Barely an hour into Sherlock Holmes' latest case, while helping a young boy named Tom find his missing father, you'll be tailing a shady character as a plucky newsboy, who almost suffocates while climbing up a chimney. Next, as Sherlock, you'll grill a local lord and gather more evidence at Tom's home, but not before taking control of Holmes' faithful pooch Toby in order to sniff out the trail of your quarry. Then it's back to the Lord's manor to break into his safe, but there's just enough time for a little Watson action, as he distracts the manor's residents so that Holmes can sneak by.
The sheer variety of things to do in Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter is refreshing; there are so many different mini games and random incidental moments of shifting play styles going on that it should be a mess. Yet, despite the melting pot of ideas from other games and genres, it manages a quality adventure experience.
Devil's Daughter is the eleventh Sherlock title and the eighth instalment Frogwares' continuing evolution of the character. It features a younger version of Holmes than seen in previous titles – a more reckless incarnation, who tackles cases while looking after his daughter Kate and contending with a mysterious new presence in the form of Alice De Bouvier. There's an overarching plot concerning Kate's true parentage and the motives behind Alice's moving to Baker Street, which weaves into the story as the cases unfold. The mysteries themselves are weird and wonderful tales of foul play that incorporate corrupt lords, ancient Mayan curses, and the rising fame of Sherlock himself. This title also has some of the series' best writing, with genuinely touching moments between Sherlock and his daughter mixed in with comedic flourishes, like Holmes faking a demonic possession to put the fear of God into a poor old woman.
All of Holmes skills of deduction will be required to crack this new set of cases, and those skills are many and varied. In the same way that Arkham Asylum succeeded by making you actually feel like Batman, the mission statement of the Sherlock Holmes games is to put you in the shoes of the other world's greatest detective, in a convincing simulation that sits somewhere between the literary character and the more modern film and TV versions.
Each case plays out in much the same way as previous games, with Sherlock meeting a new client and profiling them, which involves studying each minute detail on their immediate person. If successful, these profiles can unlock clues that can either be used to bolster lines of questioning in an interview, or support deductions that will eventually inform your final decision. From there, Sherlock travels around Victorian London, utilising his renowned intuition to uncover more clues. This can involve interviews, autopsies, chemical experiments, archival research, and even a nice relaxing game of bowls.
Additional to the more traditional adventure game tropes, there's the intuition skill that reveals obscure objects in the environment (think of it as Sherlock vision) and the imagination ability that lets you reveal item locations and helps plan and play out a sequence of events. Occasionally the game will throw you into an extended QTE laden sequence, like escaping a sniper in Epping Forest or balancing on a beam to reach a balcony. These can be frustrating and are a low point, but they are far outweighed by the many genuinely inventive set-pieces, like Holmes' imagination projecting him into an ancient Mayan temple for a spot of tomb raiding.
The overall goal of any case is to collect clues for deductions, which always have different conclusions based on decisions that you formulate from information gathered throughout a case. Reaching a final deduction will result in a moral choice, a new element introduced for this game in an attempt to add branching paths to the story. The "echoes" created by your choices don't really amount to much more than extra text files, but your actions do add small repercussions to subsequent events and the feature never feels shoehorned in.
The pace of the story itself is the key difference between this and other titles in the series, particularly Crimes and Punishments, which felt a little too linear at times. Frogwares has tried to incorporate a consistent arc for Sherlock that doesn't feel like it's surplus to the requirements of the main cases. And it's largely successful, as while the Devil's Daughter does stick to the case by case formula, it also gets stuck into an intriguing story surrounding its protagonist relatively early on, and offers some observations on the character that are rarely seen outside of Conan Doyle's tales.
Whether it's sniffing out clues with Holmes' trusty basset hound, planning an elaborate diversion in slow motion like you're in a Guy Ritchie film, or dodging spike pits and giant rolling balls a la Indiana Jones, the Sherlock games are always throwing something different at you. Devil's Daughter focuses more on story, with a larger plot taking over from the case work in satisfying ways. Some extended sequences of button mashing can become tiresome and the moral choice system doesn't add anything substantial, but the overall experience is great fun.