After Sherlock Holmes’ last adventure in Chapter One, I’ve been patiently anticipating what comes next for our esteemed investigator. With the war in Ukraine hampering Frogwares, however, I wondered if anything would happen anytime soon. Turns out, via a Kickstarter announcement, Frogwares had quite the brilliant plan. Instead of focusing on building something from the ground up, they took the foundation from The Awakened, a unique tale from the 2006 Sherlock Holmes series, and remade it in a new image. Not only is The Awakened a fantastic remake, it’s creativity has me already craving the next Sherlock Holmes game.
To give a little backstory, Chapter One laid the bedrock for the Sherlock Holmes of the future. In it, Sherlock is taking his first steps into detective work, as well as uncovering the mystery of what happened to his mother Violet. This series of events did a phenomenal job of reinventing our view of Sherlock, getting a closer view of his psyche and the damage that took place in his childhood. At the end we have some closure, and Sherlock seems like he can persevere, but this is really just the beginning.
The Awakened is the next step. Frogwares brilliantly chose to introduce The Awakened as the next phase in the Chapter One saga, taking the familiar and making it fit. After all, Chapter One is some of their best work, so it makes sense to connect everything. What’s really interesting is the team took the basic story from The Awakened ‘06 and that only. In this way you connect to players of the original, but also give someone fresh off of Chapter One a chance to enjoy what’s come before.
Describing the story of The Awakened is tough without spoilers, so I’ll do my best here. This narrative dives deep into the occult (the myths of Cthulhu in particular), with strange occurrences that lead Sherlock to his breaking point. He was already showing cracks from Chapter One, and you could argue that The Awakened shatters him. All of this is portrayed magnificently by Alex Jordan, who is quickly ascending to the top of my favorite Sherlock Holmes performances. The fragility of a brilliant mind is depicted so well it leaves your mouth agape, and Frogwares should be proud of the personal connection they’ve forged between the player and Sherlock. He may be intelligent, sharp-witted, and clever, but he’s still a human, which is on full display.
Of course, a Holmes needs his Watson, even if he acts like he doesn’t at times. Doctor John Watson is finally here after our watching “John” in the previous game, who was a figment of Sherlock’s imagination helping him cope with previous tragedies. The game even references it, bringing up said character later on. But Dr. Watson is much more necessary in the current chain of events, as Holmes’ mind splinters at certain points of the game. He is the connection to reality, and as the narrative goes forward you start to connect with him as well. The only thing I would have liked more of was the development of Dr. Watson’s backstory, as it’s largely glossed over in cutscenes and it doesn’t feel as strong as Holmes’.
Proceeding through this unnerving account isn’t nearly as frightening as I would have gathered from my earlier preview (which you can find here), but the atmosphere set does keep you on edge (with at least some credit to the amazing soundtrack from my friend Viacheslav Pakalin). Chapter One hit a bit of this in the Sacrificial Lamb case, although this takes on more of a darker tone comparatively. Still, you find yourself looking over your shoulder in certain moments, like in the bayou section of the New Orleans chapter. Trust me, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
My only qualm with the story lies in the ending, mainly in how hopeless things feel. Chapter One was tough, watching the truth break Sherlock, but certain developments leave me wishing things were better tied up. Again, no spoilers, but I do wonder where a “Chapter Two” can go after the credits roll.
Playing The Awakened is going to be familiar to you if you’ve played the series before, but especially if you’ve had some time with Chapter One. It’s a lot of what you’d expect, exploring different areas and investigating different aspects in each one. Sometimes it’s as simple as clicking a point of interest and Sherlock making a remark. Other times, you’ll have to dig deeper to, say, survey a desk to uncover specific items that can further your case. However you do it, you’re building to the larger goal, which usually involves jumping into the “Mind Palace”. This is sort of a mental bulletin board in your casebook where you put together events in order to unlock what comes next. In the end, if what Frogwares has done works, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, and the core gameplay from Chapter One is a wonderful fit for everything going forward.
I mentioned it before in my review of Chapter One, and I’m going to repeat myself again, pay attention to everything. From that review:
“If there was anything I could tell a new player that is absolutely essential to playing Chapter One, it would be to pay attention to everything. This extends past just listening to dialogue, to your casebook and the environment around you. As mentioned before, progress can stall if you don’t understand what you’re doing or if you miss a single clue, so turning over every leaf is important. The casebook is an incredibly useful tool in figuring out what you’re doing, as specific markers will tell you if you should be using detective vision or talking with bystanders. I found in my first preview I would get hung up way too often, and it was literally because of not paying enough attention to what I was doing and needed to be doing. With the environment, just making sure you’ve touched everything that needs to be touched is key, and between that and the casebook it’s simple to continue forward.”
Where Sherlock Holmes The Awakened doesn’t deviate even slightly from the path the series blazes is unabashedly leaving you to figure everything out. Now, it’s not hard per say. Usually if I’m missing something I tend to click my “detective vision” button until I see a yellow dot indicating something I haven’t found yet. But, occasionally the clues you come across can be obtuse, and occasionally I wasn’t sure what to do next. There was one scene in particular where, if not for YouTube and a walkthrough of the original, I wouldn’t have known I needed to leave almost completely to trigger the next portion of the investigation. It’s not a huge issue, but it brings me back to wishing there was a form of hints I could ask for in order to move beyond certain hiccups in the game’s direction.
That being said, solving all of these things is most satisfying. Almost every case grasps your interest, and some are simply engrossing. One in particular I’d like to call out is Cole’s Tragedy, a side mission that grew much larger than I expected. It’s one that gets dark, and I don’t know that it really solves the problem at hand, but the character-building is immaculate. This is what makes these game’s special, the way Frogwares makes the characters personable.
While it may not be as large as Chapter One’s sprawling Cordona, I still felt like The Awakened had a broad path for me to take wherever I went. The Edelweiss Institute may have been more straightforward, going between hallways and rooms in the catacombs beneath, but in New Orleans the districts were pretty open. You never feel constricted, and that’s what you want after going from an open-world to these semi-open levels. Even better, the locations themselves were varied and had their own personalities, which added to my enjoyment of them.
One thing that was a nice surprise was the side missions. I mentioned Cole’s Tragedy earlier, a beautiful tale of remorse, and while not every case reaches these heights, I don’t believe any felt like padding. Even one objective that could be accused of using that method, finding ten Wanted posters to add to Sherlock’s collection, was fun to chase down. It’s okay to add those kinds of things into video games, but using the correct dosage makes it less of a chore. Overall the length of The Awakened is about eight to ten hours for an experienced player, and it’s just right. There isn’t a moment wasted either, with a meaty narrative and things to do outside the main plot that keep your attention.
What was probably my high point of The Awakened comes at the end, and it’s because the gameplay grew into something even more intriguing than before. Whereas Dr. Watson occasionally becomes the playable character as a plot device early on, in the end the puzzles required both Holmes and Watson to work together in some form or fashion. I absolutely love the addition, and I hope Frogwares utilizes and builds off of this in future stories.
Before we go, we have to touch on the technical aspects of The Awakened. All is right in the frames per second category, with a crisp framerate and nary a skip in sight. The environments are all pretty to look at, but not overly detailed, leaving you to focus on the case at hand rather than a bush rendered in 4K. While the character models are nicely detailed however, the speaking animations can be quite off, which does take you out of the immersion of the moment. NPCs also occasionally babble in an almost minion language at times when you walk by, and while I find it hilarious, it may not work as well with everyone else. Sherlock Holmes The Awakened is a remake, and from the double A space, so I remind everyone that what has been achieved here, especially in the middle of an actual war, is nothing beyond incredible.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened
Sherlock Holmes The Awakened is an amazingly creative way of remaking a game. Taking a piece of your past and making it a building block for your future is genuinely impressive, and it’s a captivating tale that can be experienced now in a deeper capacity. He may not be the same after what he’s just experienced, but Sherlock Holmes has never looked better, and I can’t wait for the next one.
- Riveting tale of mystery
- Alex Jordan’s performance
- Familiar yet enjoyable gameplay
- Engaging all the way through
- The final two chapters
- Mouth animations are off
- Occasional difficulty in moving forward