I love Sherlock Holmes, not that this is a bold statement by any stretch, but first things first, I love me some detecting. There’s a saying: “You’re always within three feet of a spider,” and the same could be said of Sherlock. You are never more than three feet from a new adaption. From the books that will never be out of print to the RDJr movies, Benedict Cumberbatch show, or, my personal favourite, everyone’s favourite hacker: Johnny Lee Miller’s Elementary. There is more Sherlock than you can shake a stick at. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series predates most of these apart from the written works themselves, boasting an astonishing 11 eleven games in the series, with The Devil’s Daughter being this year’s edition. So I was pretty pumped, Frogwares have been developing these games for almost 15 years, which means they must be doing something right. I don’t know if I just caught them on a bad day, but it’s not a complicated mystery to solve why this game is not good.
Before any of the actual gameplay, I immediately had a problem with the loading times. I was playing Devil’s Daughter on the PS4, and it took the game a solid 3 minutes to load, which felt like hours, and probably didn’t help enamour me to this experience. Once I got into the game, it did look pretty; there was genuine care placed on creating a living London. I enjoyed navigating the streets and seeing the people go about their days, and the little touches that made the house facades look inhabited. It was a bit difficult for me to accept Sherlock as he has come to be the lovable and tatt’ed heroin scamp from Elementary, but this pixel detective was faithful to the spirit of Holmes.
The mysteries are fairly interesting which is very fortunate given it’s a mystery-driven game, but still if anything is going to get you through Devil’s Daughter it’s going to be the story so I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers. You begin with a seemingly smaller case concerning a child whose lost his father, and the way the plots all weave together is compelling. The problem is that almost everything else in this game is exhausting, long, tedious and slow.
It is quite obviously difficult to present investigations in games, and I understand the difficult balance that needs to be struck between giving the player enough information but not too much. There has been a myriad of games that try to fix this problem in a number of ways, including “find-the-object” puzzles that deserve a special place in gaming hell. However, the most frustrating thing here is when the game gives you a clue, and you work it out but are not allowed to progress until the game has finished spelling it out to you. I got stuck very early in the beginning when I found a clue leading to a pub but was unable to enter the pub. I searched around for a long time before I realised the clue had to be turned around and selected to start the dialogue about glue on the back. This glue just looked like discoloured paper, but it needed to be highlighted so Sherlock could tell me I needed to go to the pub I had tried to enter multiple times. I would blame no one for putting the game down right then and there.
The Devil’s Daughter is full of annoying aspects that beg you to stop playing; I’m not a fan of any game that just expects you to have played everything in the series to get the mechanics. Harry Potter books always started with a brief explanation of everything that had happened up until now so you were able to pick up and enjoy. It is not that hard to include a tutorial. Instead, you spend minutes fumbling with menus that aren’t explained, a black and white view which I can only assume is Sherlock’s spidey sense and looking through reference books. None of which sounds fun because it isn’t. The character profile mechanic is guesswork with no options to gleam information before you try and build a picture of the person. When you get the stamp of an imprecise character profile because you didn’t choose the right answer in a 50/50 coin flip decision, it is a punishment for a decision the game is making me participate in.
This is all without talking about the ridiculous “mini-games” the game forces, including a slow child chase, a dog sniffing experience, and croquet. Thankfully the game offers a skip button for most of these which I’m going to use now to forget about them, but I cannot think of any clearer a warning sign than developers including a skip option on half the gameplay.
I was incredibly disappointed by Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter because I was looking forward to a real puzzle. That is, the joy of experiencing a detective story, trying to figure out the solution before he does, and feeling triumphant joy when you do. This game takes any triumphant joy and squashes it behind 10 minutes of slow walking, roadblocks and underestimating the player’s intelligence.
My experience was made all the worse because I have played an excellent Sherlock game very recently. A little unorthodox recommendation, but the fantastic Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is a board game that manages all the Sherlock-ey goodness you can handle. You are given 10 mysteries to solve with a parlour entrance beginning, a map of London, directory and an A3 copy of the Times. Instantly immersive, it offers a Sherlock experience like no other because you will not be as smart as Sherlock. Not by a mile, and that is how it gives you the best experience, because that is what makes him the greatest detective in the world. He sees what nobody else in the world sees. And when you read Sherlock’s smug explanation about how he solved it through obvious clues, you will be groaning with your friends about how on earth you were supposed to figure that out as quickly as he was. You weren’t, he is just better, but that is not going to stop you from trying again next time.