely be the most adapted character in history, with multiple, competing versions existing on television right now, alongside Robert Downey Jr.’s movie version. Frogwares’ games have been adding to this expanding pool of Holmes adaptations since 2002, with The Devil’s Daughter marking their eighth game to utilise the character and his associated world.
Fortunately the story and mechanics don’t require any knowledge of what’s come before, with the narrative having no ties back to other games from Frogwares. There are, of course, beats that those familiar with the general canon of Sherlock Holmes will recognise, but this adds to the game if you’re in the know, rather than taking away from it for those who haven’t spent as much time with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation.
The game spans five cases, each of which were around two and a half hours long in my playthrough. The first four of these cases are self-contained, but the final case’s narrative weaves through the events and the decisions you made. Although the tales of those four individual cases are fairly typical for Sherlock Holmes adventures, it’s the overarching story that’s far more interesting.
You see, it turns out this version of Holmes has a daughter, Kate, who unexpectedly returns to Baker Street when her boarding school is flooded early in the story. She is, however, adopted, and the story of how she came to be in Holmes’ care forms a core element of the game’s mystery.
It’s fair to say that Holmes and his daughter have a somewhat fractured relationship, with the tension between them only increasing throughout the game. This isn’t helped by the introduction of Holmes’ new neighbour, Alice, who Kate takes to quickly, while Holmes remains more cautious of her links to the occult and supernatural.
Although an exploration of Holmes’ domestic life and the trials of raising a daughter might seem like a slightly unusual topic for a story, it actually works better than anticipated, even if it does feel a little clichéd at points.
In the course of investigating each case, unique mechanics, mini-games and puzzles crop up, which really help to break things up and keep the game feeling fresh. In the first case, for example, you have to both clean a chimney and try to shine a mark’s shoes, while the second case has you competing in the finals of a lawn bowls tournament. At one point you even explore a Mayan temple, solving Tomb Raider-esque puzzles.
However, investigating cases and piecing together clues is at the core of the game, and there’s a fair amount that’s been carried over from Crimes & Punishments in this regard. The game retains the ‘deduction board’, where key clues are added to Holmes’ mental picture of the crime. Solving a case requires you to draw the correct connections from the clues you’ve found, with every crime featuring multiple solutions, although only one correct one. It’s a nice idea, and one that forces you to actually make some decisions about information and various characters’ motivations.
Character portraits have also been brought over from the previous game, which see you replicate Holmes’ famous observation skills. You quickly size up various elements of a character, such as their attire or marks on their skin, to gain insights into their personality and past. It can be genuinely tricky to draw the correct portrait of a character though, with some of the observations giving you multiple inferences to choose between.
Quick time events make an appearance as well, although mostly in the game’s occasional action sequences. However, they’re nicely woven into some conversations too, forcing you to pay attention and select the right clue to confront a character with. It’s certainly not a branching conversation system, but it does enough to make you feel like an actual participant in conversations.
All of these other elements are wrapped neatly around a point and click adventure title that allows you to explore surprisingly large chunks of Victorian London. That’s not to say it’s an open world title – it most certainly isn’t – but most of the locations you visit contain the streets around the building you want, with Londoners inhabiting them, albeit not particularly dynamic ones.
Unfortunately, it’s at this point that the negative areas must be discussed. While the gameplay and narrative are reasonably compelling, it’s hard to review any of the other elements so favourably. Frame rate drops and screen tearing are prevalent throughout, although weirdly they occur much more frequently in cut scenes. This would almost be forgivable if the game at least looked special, but it’s very much average in that regard.
You’re also constantly beset by loading screens. While it’s a nice touch that you can actually see Holmes travelling in a carriage around the city during these moments, it quickly becomes tiresome. You can, at least, enter the deductions system and marshall your current clues or check out your case book, but even these distractions do little to improve the experience of sitting though long and frequent loading screens.
Controlling Holmes and the occasional ancillary character feels floaty and imprecise. While most of the environments you encounter aren’t that complex to navigate, this only makes it more frustrating when you find yourself briefly stuck against a chair. Even Holmes’ walking animation is lacking, never really leaving you with a sense that he’s actually inhabiting the world.
As for the voicework, while it’s never actually bad, it just feels like it’s lacking something. Some of the characters do work well, Watson in particular, but Sherlock’s dialogue can feel quite inconsistent in his tone, and the interactions with his daughter don’t have much emotional depth. I will say that the game’s finale is a notable exception to this, but most of their conversations feel stilted.
I’d love to be able to give Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter a stronger review, but it simply isn’t possible. The story is solid, if a little unusual for a Sherlock Holmes tale, and the collection of mechanics and mini-games that could easily feel thrown together actually work well together, leaving you guessing about what comes next.
What’s more frustrating is that even though the game has a lot of issues on a technical level, it’s not actually buggy. You never fall through the world or find yourself unable to progress in a case, you’re just left with persistent frame rate, screen tearing and control issues that drag down a solid, if unexceptional, game.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4