Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened was the very first Sherlock Holmes game I ever played. Releasing in 2007, it threw the famous detective into the world of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. I remember having a great time with it, but I also remember very little else. Thankfully, this remake takes the storyline of the original but revamps pretty much the entire rest of the game including the quest design, voice acting, puzzles, and even the ending! Quite a task for the Ukrainian developers considering the horrible and difficult conditions that they had to work under.
Many thanks to Frogwares for the review.
For those that never played the original, the game starts with Sherlock losing his newspaper. He’s in the middle of an investigation and the important lead that may tie everything together is now gone. The bookseller is always reliable, so he naturally suspects fowl play. After a brief rummage around outside, he finds the soiled paper in the bin – along with some potentially poisonous cactus spines. Attempted murder? The game is afoot!
Well, actually, it all turns out to be a bit of a misunderstanding. Turns out a lovestruck bookseller accidentally fumbled with an exotic plant meant for a gift, thus ruining Sherlock’s daily paper. As such, the suspected assassination ended up being nothing but mere bad luck. Thus begins the questioning of how reliable Sherlock’s logic really is.
It’s a great setup for what is to come, as the cases that follow quickly end up leading him on the trail of a Cthulhu worshipping cult. With him already starting to question his logic, he’ll soon find himself questioning the unknown and how much it matches up with everything that he holds to be true. To say more would spoil the story of this narrative focused game, but it’s a delight for fans of both the detective genre and cosmic horror genre alike.
Whilst the story is presented rather well from a narrative perspective, it falters somewhat by how it looks. From the offset, the character models look rather uncanny as it strives for realism but then has huge issues with the smaller details. Whether its the dead eyes that look at different corners of the room, or the facial hair lacking in detail that’s also just a bit too shiny, they’re all quite unsettling to look at. The voice acting is generally quite strong, especially for the main characters, but the lip syncing is also slightly off at times and adds to that overall unpolished look. The environments don’t look quite as bad, but they do look like something from a fifteen year old game.
As mentioned at the top of the review, The Awakened plays quite differently to the original and feels more like an extension of the more recent titles. Sherlock and Watson will have to talk to important NPCs to gather information, and use information gathered from the crime scene in order to piece together what happened. It works slightly different to before, particularly with the addition of a special investigative mode activated with the right bumper. Using this will allow Sherlock to analyze areas of interest that cannot be examined normally. Such areas have a green shimmer, but it can be pretty hard to spot at times, making it quite troublesome to use – especially when previous titles would just allow you to do it by simply examining the relevant area. This mode can also be used to activate special nodes after gathering enough information, allowing you to recreate the crime scene. This feels a bit better to use and probably should have been the sold function of this mode.
Once Sherlock has everything he needs from the real world, he can start making deductions using his mind palace. Focusing on a single question, you have to link relevant information to his brain via neurons, thus allowing him to come to the proper conclusion. It’s a bit more cumbersome than before, requiring you to navigate a few different categories of clues, but it works well enough and fans of the series should feel right at home here.
The aforementioned quirks aren’t too much of an issue while going about your business, but there is one problem that caused me no end of frustration. In order to use certain evidence in your mind palace, or even just examine some objects in the world, you have to manually pin important pieces of evidence. It’s such an easy thing to forget about, and caused me endless problems as I hit frequent dead ends. To give you an example: early on in the game I found myself wandering around in circles trying to find the final clue to finish off part of an investigation; it was only when I realised that I had to pin evidence pertaining to an unusual lock before the game would allow me to examine the keys hung up in the shed and actually progress! It’s completely counter-intuitive and proved irritating every time I had forgotten to do so. It feels like an attempt to artificially extend the length of the game, and not in a good way.
These gameplay nitpicks are unfortunately not the main problem with the game, as the game also suffers from numerous technical issues and bugs that plague the experience. Frequent hard crashes, bugged dialogue, and occasionally spotty performance are the main things that set the game back. The crashes in particular are particularly bothersome as the game takes a rather long time to load after booting up. At one point it happened so much that I almost abandoned my playthrough entirely. Perhaps other versions fare better in this regard, but at the very least the Switch version is in need of a serious patch or two in order to make it a more pleasant experience.
Given the dreadful conditions that the team had to work under for this remake, it’s a miracle that it even saw the light of day at all. The world of Sherlock fits surprisingly well with that of Lovecraft, as it forces him to question his reliance on logic in a world that runs free from such restrictions. Unfortunately, the game is marred by technical issues that make the high price tag quite hard to swallow. Hopefully these can be addressed in the near future to make this a worthy addition to the Switch library.