The graceful art of deduction.
There are few characters as well-known across the world than Sherlock Holmes. When I was a child, I honestly thought that he was a real person. Everyone has heard of Sherlock Holmes at some point in their life, whether it be through film, TV show, book, video game, or something else. For a character like that, a character that’s so well known his name itself is synonymous with being smart, it can be hard to reinvent him or come up with truly unique ways to tell his story in a way that’s both fresh and engaging. That difficulty with innovation is no more clear than it is in the case of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, the latest entry in the long-running investigation series from Frogwares.
My preview build of the game began with an exhilarating chase in a forest, before rewinding several hours to an innocuous scene with Holmes sprawled out on the couch, suffering from a bout of boredom and utter lack of distraction to keep him active. Then, just in the knick of time, a small boy named Tom comes to the office with a major concern: his father is missing.
Time was not wasted as The Devil’s Daughter introduced me to many of the tried and true gameplay mechanics of the series’ past. Before I ever started speaking to Tom, time froze as the camera panned across Tom’s body. I’m able to inspect various areas of his clothing, face, hands, and general demeanor to uncover his unspoken secrets. Why are his eyes red? What does that sown-on patch on his coat mean? Why are his hands dirty? My assumptions and deductions of those clues will inform not only the Character Portrait information that Holmes creates, but it will influence the types of questions I can ask as well.
The Sherlock Holmes franchise, much like the titular character, has never been happy with delivering just surface-level investigations and thrills, but instead aims to encourage an authentic portrayal of Holmes’ life from all angles. Once I’m finished interrogating Tom, I have the full compliment of Holmes’ entire office and apartment to explore.
I’ve of course got access to his records and vast walls of books and newspapers to peruse for research, a table to test objects and liquids, and a wardrobe in the bedroom to change my hat, hair, and clothing at any time. From there, it’s time to head out and start the investigation to track down what happened to Tom’s dad.
The Devil’s Daughter marks the eighth game developed by Frogwares in the Sherlock Holmes franchise in the past 14 years – a long and admirable run for any developer or game series. In that time we’ve seen Mr. Holmes across various devices and consoles, most recently in 2014’s Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments. Throughout all of those games, we’ve seen everything from the visuals to the gameplay undergo complete overhauls and changes more than once. But in the case of The Devil’s Daughter, that isn’t the case at all.
Frogware employed the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach to their design of The Devil’s Daughter. In addition to inspection and conversation mechanics being carried over from Crimes and Punishments, you’re also able to explore environments as you investigate cases, use your Sherlock Talent to uncover hidden clues, and piece those chunks of information together in the deduction menu. Here, you’ll have to choose different combinations of clues – the ones that makes sense together – and decide which types of conclusions to draw from those ideas. But be careful – because you can come to the wrong conclusions.
Above: Gameplay video from Crimes and Punishments, the last Sherlock Holmes game (2014).
However, what The Devil’s Daughter may lack in terms of innovation, it more than makes up for with additional polish and an immersive world. Areas that you explore are much larger, choices have far-reaching consequences, you can fail parts of the game and make mistakes, and new action sequences tie the cutscenes and narrative together seamlessly. It’s a safe sequel that carries the torch forward, rather than igniting a new flame to champion.
To no surprise though, The Devil’s Daughter is undoubtedly the best Mr. Holmes and the good Dr. Watson have ever looked. Victorian London is gorgeous and alive. Streets are bustling with activity and every piece of paper and box in a corner looks intentional. Typically with these sorts of more interactive and narrative adventure games you’ll find yourself restricted by linear environments that do a poor job of imitating an open atmosphere, but that’s not the case this time around.
Nothing is Little
As I got deeper into the demo, things started to get more intense. One clue tipped me off to a certain mysterious man that was handing out “special jobs” to patrons of a certain downtain pub. After I found the location by actually reading street signs and chatting with locals, I did a bit of eavesdropping. If you’ve ever played the Fight Night franchise, then you’ll be familiar with this gameplay mechanic.
Above: Trailer from Crimes and Punishments, the last Sherlock Holmes game (2014).
As a way of mirroring the way your ears strain when trying to listen to someone else’s conversation in a crowded room, I had to keep each control stick inside of a larger circle, all while the icons were fighting against me to move outside the circle.
Little minigames like this can sometimes feel intrusive in other games, but Sherlock Holmes does such a good job of gamifying every aspect of the adventure that it feels natural. Lockpicking and cracking safes are also engaging. In the case of safes, I had to physically move the stethoscope around the exterior of the safe as I turned the knob to try and find the right numbers. Listening for the clicks had me really straining my ears – playing with headphones during this moment would have helped a lot.
Uncovering the Impossible
I spent a few hours with the preview build of The Devil’s Daughter and came away wishing I could have spent even more time in the shoes of the famous (or would we say infamous in some cases?) career detective. There’s nothing more frustrating than being on the verge of uncovering a secret and finding out what’s swirling in the shadows, only to stop and leave the mystery unsolved. This adventure’s narrative promises to take a much more personal approach to Holmes’ past, present, and future.
David Jagneaux is a contributor to IGN. Follow the clues to his whereabouts on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.