Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft seems like a bit of an odd pairing, but Frogwares has proven to us once again that, actually, they go together like toast and jam.
We say ‘again’ because Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is actually a remake, with the original releasing back in 2008. It’s been rebuilt from the ground up, with new mechanics, additional storylines and modernised visuals, and as such, it doesn’t matter one jot if you’ve not played the original. It also doesn’t matter if you haven’t dipped into any of Frogwares’ other Sherlock Holmes games: this is a perfectly standalone experience. (Although if you haven’t, you really should.)
A 12-15 hour experience, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened sees you take control of Sherlock and his trusted companion Watson as they unravel a dark and complicated mystery. An acquaintance of Watson has reported his servant going missing, and trying to track him down uncovers a web of kidnapping, murder and evil worship. From London, you’ll travel to the Swiss Alps, New Orleans and the Scottish Highlands. Spread across eight chapters, each area you find yourself in presents its own enclosed environment for you to freely explore, with puzzles to solve, new characters to meet and side quests to pick up.
If you’re coming into The Awakened off the back of Frogwares’ last game, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, don’t be expecting anything quite to the same scale. Things are a lot more linear this time. While you do have some freedom to explore, the environments within each level are restrictive, and aside from the odd side quest you’ll be focusing solely on the main quest at hand. It still features the same detective gameplay style, however: despite the more linear story, you’ll still need to work hard to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing next.
Like the last few Frogwares games, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened prides itself in not holding your hand. There are no waypoint markers to guide you to your next objective. There’s not even a task overview to remind you what your next objective even is. Instead, you’ll have to frequently consult your casebook and your Mind Palace, piecing together all the information you’ve gathered and seeing where it leads you. It means that you might come up against a brick wall from time to time – but usually, another look at your case file, or another scout of the area will reveal something crucial that you’ve missed. Few other games provide as much mental satisfaction when you do crack a case or pin down a suspect: it really does feel good to be at the helm.
Related: The Best Detective Games on PS4
And it’s a gripping story, too. The grounded nature of Holmes’ investigation into gruesome crimes blends well with the fantastical cosmic horror of Lovecraft – and it means you’re never quite sure where the game is going to take you. We couldn’t help but get invested into every element of the case, and the side quests. Whether we were sneaking around an insane asylum or trying to figure out why a river was poisoning people in the slums of London, we were thoroughly gripped, really getting in touch with our inner detectives.
Perhaps what impresses us most about Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, though, is the conditions that developer Frogwares has made it. From start to finish, the team has been working on this game for just over one year. And not just any year: a year in which its home country of Ukraine has been under attack by Russian forces. Frogwares has been vocal about the impact that the war has had on the team personally, and on the development of the game. It’s simply incredible that something so polished could come from a time of such uncertainty and terror.
Even if Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened was slightly disappointing, we’d ultimately still be impressed, given the hardship that Frogwares has faced over the course of its development. The fact that it’s actually a very good game its own right shouts volumes about the talent housed within this small Ukrainian developer. Truly, this is a real showcase of passion, perseverance and raw talent. Detective games really don’t come much better than this – especially if you like a bit of the occult thrown in for good measure.