Impressions: Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is the 2016 point and click adventure game and the latest (as of now) in the long-running video game series of Sherlock Holmes games by Frogwares. While there have been many point and click Holmes games, Frogwares has been mostly responsible for the IP since 2002. The last few in the series have followed a similar pattern. You, controlling Holmes (although sometimes Watson and even Toby), have to investigate a series of generally five cases. There is also an overarching plot that eventually ties in with the climax case. For instance, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper climaxed with, you guessed it, solving the mystery of Jack the Ripper.

In the Devil’s Daughter, Holmes gets a new neighbor, Alice, and his adopted daughter, Katelyn, is sent home from her boarding school at the same time. Alice is mysterious and keeps pushing herself on Katelyn, something that Holmes does not trust. At the same time, Watson keeps making vague references to Katelyn’s origins and that Holmes needs to be honest with her.

In between this look at family drama, we get into the meat of the game, the cases. The cases themselves are interesting enough, and a little better developed than some in the past have been. They are mildly predictable in their conclusions, at least for the most part, but decent cases overall that felt worth digging into.

A lot of the cases are also rather sad. Crimes and Punishment, the previous game, really started to play with the idea of the morality of the people that Holmes we tracking down. While it wasn’t the first (major spoilers for Jack the Ripper) considering in vs. Jack the Ripper Holmes completely hides who the Ripper was to keep his community safe, Crimes and Punishment really encouraged the idea that some of the criminals were worth absolving. The Devil’s Daughter goes hard with that. Many people in this game that can easily be labeled as bad guys aren’t merely that. I like that sense of questioning the morality and motivations, especially in a series set in the turn of the century when people were put in desperate situations and didn’t always respond “as they should.”

The game also introduces a lot of variety in gameplay elements, both for the better and the worse. Some of the elements we’ve seen before, such as Holmes’ imagination mode, but are more fleshed out or used in unique ways. One such example is the Chain Reaction case, where you have to imagine and help see how a multi carriage wreck played out. The problem I had is this game has a lot of action in comparison to the games of the past. The series has slowly developed from a more traditional point and click series, primarily focused on evidence gathering, deducing, and item puzzles, and shifted into something more mixed to meet with modern audiences. This introduced more QTEs, freedom in roaming, etc.

My issue is I am not playing these games for action. Having to run through the woods while being chased and dodge in and out of cover is not what I am here for. I want the more traditional point and click, I want to focus on the mystery and gathering clues. I think in trying to keep up with games like the TellTale ones, a lot of the personality has slowly slipped from the franchise, and it’s the most noticeable in this one.

There are also massive balancing issues with the cases. The second case, A Study in Green, is so heavily slanted to the action puzzles, and some of the more traditional puzzles give you so few hints to work with that it ended up taking me forever. On the reverse of that, the final case, Fever Dreams, is relatively straight forward. So much so that I finished it in roughly half an hour, which is not good for a climax, and especially not when you compare it to the length of others.

The story is… sweet. Although the trope of a distant father trying to make it up to his daughter (or daughter figure) is a bit of a common one, especially in gaming. It also needed to be developed more for it to have more of an emotional impact. If there is going to be an attempt to put heart into the story, they should really try to go for it. However, it’s not bad, and it is effective enough. I am soft enough that I found it endearing.

Holmes’ fear that he will lose Katelyn – who he has truly grown to love – when she finds out his place in her origins (being vague on purpose to avoid spoilers), and Katelyn’s questions over who she is and whether Holmes really cares for her is a compelling storyline. It needed about 5 more cut scenes drawing it out and showing their bond more, but it works for what it is. I also truly feel for her and her shock to find out who she is and what it means for her future. There are also many mentions of father and daughter bonds throughout the game clearly trying to keep that hanging over your head lest you forget that a game titled “The Devil’s Daughter” might have something to do with “daughters.”

Although I am less impressed by labeling the main bad guy as simply insane and then dismissing them, but then media is not always sensitive to mental illness as a plot point.

There are also complaints that sadly plague the entire franchise. The character design and graphics need work, especially as they are clearly trying to up the “sex appeal” of Holmes and Watson. Often you will know what the next step is, but because you just didn’t happen to click on one thing, it won’t let you move forward, even if that one thing is not all that helpful. Standard problems that not only exist in this game but really a lot of adventure games in the same vein.

So bottom line? It’s hard to say honestly. Overall it was a decent game that I enjoyed. However, it is decidedly weaker than it’s predecessors, and some parts were just plain not fun because of the shifts in focus on gameplay. However, as I said, even though it needed to be developed a bit more, the story is sweet, and I don’t mind when new media decides to make Holmes a bit softer than he was in the source material. I think if it had removed some of the actions and leaned in more on just the “detective” aspects, it would have been one of the more solid entries in the franchise. As it stands, it’s a good, not great, game, but I would only really recommend it for fans. If you are not, I would say pick an older one, and maybe visit this one in the future if you happen to like others.

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