Given Sherlock Holmes is often described as one of the world’s greatest detectives, making a player really feel like they’ve taken on the role of such a genius is no easy feat. While one can’t be transformed into an eagle-eyed observer or a master of logical reasoning by simply donning a deerstalker and overusing the word ‘elementary’, Sherlock’s unique skills do lend themselves to the potential for some interesting game mechanics. Sadly, despite building on seven other attempts to create the perfect Sherlock Holmes adventure game, The Devil’s Daughter still doesn’t quite find that sweet spot. It is, however, filled with the endless frustration that I imagine actually being around Sherlock Holmes in person would bring. So, at least there’s that realistic touch.
From the moment the game begins, things are confusing. After a dramatic opening sequence, we are introduced to Sherlock as he lays on his couch in his iconic Baker Street apartment and laments how bored he is without a case to solve. Classic Sherlock Holmes. Almost immediately, a strange woman enters with a sniffling child hot on her heels, much to the frustration of Mr. Holmes who has little time for crying children with their pesky feelings. Until, of course, he realizes that this child has come to him with a case, and he instantly begins to use the child’s mannerisms and appearance to piece together preliminary information. Again, classic Sherlock Holmes. The problem is, the game expects you to be an expert at deduction too – but it hasn’t taught you anything yet. So, you are left making semi-educated guesses as to what the child’s appearance might indicate, which quickly feels as if you’re blindly making judgments about his innocence based on things like a runny nose or a scuffed shoe. Is this child sick, or are his puffy eyes part a grand scheme to make me feel sorry for him so that I will take the case and help him get away with murder? Maybe Sherlock Holmes can answer that question upon meeting people, but I definitely can’t.
This initial lack of direction really sets the scene for the rest of the game, as you are given little to no instruction as to how to solve a number of altogether frustrating puzzles. Maybe the lack of hand-holding was the developers’ attempt at making you feel like you really were Sherlock, deducing and inducting facts about how to proceed from minimal information, but it just made every obstacle seem almost insurmountable. Some puzzles started out as promising but soon started to feel like a whole lot of trial and error. Thankfully, a lot of these frustrating sections are skippable, but if you skip past every poorly-explained puzzle, you aren’t left with much game time in what is already a relatively short game. It an attempt to make it feel longer and better-rounded, some action sequences and follow missions have been added that allow you to take control of both a chimney sweep and Holmes’ loyal hound Toby, though all of these additions only subtracted from my enjoyment.
Frustrating puzzles aside, the cases themselves are solid, and there is a sense of an overarching plot that is affected by your decisions. The outcomes of the cases are reached through a series of deductive choices, pieced together from evidence you’ve gathered throughout your investigation. Assigning certain meanings to things you’ve uncovered can lead to branching conclusions, with different combinations of conclusions painting entirely different stories. While this method of solving the mysteries mostly worked, the game did seem to be steering me towards a particular conclusion for each case, and my interpretation of events was often so far from anything that it would let me conclude that I sometimes felt disconnected from Sherlock’s thought process. Of course, that might just be because my deductive skills are terrible, and perhaps that was the game’s way of telling me that there’s a reason Sherlock is a detective and I’m not.
There’s a lot about this game that’s just ‘fine’. Or, ‘elementary’, if you will. The environments are quite nice on the PS4, but the long loading times that make this possible are insane. As in boil the kettle, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee kind of long. Passable voice acting makes cutscenes and interactions bearable, but the occasional ‘eyes rolling back in the head’ animation glitch makes assessing people’s sincerity difficult. There are some nice costumes and the streets of London feel authentic, so they have nailed it in terms of atmosphere, but that wasn’t enough to salvage a positive opinion. This game could have been forgiven for being average in many aspects as long as the actual crime and puzzle solving were solid, but ultimately those key elements just weren’t there. Things were too easy or too hard, and neither allows for true insight into the mind of Sherlock Holmes, which is what a game like this needs to offer. Otherwise, it’s just a mediocre adventure game with a decent story that many players will be too frustrated to see through to the end – and I think a game about the world’s greatest detective can be better than that.
“If it strongly piques your interest, games rated a 5 are well worth getting. They still work, they’re relatively interesting, and they’ve certainly got good moments or mechanics scattered around. If it doesn’t seem your cup of tea, maybe reconsider whether you need to play it.”
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter for PS4.