Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Review – Plodding Horror

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened has some interesting gameplay ideas and a solid setting, but it feels a little unpolished and undercooked.

Posted By | On 11th, Apr. 2023

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Review – Plodding Horror

Since its inception over two decades ago, Ukraine-based developer Frogwares has developed a handful of games based on Sherlock Holmes, and as is evidenced by the likes of 2014’s Crimes and Punishments and 2021’s Chapter One, it’s delivered some pretty solid ones as well. One in particular that perhaps stands apart from its peers, however, thanks in large part to its Lovecraftian trappings, is Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, which, more than fifteen years on from its launch, is being brought back as a full-fledged ground-up remake. And while in this era of megaton remakes it may not grab as many headlines as others in that group might, Frogwares’ new take on Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened definitely does still offer up some pretty interesting ideas- even if they’re often let down by questionable execution.

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is what you get when you blend a Lovecraftian story with, well, a Sherlock Holmes mystery. That is, in a nutshell, the elevator pitch here, and it’s one that the game pulls off rather well. Starting out in fairly grounded manner and setting off the famous duo of Holmes and Watson on what ordinarily seems like an intriguing but relatively ordinary kidnapping case, the game’s story eventually unveils that there’s much more going on. The story grows increasingly bizarre and cerebral, and the mystery soon becomes intertwined with gothic horror, eldritch monstrosities, and our heroes losing a grip on their sanity.

"The stop-start pacing of the gameplay can often hamper the momentum of the central mystery in rather frustrating ways, but while that definitely does impact the enjoyment of the story, that core premise does enough to make you want to keep going."

It’s not what you’d expect from a Sherlock Holmes story, but The Awakened manages that blend pretty well. The stop-start pacing of the gameplay can often hamper the momentum of the central mystery in rather frustrating ways, but while that definitely does impact the enjoyment of the story, that core premise does enough to make you want to keep going. That said, it has to be said that the game doesn’t exactly set new standards where its fairly ordinary portrayals of the leading duo of Holmes and Watson are concerned. Instead, the fun definitely comes from the core premise of dropping those characters in a very unfamiliar situation.

Where The Awakened falters the most, unfortunately, is with its gameplay and investigation mechanics, primarily due to how obtuse the game can often be. Investigations have often been a core gameplay component in many of Frogwares’ games, and the developer does like to remain as hands-off as possible in that area, but The Awakened tends to offer so little in the way of guidance and pointers that often, even figuring out what it wants you to do can be an exercise in patience.

It doesn’t help that parsing important information from everything that the UI dumps on you is far easier said than done- every single clue and observation you collect is collated into a single menu screen, and when you have multiple cases and investigations going at the same time, it can be hard to keep track of which clue pertains to which investigation, and what you’re supposed to do to follow up on it. A cleaner UI that perhaps did a better job of indicating that kind of information would have made things far smoother, as would the game offering at least vague suggestions of what you’re supposed to do to advance a particular quest or investigation.

Sherlock Holmes The Awakened

"Investigations have often been a core gameplay component in many of Frogwares’ games, and the developer does like to remain as hands-off as possible in that area, but The Awakened tends to offer so little in the way of guidance and pointers that often, even figuring out what it wants you to do can be an exercise in patience."

When you do piece clues together in investigations and arrive at final conclusions and findings, it can be pretty fun to watch the game visualize that, with Holmes narrating events step by step based on your findings and the conclusions you’ve drawn from them. Other aspects of investigations, however, can be a bit too dull, or feel too much like unnecessary trial and error without little to no consequences. For instance, when you’re in the mind palace and are connecting clues, it feels like cursory trial and error with very little actual calculative investigative work taking place. In conversations, meanwhile, presenting evidence to NPCs to gain new information also ends up feeling little more than crossing items off a checklist.

All of this is set in the context of semi-open world levels, with each chapter of the game being set in a new map. Locations vary in size and can have plenty going on, including optional missions or other quests that might tie into each other in certain ways. However, the majority of your time is spent going from place to place and engaging in the aforementioned aspects of gameplay- conversations with NPCs, investigating scenes and locations, and piecing together clues. Often, that’s fun- but just as often, it feels tedious. Navigating the areas is also often an inconsistent experience- while some of them can be quite visually intriguing (especially later on in the game), others feel less so. The map being surprisingly uninformative, meanwhile, is not only yet another example of the game’s lackluster UI, it also makes it hard to get around areas themselves, which tend to be poorly signposted.

Given how meandering all of that makes the gameplay experience, the pacing definitely takes a hit in Sherlock: The Awakened. Between wrangling with the game’s obscurity and going from location to location to engage in mechanics that are often not that engaging, you may very find yourself frequently left frustrated at not being able to make progress in the story- which is the part of the game that is the most appealing and consistently engaging.

Sherlock Holmes The Awakened

"Frogwares’ titles have never looked like graphical beasts, and The Awakened definitely has that in common with them. It is, of course, a major upgrade over the 2007 original, but there’s still plenty of rough edges here, from characters’ faces looking like they’re made out of clay to bland textures and lacking details to wonky animations and more."

On a visual and technical level, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is unlikely to surprise you in any way, especially if you’ve played a Frogwares game before. The studio’s titles have never looked like graphical beasts, and The Awakened definitely has that in common with them. It is, of course, a major upgrade over the 2007 original, but there’s still plenty of rough edges here, from characters’ faces looking like they’re made out of clay to bland textures and lacking details to wonky animations and more. It also feels a little janky to play when it comes to things such as the movement and the controls- which, again, isn’t out of the ordinary for a game made by Frogwares. It is worth keeping in consideration, however, that the studio, which is based in Ukraine, has obviously been working in some very tough conditions while this game has been worked on- which, incidentally, is a period that spans just a single year.

It’s just a shame that so much of what Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is trying to do on the gameplay front doesn’t land. Though investigations can be satisfying when they finally come together, almost everything leading up to those moments of culmination and eureka is frequently dragged down by design that is either frustratingly opaque, repetitive, or unpolished. When the game does move at a steady pace and lets you enjoy the story and how effectively it blends Holmes with Cthulhu, it’s well worth experiencing. The problem is that it keeps stumbling over itself, all too often preventing itself from moving at the pace it needs to. If you can put up with those frustrations, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened otherwise has enough going for it that makes it worth experiencing.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.


THE GOOD

Solid central premise; Blends Holmes with Lovecraft quite effectively; Successfully solving investigations can often be quite fun.

THE BAD

Many of the investigation mechanics feel either poorly designed or poorly implemented; Gameplay loop hinders the pacing; Lacks technical and visual polish.

Final Verdict:
FAIR
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened blends Cthulhu and Holmes very well, but the strengths of its story and premise are let down by the weaknesses of its meandering and opaque gameplay.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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