STAFF REVIEW of Sherlock Holmes Chapter One (Xbox Series X)

Monday, November 15, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Sherlock Holmes Chapter One Box art We got to check out Sherlock Holmes Chapter One long before official release, and while it was a very early build and not fully complete, it impressed me and left me wanting more time with the iconic detective. Well, the time has come and now that I’ve seen the credits roll on the final release, I’m glad to see that many improvements have been made and the time has made for a better experience overall.

Developer Frogwares is no stranger to Sherlock Holmes games, as they’ve got quite a few in their portfolio. Arguably Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments was their best outing yet with you playing as the most celebrated detective of all time (aside from Batman), but Sherlock Holmes Chapter One aims to be much bigger and better than all of the predecessor titles. Even though it has “Chapter One” in its title, this is actually not an episodic game. Instead, the title is in reference to Sherlock actually working his very first case, albeit a very personal one, acting like a prequel of sorts and an origin story.

A story driven adventure, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One centers around a young and spry 21 year old Sherlock as he makes his way back home to the small island of Cordona in the Mediterranean to investigate the mystery of his mother’s death. This is a different Sherlock than we’re used to though, as he hasn’t quite become the man we’ve all read about and seen on TV and movies. He’s young, so he’s a little cocky in his abilities, but he will surely have his detective skills put to the test with an assortment of characters you’ll come across on the island.

Alongside his lifetime friend from childhood, Jonathan, Sherlock and Jon come to pay respects at Violet Holmes’ grave, but things couldn’t be that easy, and thus their adventure begins. While the hotel you arrive in is incredibly upper class, don’t let the looks of Cordona fool you, there’s a seedy underbelly to the city that you’ll start to uncover as you dig deeper around every corner.

You’ll have your childhood friend Jon alongside every step of the way, but this isn’t the same Watson partner that we all know, this is a different Jon and he will play an integral role for Sherlock to turn into the legend we’ve all read about. Jon will keep a diary to record the choices you make, notes about your friendship, bets won or lost and even let you know when something interesting is nearby that you should make notice of. He’s a wonderful character and was a great contrast to Sherlock’s style and personality.

I quite enjoyed Sherlock’s youthful arrogance, as it’s a side we don’t get to see often in the older versions. He’s eager to prove himself, showcasing his brilliance and observation skills, even from the opening moments. While Sherlock’s legacy is already known and well documented, being able to play this younger version as he begins to earn his reputation was a very clever way to ‘open the book’ on their own interpretation of the character. You’ll have many tools at your disposal, the most important of which will be your mind with your deduction and investigative skills, keen eye for observation and of course Jon by your side at all times. Sometimes though you’ll need to get your hands dirty, either through some combat, though this is optional, or even having to utilize costume changes to have people open up to you, because beggars or thugs won’t want to help someone that’s dressed as posh as Sherlock usually does.

I won’t delve into the main storyline cases because they were by far the best part about the whole experience, but what starts out as a simple visit to your mother’s grave evolves into something much more involved and intricate with plenty of twists and turns. This is a detective game though, so you better bring your thinking cap, or else be prepared to look up walkthroughs, sadly something not available to me before launch. There will be some fan service, as you’ll hear about your childhood alongside your brother Mycroft, and there are even multiple endings, something that I was very content and satisfied with once the credits rolled.

As soon as you arrive to Cordona you arrive at your hotel, immediately thrust into solving your first mystery, returning an expensive looking cane to someone that has seemingly left it behind. How you do so will be completely up to you. Of course a simple task like this is no match for the brilliant mind of Holmes, but this leads to uncovering a more serious matter once you find its owner. There’s plenty of twists that came along the way and I came away very impressed with how it was all handled in a way that doesn’t force you one direction or another.

There’s actually very little 'handholding' at all, as cases you’re given can be solved in different orders, you’re not expected to accuse a specific person or with a certain reasoning or even a set way how to acquire some clues. Everything is left up to you to figure out in how you want to work the case(s). I’ll admit, I was expecting to simply follow a marker from point A to B and ask specific people certain questions before given the solution, but this is not how Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is designed at all, and it's better for it.

You’re able to determine guilt or innocence which I really enjoyed, as I fully expect there to always be a ‘right’ solution, but that’s not the case at all. You’re not shoehorned into deciding one way or another; you’re actually not even nudged to favor one direction over another, so your decisions are entirely your own. Sometimes there are two truths to each story, so how you decide to solve and report cases will shape the Sherlock heu grows to be. You’re also able to pursue each case at whatever pace you want to, going off to do side missions or events to break up the monotony should you wish.

The fact that the game is open world adds a whole other layer to this design. Cordona is split into different districts, each with their own theme and aesthetic. It can be quite a visual treat to simply stop and take in the architecture of some of the buildings in the rich part of town. There’s a day and night cycle, and while it doesn’t change anything gameplay wise, you’ll notice less ‘normal’ people on the streets in the dead of night, noticing more vagrants and bandits, whereas more wealthy people only come out during the daylight. While there are no vehicles to drive around, there are fast travel spots around the city where you can instantly warp from point to point should you wish to save time, as running from one end of the Cordona to the other will take a bit of time.

While combat was kind of unexpected, it’s completely optional after the tutorial section for it, able to bypass these sections completely if you would rather focus on the detective portions of Sherlock’s adventure. These combat sections only take place when it makes sense narratively, but the majority of these sections are in optional Bandit Lairs. These are essentially secluded rooms where you’re tasked with taking down all of the enemies, hopefully non-lethally. Before you can make any arrests, you’ll need to shoot off their armored weak points before performing a QTE. Instead of being a typical third person shooter, you’re encouraged to use the environment to your advantage to stun enemies, allowing you to shoot their specific areas of weakness. You’re able to play lethally and shoot enemies, but this may affect your relationship with Jon. Beating these Bandit Lairs earns you rewards and money which in turn can be used to purchase new outfits or items for your mansion.

There’s actually quite a few different mechanics in play when it comes to Sherlock solving each mystery and case that comes his way. Sherlock is a detective, and using his keen eye is what Concentration is for. This is almost like a detective mode where you can discern much more information about things and people at a quick glance, such as knowing one's occupation by his attire or what type of accent they're speaking. This isn’t simply a mode you toggle to get the ‘right answer’, but another tool you’ll use to discern the information to make the 'correct' deductions. Key witnesses or suspects you’ll be able to inspect and observe much closer, gathering some key details then profiling them in one of two ways. No one way is completely ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but it’s what you discern from the information given to you.

Eavesdropping on conversations will also yield valuable information, as we all know people like to gossip. Maybe this gives you a new clue you’ve been trying to find or even a brand new side quest to partake in. This quick mini-game gives you a keyword at a time about a specific topic they’re talking about. If you think it relates to the topic then you circle it and decide to keep it, if not, discard it. Once you’ve found all the keywords that relate you’ll then get a vital piece of information for one of your cases. This can be redone without any consequence if you fail as well thankfully.

On certain cases you might have to use Sherlock’s chemistry understanding to solve a certain clue as well. For example, on the first case in the hotel you’ll need to discern what some alleged ‘ectoplasm’ actually is in composition. This is also done via a mini-game where you need to put certain chemicals together to reach a specific tally, though this becomes much more challenging and involved in the later cases. Like combat, these can be completely skipped without consequence should you become stuck or simply don’t want to do them.

The Mind Palace is where you’ll take all your gathered evidence and tie them all together, eventually concluding on who the suspect is or what actually occurred. There will be points where you’ll actually have to recreate the crime scene and what occurred in your head, choosing the proper placement of people and objects so that you can visualize it on your head before making a final conclusion, these can be tough though if you don't pay attention to the finer details.

Pinned Evidence is something you’ll be using quite often. This is where you have any specific piece of evidence pinned which is how you ask about this information specifically to any NPC’s you talk to. If you have multiple clues and want to ask about a specific one, you need to have that exact clue pinned. It’s a little clumsy at first, but you become accustomed to it after a few cases. Each clue that needs more solving also has an icon to indicate if you need to search somewhere, talk to someone, research it in the archives, etc. This too could have been explained and taught a bit better in the opening, but again, you will get used to it over time. There’s no simple following a waypoint marker, as you’ll actually have to read clues and figure out many things for yourself.

This approach is multilayered though, as you need to be asking about the right evidence, and maybe to get the actual truth you’ll need to wear a disguise.That’s right, you’re going to be playing dress up if you want to solve cases. If you’re dressed all fancy in the slums, most likely people aren’t going to trust you, and vice versa if you aren’t dressed like an aristocrat in the rich areas. While you could wear any suit and clothing for roleplay purposes, there are moments where you’ll actually have to utilize disguises to progress, and not just clothing, but makeup (old skin, bruises, etc), hats, masks, facial hair and more. This is where money comes into play, allowing you to purchase a multitude of clothing options, though any that are required for case completions can be rented freely.

Speaking of side quests and other things to do, there’s more than enough to keep you busy on the isle of Cordona. My Cases are your main quests, but there are a number of Cordona Stories as well, almost like mini-cases that aren’t necessarily involved, but give more lore to people or places. Some of these are quite interesting and there’s even some treasure hunting to take part in should you desire. There are even certain parts of cases where Jon will give you a specific challenge, testing you to see if you can either beat him at something or figure something out before moving on.

While the gameplay hooked me in from the first mission I was given, what surprised me the most was how amazing the voice acting was. Not that I was expecting any poor performances, but even from the first few scenes I could tell that the voice acting was done extremely well. Not just Sherlock either, but Jon and even the secondary characters you meet along the way. There was a lot of subtle accents I could notice, making the immersion that much deeper. I normally skip dialogue once I’ve read it, but I let every line finish due to how good it was performed, so bravo to everyone involved on this front, especially Alex Jordan as the witty Sherlock and Wil Coban as his counterpart, Jon. Sure there was some minor annoyances like NPC’s repeating the same line over and over when asked about evidence they know nothing about, but alas.

As for the visuals, I was more than impressed on an Xbox Series X. There are plenty of facial close-ups when it comes to the main cast and support characters, full of detail and life. Animations themselves are also done quite well, though the lip syncing is ‘so-so’ at the best of times. The city of Cordona is beautiful to take in, admiring the architecture and vistas, even in the slums.

Being in development for over two years, it’s exciting to see that Frogwares’ hard work is paying off in an exciting way with a fresh take on such a legendary character. The campaign case is split into five or so chapters, taking me about a dozen or so hours to complete, but with all of the side cases, stories and Bandit Lairs to partake in, there’s easily 40 or so hours’ worth of content to be had.

I didn’t think that Sherlock Holmes Chapter One would be something I would initially gravitate towards, but I’ve been converted once I felt like a genius after solving my first case, wanting to know more about Sherlock, Jon and his mother’s passing. Not being forced to find one ‘correct’ solution to cases was a breath of fresh air and I was completely content with the ending I received. While it’s not episodic, I’m hoping to get some form of a Chapter Two someday, as I want to see how my Sherlock evolved into the legend.

**Sherlock Holmes Chapter One was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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