Since its inception in 2002, Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes video game series has calved out a compelling niche in the detective-’em-up space, garnering a cult following among gamers who prefer their adventuring with a little more of a cerebral edge. Originally a PC-based franchise, the series has slowly made the transition to home consoles, culminating in 2014’s Crime and Punishment, which is perhaps the closest thing Baker Street’s resident super sleuth has to a bonafide gaming blockbuster.
Ostensibly, this also marked Frogwares’ attempt to cater to a more mainstream audience, injecting the quintessentially old-school English detective’s snooping with a few modern gaming sensibilities, such as the ultra-useful Sherlock Vision. With a bigger game world, ambitious story and more action-based set pieces, Crimes and Punishment set a firm path for the series going forward, and it’s this design philosophy that we find Frogwares slipping back into like a comfy pair of Holmes’ slippers with this year’s The Devil’s Daughter.
Our hands-on time with the World’s Greatest Detective (sorry Batman, Holmes beat you to it) took us through an early mission titled Prey Tell. Our leading man is woken from a groggy state by a young boy whose father has disappeared; just as well, as Holmes could do with a fresh case to snap him out of his lull. Immediately, we’re greeted by The Devil’s Daughter’s intricate detective system, as we scrutinise the lad’s features to build a character portfolio. Keen eyes will pick out minute details; for example, we noticed an unusual blemish on his skin, which Holmes deduced as a result of malnutrition. It’s certainly a cool feature and gives you a nice indication of the game’s finer workings.
With that done, we guide Holmes out of his comfy abode to track down the missing George Hurst. This encompassed the meat and potatoes of Holmes’ snooping, as we poked and prodded our way through Hurst’s tatty room for clues as to his whereabouts. Pleasingly, there’s more to just hammering away at the X button to investigate; although points of interest are abundant, you’ll still need to tinker with some objects to discover anything useful, channeling the old-school point-and-click adventures that Sherlock owes its legacy to. Indeed, the aforementioned Sherlock Vision is instrumental in gathering pertinent info to your case, whether it’s looking for a spot of glue on the back of a slip of paper to deduce its origins, or spotting a hidden bar tab tucked discreetly inside a soiled jacket.
Eventually, we caught a lead and made our way through the dingy, filth-encrusted backstreets of 1880s London to a local boozer. It turns out that Hurst was offered a job by a chap down at the pub he frequents, so we needed to identify the mystery man in question—and what better way than sitting at the bar, calmly listening in on the local punters’ conversation. Yep, it’s here we got to try out another thread of Devil’s Daughter’s vast investigative tapestry; eavesdropping. Unlike other games that present this type of effort as an exercise of sheer frustration (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed 3 & 4), The Devil’s Daughter keeps it simple: just twiddle the analogue sticks to keep them in the circle provided, then listen to a line of key dialogue, and you’re done.
In fact, it’s fun piecing together snippets of seemingly innocuous banter only to discover the identity of your target by a bit of simple sleuthing. Sure enough, we found our man slurping a cup of water in the same pub.
The Devil’s Daughter also isn’t afraid to throw a curveball at you every once in awhile. In our hands-on, we jumped out of the well-worn shoes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s illustrious snooper into the role of a local street urchin to aid Holmes in tracking a target. These sequences were fairly perfunctory; we guided the boy down the street, ducking behind cover when the mystery man got suspicious. A red bar fills up at the top of the screen; when it’s full, you fail the section, although the checkpoint system is fortunately quite generous. Still, Devil’s Daughter spices things up when you take to the rooftops, requiring some dexterous finger work on our part as we had to navigate narrow beams with the two analogue sticks.
We were also treated to some hands-off with Devil’s Daughter in a brief presentation, showcasing a plethora of content to look forward to in the full release. One of the most intriguing elements is the Sherlock Mind function. Hitting Triangle brings up a list of clues you’ve gathered, allowing you to investigate and link them to form a coherent and believable case against potential perpetrators. The game doesn’t tell you if you’ve got it right; this is down to your own intuition and skills as a detective, and Holmes has a ‘Moral Choice’ to make once he’s made a conviction. One example is either turning them into the local plod or exacting your own revenge (in this case, the baddie tried to blow up Holmes’ office, so we forgive him for wanting to take things into his own hands).
Elsewhere, The Devil’s Daughter showcase its funny bones with a couple of humorous events. One had Holmes fabricating an exorcism for an old woman, which saw him banishing spirits from everything from window frames to wooden doors. Then there’s the time the pipe-smoking sleuth needed to distract a bit of hired muscle in a gambling hall from a point of interest. This not only combined the game’s bread-and-butter detective work, but also gave us a taste of another mechanic; hitting L1 allows you to see what would happen if you spark a chain of events, letting you piece together the right sequences.
Before we cap off this write-up, it’s worth pointing out that in many ways the City of London is essentially a perennial companion in your journey in itself From the authenticity of the cobbled streets and Victorian architecture to the vociferous, cockney chatter of its residents, Frogwares has nailed the the time and location effortlessly. With 20+ hours promised for the final game, we’re probably going to spend a lot of time wondering its streets, too.
While we only scratched the tip of the proverbial iceberg with our hands-on time with The Devil’s Daughter, it’s clear that Frogwares is on to another winning formula, marrying intrigue, beautiful visuals and compelling gameplay in one polished package.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is due out on PlayStation 4, PC and Xbox One on May 27, 2016.