The Ukrainian studio Frogwares has been making Sherlock Holmes games for twenty years in what has been a desperately slow progression with occasional improvements. However, in 2019 they chose to put the character aside for a time to focus on The Sinking City, a story inspired by HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhian mythology that embraced the open world model. With the experience gained in that development, they have approached a reboot of their series about the famous detective imagined by Arthur Conan Doyle with the same approach. The game takes place on the island of Cordona, an enclave near the Italian coast that acts as a melting pot of cultures with a strong presence of the Ottoman population despite being a British protectorate. The tensions between the population and a host of sinister characters make the work pile up for an inexperienced Sherlock but already sure of his intellect. Has the studio managed to make a game that does justice to the storied character?
Chapter One does not adapt any of the many cases that Conan Doyle wrote over decades. Instead, he delves into Sherlock’s youth and family origins, an almost blank canvas where he can narrate quite freely, while generally respecting the basic pillars of his identity. The riskiest factor is the inclusion of an imaginary friend, Jon (not Watson). At no point is young Sherlock misled. He knows perfectly well that it is a figment of his imagination but he does not go into many details about its existence nor does he seem to worry that only he can see it. The two together return to Cordona, where they spent childhood, after many years to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of their mother. The mansion where they lived unlocks rooms as they remember certain episodes, which leads them to be involved in a series of cases that do not have much to do with each other beyond the general thread of getting clues at the end. A framework narrative that welcomes different episodes following the model of literary stories, although with an extra dose of grime that combines the excesses of the novels hardboiled with a more sinister occult.
Cordona is a city full of corpses. The four main cases may feature robberies at first, but in the development different murders always end up happening to which Sherlock often responds with detached sarcasm. One of the great successes of the developers is the characterization of the young detective. Despite his slyness and obvious narcissism, he is always entertaining with his observations and verbal filigrees. His incompetence in aspects of emotional intelligence, which at times is celebrated in his exchanges with the institutions, is also criticized, especially in his interaction with the victims. The one who doesn’t quite fit in is Jon. His presence is necessary, in the absence of Watson, to give Sherlock a companion with which to contrast his deductions and explain his reasoning, but his personality never ends up on the same page as the detective himself. His insights and comments range from the superfluous to the irritating, especially when he chides him for not finding the solution the first time. He ends up being obnoxious and his moments of sensitivity seem strange. It does not ruin the experience, far from it, but In a game packed with colorful characters and masterfully written and played, Jon seems out of place and it makes us miss the veteran of the Afghan war as a true companion of fatigue.
Where Frogwares shows that he dominates the literary material is in the translation of Holmes’s extraordinary attributes to the mechanics of the game: his gifts for observing suspects, for correctly imagining a sequence of events in a room, for disguise and infiltration , to extract information from witnesses; his experience in chemical analysis and, above all, to establish correlations between the clues and arrive at logical deductions. It is in these instances when the game presents its best face in some cases that can be somewhat bizarre (such as a fatal accident with an elephant treated as a pet that may hide something else), but that maintain interest at all times despite entering Troubled Waters. Chapter One It is not a finicky game, quite the contrary. It takes risks and the resolutions of the cases, which offer a range of possibilities when reporting a suspect, lead to real moral dilemmas that are difficult to justify. The game also doesn’t wrinkle when it comes to tackling lurid topics, such as child abuse or the ritual rape of a refugee, or sick situations, such as an orgy in the purest style Eyes Wide Shut with a murder involved. Exercise due prudence in displaying these horrors, and while the violence involved is considerable, situations are generally well handled, taking advantage of the situation to take a closer look at young Sherlock’s motivations in solving cases and the place that the victims occupy in them.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One It is a great game weighed down by totally expendable combat phases (although to some extent optional), an open world that is too big (there are several districts where the main story does not even pass) and, above all, a rough technical aspect . Is pure eurojank, a term that refers to a school of European titles with high ambitions and limited budgets with a high tolerance for technological detritus. Despite having been making games for two decades and having the technical might of a PlayStation 5, the studio is still unable to release a title with the level of polish that might be expected. The falls of framerate they are constant, the animations can be greatly improved and, in general, you can see the seams everywhere. The game is perfectly playable and has no bugs, which would be the truly burdensome, so if you can overlook this roughness awaits a high-level intellectual experience, with a brave narrative and a competent mystery at its core that explains the origins of the most famous detective of all time.
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