STAFF REVIEW of Sherlock Holmes The Awakened (Xbox One)

Monday, May 1, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Sherlock Holmes The Awakened Box art Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Whether it’s the book version, TV or movies, I’ve had a fascination with the way his mind worked. And yes, I know he’s a fictional character, but there was always something about the way he could look at something mundane and see more that lay beyond what the average person would see. In “A Study in Scarlet”, the first book appearance of Sherlock Holmes, there is a line that says, “To a great mind, nothing is little”, and this sums up Holmes perfectly in my opinion.

I think the same thing could be said for Frogwares latest game, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. It’s more than just a simple remake of the original 2007 game, and the combination of Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraftian vibes was too good of a case to not investigate further. Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened isn’t a direct sequel to Frogwares latest game, Chapter One. With the war in the Ukraine, Frogwares has delayed their next entry into their open world games in favour of this more compact and reimagined entry.

You start out the game with something simple. Holmes’ newspaper is missing. It seems mundane, but this mini investigation into the missing newspaper serves as a sort of tutorial to teach you all about the skills and techniques you will be using once you move into the main story investigation. Accompanied by Dr. Watson, his voice of reason, they set out to discover what happened to the missing paper in the streets of London. The simple search for the missing paper eventually leads the pair to Captain Stenwick’s home where you find that his servant has gone missing. This, of course, is much more than a simple missing person’s case. Like any good Sherlock Holmes mystery, there is much more than initially believed, and the bigger story ultimately takes the pair across the city of London, to an asylum in Switzerland, across the pond to New Orleans and to a realm far beyond ours.

During the estimated 12-15 hours to complete, you will alternate between playing as Holmes and Watson to solve the cases in front of you. Between the brutal murder scenes, gory rituals, and Eldritch horrors, this game was so much more than I initially anticipated. I didn’t play the original The Awakened game but from what I can gather, the biggest difference between the original 2007 version and this one is how much it’s become more character driven. The conversations between Holmes and Watson, as well as how the events of the game affect them, are much more predominant in this new version. Also gone is the first-person view resulting in a favourable (for me anyway) third person view. There are all new side quests at each investigation location as well. There are many nods and easter eggs to the 2007 version for those who have played it too.

Of interesting note is that this Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is the first Sherlock Holmes game to receive a Mature 17+ rating from the ESRB. This is for content including blood and gore, violence, drug references and suggestive themes.

At the heart of the mechanics in The Awakened is simple point and click DNA. Find and investigate points of interest and refer back to things you’ve found previously to close the loops. Each investigation has a similar loop over the 8 chapters in the game. Evidence comes in a few different forms including physical items that can be found and interacted with, and you will also use a sixth sense sort of mechanic to investigate things that wouldn’t be seen with normal eyesight. I guess a sort of Sherlock Sense. Symbols attached to each item in your evidence log/menu suggests what you need to do with them. If an item allows you to ‘pin it’, it likely means that when you are wandering the streets and alleys you can interact with NPCs to get further information about this item. This is how you will narrow down the next area that you need to search for clues. Some clues can only be found my using multiple pieces of evidence that you’ve collected to see whether they can interact with one another to find the next clue. This could be something like a piece of conversation with a business card or a footprint to locate the next person you need to speak to or a location to go to next.

Once you have collected all the clues in the chapter you will go to your “Mind Palace” which is basically Sherlock’s deduction mode. You’ll see nodes that you must unlock but using info you’ve collected. Once you’ve unlocked all the nodes in a chapter you will complete that chapter and move to the next. You can go to the mind palace any time, but you may not have all the info you need to solve the node. If you only have partial clues correct they will highlight green, and you can just search for the missing pieces. I liked the fact that you are given which parts you have right versus just telling you that you are wrong and not letting you know that you had parts of it correct. This also prevents you from chasing false leads like other games in the Sherlock series. While this gives you a bit less freedom in the gameplay, I liked that it kept the game more streamlined and concentrated, I was able to focus more on what was actually happening versus getting confused. This mind palace gives the player a real feeling of solving the cases alongside of Holmes and gave me a constant trail of breadcrumbs to follow.

The difficulty of cases fluctuate a lot in my opinion, as some were very easy and others left me frustrated to the point that I had to put down the game for a little while and come back to it. There is a valid reason as to why this review is coming out weeks after the launch. It took me some time to work though it and I didn’t want to use walkthroughs after launch either. Preferring to work my way though it despite some frustration. I had to fully embrace the thought process of “Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”, as Sherlock would say.

As mentioned previously, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakening also takes place in another dimension. You are trying to solve the cases of brutal murders that tie into cults and the one and only Cthulhu. This is something that I can’t talk too much about without offering spoilers and is best experienced for yourself. This was the most surprising part of the game and really impressed me with how well it was done. Some puzzles take you between realms and sometimes the puzzle is actually how you will traverse. For example, you may see a door, but it will close as you get near it. The solution to the puzzle is there in front of you, you just need to approach it in a way that you wouldn’t normally. When you play this section, you’ll see that is an actual hint or clue as to how you will complete the puzzle as well.

These Lovecraftian/Eldritch sections stood out as something very unexpected for me from this game and were really well done. The story tone, the gameplay, and the soundtrack were all changed when in these realms and really gave a complete tonal change while playing. Speaking about worlds, the environments felt lived in, the NPCs on the streets, for example, were often chatting to one another or going about their daily activities and not just there to interact with you. As mentioned earlier, they can give you more information to help with cases if you have the right clue pinned, otherwise they simply say they can’t help you. The rainy streets of London looked different than those of New Orleans. Each locale felt different and unique. I didn’t encounter any technical difficulties with the game running on the Series X and found it to be very polished.

My only real complaint about Sherlock Holmes: The Awakening is the lack of a real twist for the story. Most good Sherlock Holmes stories have one, and I was expecting the game to be the same. Perhaps I was just able to see the twist because of my love for the character and genre, or it’s possible that the twist just wasn’t really there. Either way, it wasn’t a real downside of the game, I just wanted something more interesting perhaps. Other than that, the only real thing I ran into was that the game assumed I understood the mechanics without explaining them to me, perhaps thinking that I’ve played previous entries. I think this is why I struggled with the game at first until I got a feel for it. I hadn’t played Chapter One, for example, so I was learning everything new. Although there were tips presented, they didn’t really seem to provide me with enough understanding of what I was supposed to do, or how.

Talking to others about my frustrations, they explained things to me in a way the game didn’t. They played Chapter One so it seems it’s a carry over mechanic that The Awakened assumed you would know and didn’t teach you. The biggest example of this is the pinning of evidence to get NPCs to help you. It took me a long time to understand this. I’m not afraid to admit that I was really confused as to why I couldn’t find the clues needed and once I realized this mechanic, things fell into place easier going forward. Oh, and there is nothing on your minimap, ever. Not even your current location. Another one of those mechanics that took me some time to get used to. Despite the smaller size of this game compared to others, I found myself lost on more occasions than I care to admit.

As expected, the writing in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is stellar. Frogwares have been working on these games for 20 years and their dedication to their craft is evident. Voice acting from Alex Jordon as Holmes and Andrew Wincott as Watson were also fantastic.

All in all, it’s really quite impressive with what Frogwares has done with Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. To say that the Ukrainian studio has been in some extenuating circumstances recently is an understatement and it was never far from my thought while working through all of this review. Being part of their discord prior to launch, they would help when you were stuck via DM's as to not spoil cases for others and reading the messages of support from other reviewers towards the team was heartwarming. Although most game reviews try to separate the game being reviewed from any politics, it’s not always possible. Being who I am, it’s not something I’m ever entirely successful at. If games make me feel something, anything, they are doing what they should. Most often when people talk about why their favourite games are their favourites, there is a feeling component. For a game created and released in about a year, this is an outstanding entry into the world of Holmes. The fact that this game was made at all is an exceptional feat.

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is much more than a simple remake, it’s a new take on the original. It dives further into the psyche of Sherlock and lets you get to know Watson better. The sights and sounds have been reworked and it was an enjoyable experience even when frustrated with my skills in problem solving. It’s definitely a case worth investigating.

**Sherlock Holmes The Awakened was provided the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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