Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (2023) Review (PS5) – Reawakened
It’s apropos that Frogwares would return to Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened for their latest outing with the famous deerstalker-donning sleuth. Originally launching in 2007, it was the first of their original works that pitted Holmes & Watson against a supernatural element. After thoroughly questioning the sanity of young Sherlock in 2021’s Chapter One, it makes absolute sense that Lovecraftian horrors would be the next test for the budding detective. Is this case worth taking on, or should it be committed to the abyss? Let’s solve that riddle.
“To a great mind, nothing is little”
While 2023’s version of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is undoubtedly a remake of the 2007 game, following a similar narrative structure, it’s also positioned as a sequel to Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One too. It features the fresh faced Sherlock, a little older and wiser than he was during his adventure on the Mediterranean island of Cordona, but still a character in his formative years.
Holmes’ companion is corporeal this time around, taking the traditional form of Dr John Watson, as Conan Doyle intended. The veteran’s entry to their apartment at 221B Baker Street acts as the spark for the entire narrative as the game immediately outlines their relationship. With Sherlock as the eccentric, troubled genius, Watson acts as the voice of reason that keeps his partner grounded.
To take a quote from A Study In Scarlett, “To a great mind, nothing is little”. That’s something that The Awakened encapsulates as the whole game starts with a mystery that might seem insignificant. Sherlock’s newspaper is missing. Yep. It’s that simple. He wants it to corroborate something he’s investigating so, the pair set off to solve the mystery of the missing paper. This first mini-mystery acts as an obtuse tutorial of sorts, but an ineffective one.
A New Video Game Is Afoot
This simple search for a newspaper leads Holmes & Watson to a much deeper mystery. Initially, it appears as a straightforward missing person case, with the servant of Captain Stenwick going missing. Upon further investigation though, a much more sinister plot is uncovered. Macabre murder scenes, gory rituals and Eldritch horrors blend with simple human crime in a conspiracy that spans the globe. This plot takes the titular character across London, up to the mountains in Switzerland, across the Atlantic to New Orleans and to sinister places beyond our realm.
While the loose narrative beats and locations I’ve detailed will seem familiar to the 1m+ people that played the 2007 version of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, I can’t understate this enough: This might as well be an entirely new game.
Gone is the first person perspective, opting for a purely third person perspective. There’s all new side-quests at each location. Watson becomes a playable character during a few chapters of the game. Most of the characters, locations and events have been totally revamped and redesigned. The systems and mechanics are in keeping with those of Devil’s Daughter or Chapter One. If you played 2007’s The Awakened, you’ll find some nice nods to the original here, but 2023’s remake looks and feels totally indistinguishable from that game.
The biggest and most important change to the 2023 remake is how the events and script of the game effect Holmes & Watson. This version is a much more character driven piece, focusing on how the pair respond to the occult and Lovecraftian goings-on that they come up against. I desperately don’t want to spoil this element of the game, but I will say that this aspect is much more richly explored this time around.
Awakening A Tried & Tested Gameplay Cycle
While Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened retains some of its point-and-click DNA, the systems and mechanics and the way they’re implemented are similar to those used in Chapter One. The loop for every investigation is similar, spanning all 7 chapters of the game.
Firstly, you’ve got to collect evidence related to the mystery you’re trying to solve. This can be obtained in a number of different ways. Physical evidence can be found at points of interest, all of which can be temporarily highlighted in the environment with a click of L1. You’ll also have to collect character portraits and recounts of events.
Some of this evidence then has to be utilised further. Symbols attached to these items within your evidence menu suggests what to do with them. For example, some items of evidence can be pinned to your screen so that when you’re out roaming the streets, you can ask the NPC’s dotted around about it. Need to find a character? This is the way you’ll narrow down your search area.
Some items of evidence will also need to be referenced against other documents. Others can be pinned and utilised during ‘concentration mode’ where you spot evidence that’s missing or suspected, as well as replicating a series of events.
“Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”
The evidence you collect throughout Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened can then be applied to the deduction screen. In this menu, nodes shaped like brain matter are available for the overriding questions of each case. Here, you have to select the appropriate evidence which provides the answer to a question. Once you do, these deductions can be used to further your investigations as evidence themselves or progress other deductions.
The whole system used within the game delivers a feeling that you’re solving these cases yourself. As a player, you’re always a little further ahead of Holmes & Watson, piecing together the cases before the game validates your thought process. It provides a steady bread crumb trail of eureka moments that are constantly gratifying. The case difficulty fluctuates, from being a little too simple to being just the right amount of challenge. Sherlock’s monologuing, discussions with others and the evidence you collect mean you’re unlikely to get totally lost. On the whole, the game strikes a great balance here that means you’ll never get totally flummoxed but keeps your brain engaged about where each mystery is headed.
Unlike some of the previous Sherlock Holmes games, it’s not possible to come to an ‘incorrect’ conclusion with these cases. While I’ve always appreciated the freedom that that system affords, the more linear focus of The Awakened is in service of its more concentrated story. By preventing you from barking up the wrong tree, it maintains a steady pace throughout. It does mean that some head scratchers can be solved with a spot of trial and error, but more often than not, you won’t have to spend time guessing. In summary, the puzzles and mysteries are very well pitched alongside its story here.
From The Big Smoke To The Black Abyss
I don’t particularly want to describe these sections in too much detail because they’re among the most surprising moments in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened but it would be remiss of me not to mention them; There are times within the game when puzzles are interlaced within traversal itself. These are a first for any of the Frogwares games and offer a much more active and immediate type of mystery to solve. For example, a door will be shown in front of you that closes when you get close. A hint can be found on the way to approach this door without it shutting, and it’ll always be something you’ll not be accostomed to doing. These whole sections hold a particular mystique and tone that are totally new for the Sherlock Holmes games and stand out as a highlight.
In terms of structure, The Awakened strikes a pleasant balance between the open world of Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One and the more restricted nature of say Crimes & Punishments. In London and New Orleans, there are moderately sized open worlds to explore and sleuth around. They’re both similar to the make up of Cordona, just lacking a lot of the unnecessary filler that it had, reducing potential confusion. These lead to smaller, more condensed areas to investigate.
The open worlds of this game have some decent ambiance to give them a ‘lived in’ feel. You’ll see some NPCs repeated as you walk through them, but there’s a lot of static, scripted elements to be found too. People chatting in the street, a man sat drinking, someone repairing a wall, people manning a market – there’s a fitting amount of life to these environments.
Visually, The Awakened is a pretty game. There’s an incredible amount of detail to be found in most corners of the world. From the rain slick streets of London to the dusty, sun kissed lanes in the Creole quarter of New Orleans, you can see that a lot of effort has been put in to making this game varied and aesthetically pleasing. For the most part, that effort has paid off.
What’s more, the game runs incredibly well on the PS5. None of the technical issues that popped up (literally at times) in Chapter One can be found here. The frame rate is consistently smooth throughout, the lighting is fantastic and aside from a few edge case glitches, The Awakened is a highly polished game.
Those glitches are more funny than frustrating. At one point, Watson managed to get himself stuck in a door. After opening the door, he started to shift around like he was breakdancing. Sure, it shattered the very tense moment I was currently having amongst a grizzly murder scene. But, hey, Watson felt the need to bust a groove and he deserves a moment of levity for his part in the game.
The only visual or technical element of The Awakened that I felt could have been improved are some of the cut scenes. There’s a few of these later in the game that look stiff and roughly animated. It’s only a small aspect of the whole game, but it bears mentioning.
“It seems to leave the darkness rather blacker than before”
If there is one element of The Awakened’s narrative that I think could have been improved over its original version, it would be with the final chapter. The best Sherlock Holmes tales in any medium are those that have a twist, when you can’t predict what’s coming. This game’s narrative doesn’t attempt anything like that. The bread crumbs you follow throughout the game lead you only as far as your next suspect. In the end, the final villain doesn’t get enough time to develop or express a depth of motivations beyond occult influence. There was an opportunity to do more here. While the development of Holmes & Watson as characters is much better, there was a possibility to add a twist to really punctuate the Sherlock Holmes experience.
I’d also say that to some degree, the game presumes that you’re familiar with the mechanics and systems that it employs. While the game shows handy hints at the top of the screen when needed, these are more geared towards button presses rather than the way that the mechanics interact. If you’ve played and enjoyed Chapter One, you’ll have no problem picking up the same systems here. Newcomers might struggle to understand the importance of pinning evidence and the effect that has however, for example. I appreciate that the game is intentionally ‘hands off’ in its approach to facilitate those gratifying moments when you solve mysteries yourself, but I don’t think those mysteries should include how to use the game’s mechanics.
In general though, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is another cracking crime solving game from Frogwares. It looks great, feels well polished, features top quality voice acting and has a slew of well pitched mysteries to wrap your head around. Its focused narrative delves deeper into Sherlock’s psyche, exploring the double edge sword that comes from his compulsive need for truth, even in the face of the incomprehensible. At the same time, the game builds John Watson beyond more than just a consistent presence by Sherlock’s side into an essential part of the adventure. It’s quite incredible what the Ukrainian developers have been able to create in what must have been difficult development circumstances. It’s great to see that the game continues to be afoot, despite the incredible challenges that Frogwares have faced over the past few years.
Far more than just a remake of the 2007 game, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (2023) is a character driven deep dive into the psyche of the titular detective and a competent, enjoyable mystery game to boot. It might not be the most accommodating to newcomers to the series, but if you’re a fan of the Frogwares Sherlock Holmes titles, this is yet another cracking crime solver.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened launches on PS5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC on April 11th, 2023.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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