In 2014, Frogwares released Crimes and Punishments, a Sherlock Holmes game that was richly Victorian, gripping and well-made. Two out of three of these facets have remained a constant for The Devil’s Daughter, a sequel that captures the odd yet rational essence of the source material, through brilliant locations and crime plots, while falling prey to some downright ridiculous mechanical faults. Bugs and gameplay peculiarities may mar the experience significantly for some, but detective story buffs will still get a kick out of this eccentric sleuthing simulator.
One of the most jarring additions to The Devil’s Daughter is the change in voice actors for both Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson from the previous game. While Sherlock’s younger, flamboyant, more impassioned tone was at first strange, considering the character’s typically cold demeanour, it grew on me as more entertaining throughout the tale. It’s clear that Frogwares has been inspired by modern versions of the character, such as portrayals by Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr, as Sherlock instantly sheds his stoic exterior for a more likeable and sometimes humorous personality. This also makes sense in terms of the story, considering The Devil’s Daughter’s stark focus on his relationships with others, rather than his brilliant abilities.
Watson’s change, however, is less flattering, as he babbles statements in random tones which veer from shocked to bored and back again. The voice acting in general is certainly hit-or-miss, and seems to have taken a backseat this time around; it was one of Crimes and Punishments’ highlights. One of my favourite, and also one of the most ridiculous, lines comes from Sherlock every so often: his eyes widen as he exclaims “What!?”, in a voice that isn’t quite sure if it’s angry, surprised or amused. It’s always laughably bad.
The story itself is split into five separate cases, with an overarching narrative spread between them, in which you must examine environments, suspects, victims and items in order to solve a particular investigation. Simple mechanics are used effectively, such as time being slowed down so that you can focus on a suspect’s attire in hope of garnering a valuable snippet of information, and make you feel like the detective himself. Making deductions, in which you much find links between clues in a nervous system-like menu screen, is also satisfying; something which may seem true at the beginning of an investigation may dissipate along the way, requiring you to think, and to make logical decisions. It’s a great test in both concentration and imagination.
Each individual case is thoroughly engrossing, with a number of plots that cycle from rare to emotional to disturbing; it’s an entire spectrum of Victorian eccentricity. Sherlock’s overarching narrative, however, is far from the snappy cohesion of its smaller brethren, as he struggles to look after his daughter during a period of confusion and drug abuse. While this setup seems poised for intrigue, its haphazardly thrown together: his daughter Kate is randomly introduced in the second case, and is then debunked as someone else’s child not long after. The entire foray consists of overreactions, odd supernatural twists and nonsensical conclusions. Not since Barcelona picked up a young lad called Lionel have things been so messy.
Similarly, mechanical elements, which stray from the aforementioned simplicity of picking up objects and looking at them, are downright disastrous. These occur during action sequences or set pieces, as Sherlock attempts to escape from enemies, or stealth around, with the finesse of a bunch of puppets being thrown down the stairs. His animations are jerky, and player input required for movements and other actions are forever clumsy and random. For example, one particularly unsatisfying instance requires Sherlock to make a dagger using out-of-place, rhythm-game style button prompts. Who’s idea was that? This isn’t Rock Band. You aren’t trying to knock out a Spandau Ballet number on the hilt; this is smithsmanship for crying out loud. The muddled nature of the mechanics makes The Devil’s Daughter seem entirely rushed; as if little thought has been put into making it fun, cohesive or appropriate.
On the plus side, environments and ambient sounds feel truly Victorian. The rumbling of the city streets produces a pleasant atmosphere, while pedestrians walk around or busy themselves with work or play. Each location has been well-polished, with each feeling like a beautiful Disneyland attraction: there’s a cosiness about them, as light, shade and vivid backdrops mix into a wonderful microcosm of warmth and whimsy.
So there you have it, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is an oddity. While it may appeal to those that like to wear deerstalker hats on the weekends, it will certainly make most gasp in horror at its mechanical nonsense. For those, taking up cocaine may be a better alternative.
Buggy, Quirky, Sherlocky Nonsense
This Sherlock Holmes games takes a backseat to the greatness of Crimes and Punishments, in an experience that feels truly muddled.