|Platforms||PC, PS4 (reviewed), XBO|
|Release Date||June 10, 2016|
This review was written using a game key provided by PR.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is the latest in Frogwares’ long-running series of games that places you in the shoes of the other world’s greatest detective. The game sees Holmes and Watson embark on solving five different cases, all while a more personal story weaves its way through each of them.
There’s a really cool mechanic at play in Devil’s Daughter (my first foray into Frogwares’ Holmes series), which truly makes you feel as though you’re stepping into the shoes of England’s greatest detective. All through the game you’re gathering clues and evidence, and at any moment you can choose to pull back into the deduction board – almost akin to diving straight into Holmes’ brain.
Here you can review any evidence you’ve found and try to link it together. Link two connected pieces of evidence together and you’ll form a deduction, which will give you new information about a case or even allow you to pursue a brand new avenue of investigation. Occasionally these deductions are multiple choice – leaving you to interpret what you believe to be the truth (whether someone is lying or not, for example).
One thing you’ll notice quickly is that these deductions can often run counter to one another. As with the best detective stories, there are multiple suspects. It’s up to you as Sherlock Holmes to sift through the evidence you have and figure out who committed whichever crime you’re investigating. Devil’s Daughter makes this uncomfortably difficult as each suspect in each case could feasibly have done the deed – their potential means, motive and opportunity all make logical sense if the evidence is arranged correctly.
However only one suspect could possibly be guilty. And once you’ve accused someone in Devil’s Daughter and ended the case, the game erases your save file, drops you off in the next one and starts a new save all over again. It doesn’t even tell you if you’ve fingered the right suspect until the very end of the game. It’s a fascinating series of mechanics that few detective or mystery games can match – you actually feel like you’re putting the pieces together and forming conclusions on your own, rather than the game shepherding you along a predetermined path. It’s a welcome change of pace.
There’s also the “imagination” mechanic, which allows Holmes to reconstruct the scene of a crime. It’s a really cool gameplay feature whereby Holmes will imagine a ghostly retelling of what happened to a particular victim, and then you as the player need to put the events together in the correct order. You can play and replay the crime until you’ve figured out how it went down, and then actually see how it all happened. It’s really fun to put these sequences together and very satisfying when you tie it all up correctly.
Unfortunately this is undermined in a few different ways that dulls the impact of these otherwise excellent gameplay systems. You can make accusations when you’ve connected enough bits of evidence to damn a specific party. So you select who to accuse and watch a cutscene play. Then you can go back, rearrange the evidence and accuse the next suspect to see their cutscene. And so on. If you watch all of the cutscenes it becomes blindingly obvious which is the correct suspect, and then you can finalise your choice.
If Devil’s Daughter didn’t have this “rewind” mechanic its final choices might have carried some weight. Instead it just means you can make doubly sure you get the right person before committing to your decision, which wastes an otherwise fantastic series of mechanics. There’s also a morality system at work, where you can choose to be a bastard or not towards the guilty, but it doesn’t really effect much other than a line or two of dialogue.
There’s also something to be said for the game hamstringing you at frequent occasions. There were many times while playing Devil’s Daughter that I would figure out the next place I needed to visit, but I hadn’t found or linked all of the evidence required to “unlock” the next bit. One early example was figuring out that I needed to visit a pub to find a suspect. As soon as I deduced this I ran across the street but couldn’t get in. After twenty-frustrating minutes of play I found that it was because I hadn’t found a bit of evidence at another location.
What this does is make me feel much smarter than Sherlock-bloody-Holmes. The game doesn’t let me solve the case on my own, putting the pieces together and running off to the next set of clues. Instead I have to wait for Holmes himself to catch up with my thinking. Even though it was blindingly obvious that the pub was my next destination, Holmes wouldn’t entertain the idea until he found a clue that literally had the pubs name on it, which made him look like a bit of a dullard.
Devil’s Daughter also has a fascinating approach to its gameplay. There’s your standard third-person clue-hunting stuff, which is how you’ll be spending the majority of your time, as you comb every square inch of the locations you’re given access to in an attempt to find every last clue. There are also puzzles aplenty to solve – some are fun, some are infuriating. And then there’s…everything else.
And by everything else, I really do mean everything else. Devil’s Daughter introduces and discards new gameplay mechanics as you or I would chewing gum. There are an overwhelming amount of different gameplay sections in the game. At first you’d be forgiven for thinking that Devil’s Daughter was just spending its first case introducing all the disparate ways in which you can play the game. You’ll perform a stealth section, search a house, do various experiments and look up some information…
…and then never do them again. Devil’s Daughter introduces so many different gameplay mechanics that only show up once, and then are never seen again. It can be very disorienting to keep blazing through the cycle of sometimes vastly different ways the game asks you to play. It constantly keeps you wrong footed as you go through, never sure what the heck you’re supposed to do next, and then once you figure it out you’ll probably never need that information for the rest of the game.
On the other hand, it keeps things constantly fresh. If there’s a gameplay section that frustrates or bores you, you can just grin and bear it because you probably won’t have to encounter it again. Didn’t enjoy following a mark through the maze-like streets of London? Or lawn bowling? Or getting into a fistfight in the local pub? Or controlling Holmes’ dog Toby to sniff out a potential clue? Cool, you won’t have to do them very often, if even more than once. And this stretches to pretty much every other mechanic in the game I haven’t already talked about.
There is one other gameplay mechanic that crops up from time to time – action sequences, and boy are they aggravating. Full of quicktime events and other dodgy mechanics, action sequences are a blight upon Devil’s Daughter. And they always feel like they’re never going to end. What’s funny is all of this stuff can be skipped at any time. Every puzzle, action sequence and other mechanic can be skipped with the push of a button. Almost like Frogwares knew where its strengths were, and knew that many of these sequences just got in the way of the good parts of the game.
When the game slows down and lets you do some detective work is when it’s at its best. The characters in Devil’s Daughter are also amongst the highlights of the game. Holmes himself, voiced here by Jon Hamm, is easily the most entertaining character of the bunch. Other regular characters such as Watson or Mrs. Hudson (or the delightfully charismatic Orson Wilde) are a lot of fun to follow around. And the stories behind the cases are, for the most part, very interesting to watch play out. I found myself genuinely interested in where the story was going, as well as who did the bad things that kicked the story off in the first place.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is a game as all over the place as its gameplay mechanics. It features one of the better incarnations of England’s greatest detective and his supporting cast. It also does a good job of letting you get inside Holmes’ mind, with an excellent deduction mechanic that lets you feel like you’re drawing conclusions yourself, rather than letting the game put all the pieces together. It’s held back by how intuitive the detective work can become, when you’ve figured out a clue but can’t move forward until Holmes himself has, which doesn’t do much for Holmes’ supposed intelligence. The scattershot nature of Devil’s Daughter’s gameplay mechanics can be as refreshing as it is disorienting, and it’s not helped by a heavy reliance on annoying action and puzzle sequences that never seem to end. All in all its a decent game with a lot of caveats.
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