For some reason, I got excited when I first gazed at the menu and listened to the background music of Frogwares’ 2016 title, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter. Perhaps it was my great love for mystery novels growing up that rekindled inside of me after so many years because of series like Cam Jensen and The Hardy Boys. Perhaps my inner self thought it was my chance to solve a mystery on my own through the popular character known as Sherlock Holmes and a well-designed game. Or perhaps I couldn’t wait to venture through the streets of Old London again, like in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and see what unique fun this mystery game would offer. But then, that excitement quickly faded when I began to play, as I realized the name, “Sherlock Holmes,” and the phrase “video game,” probably should have never met.
I can’t say I knew exactly what to expect from Sherlock Holmes: TDD. Of course I didn’t think it would be perfect, but, at best, I thought it would be similar to the aforementioned Assassin’s Creed title with mystery and combat elements. At worst, I expected a dominantly cinematic approach with below average gameplay. In essence, I unfortunately got the latter.
TDD is labeled as a “detective crime thriller,” which in itself sounds like a label for a novel or embodiment of a film and surely doesn’t sound like it would belong on the cover of a video game. And while TDD does excel in narrative aspects, there is nothing about the game itself that is all that thrilling.
As one would imagine, you play as the household-name, fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, and solve numerous crime cases (in this case, five) by collecting evidence and drawing conclusions. And, yes, the cases are certainly interesting in their own right, but that does not mean what you are required to do to solve them is interesting as well.
In terms of design, TDD is everything you would expect from a game of this type made by a little-known company. There are fleetingly brilliant moments where the player is given a lot of room to draw their own conclusions, but for the most part, the cases just solve themselves. The best choice made in this game was allowing the player to connect clues to have them decide off of various evidence which suspect was the actual perpetrator. Along with that, you can choose whether to arrest or absolve them, prompting the player with a moral decision.
Other than that and some decent puzzle sequences, there’s nothing all that remarkable about TDD. Searching for clues is very by-the-numbers and doesn’t involve much freedom. There are attempts at action sequences which are programmed with clunky controls, and the game generally lacks polish.
TDD possesses this lingering “tells-you-what-to-do” attitude which takes away even more freedom, and has a “skip” option in what might have been every single section in the game, which is a huge red flag for me. To me, that says one of two things about the developers: that since most of their sequences were uninteresting in gameplay, they didn’t care if the player skipped ahead to the more intriguing, narrative part because they were self-aware their game was mediocre, or they simply just didn’t believe in the player’s abilities for such a passably designed game.
Even the hub-world is quite possibly the most lackluster I have seen. For one thing, it barely needs to be used — putting it to complete waste, but also because it is void of anything distinct. The entire game has so many promising looks with its lovely designed locations of Old London (which take minutes to load sometimes), but end up disappointing because they lack any real substance, like a fancy car without an engine.
Although TDD has a good structure, it lacks anything truly compelling or thrilling. The sound effects are straight-up ugly, as well as the modern-looking, expressionless character designs. The most fun I had was with a side minigame called bowls, which was basically curling but on grass. I didn’t have a terrible time with the game, because the realistic and well-thought-out cases were interesting enough to keep me from downright suffering. You get to control a dog at one point, so that’s cool, too, I guess.