Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a Lovecraftian detective horror adventure developed by Ukrainian developers Frogwares. The game was released on April 11, 2023, on all major platforms and is a full remake of the original 2007 game of the same name. It needs to be acknowledged the hardships that Frogwares have endured the past year with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Despite the war around them and daily threats to their lives, Frogwares continued with game development and rather than work on a full-blown new game, worked on remaking The Awakened with their learnings and enhancements from 2021’s Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One.
“I’m not sure if any one of us will ever release another game with so many memories and emotional baggage attached to it. This game came about as necessity to keep the studio alive during the war in Ukraine, but it also gave us all a very strong purpose and a much-needed distraction from everything going on around us. What is next is already in the works now that we have proven to ourselves, we can keep going, despite the war.” – Sergiy Oganesyan, Head of Publishing, Frogwares.
In Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, we played as the young detective as he struggles to investigate the mystery of his mother’s death. It was a different style of game compared to 2016’s Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter in that we got a closer look into the psyche of Holmes, how he gathers evidence that we lay persons would easily overlook, and we could get into a physical scrap with assailants too. We saw how Holmes cleverly pieces the evidence together to form a replaying of a crime in such detail as to reveal the truth beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Moving into Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened remake, we play as Sherlock where he takes on his first major case in 1882, alongside his newly acquainted sidekick, John Watson. The voice acting is as superb as it was in Chapter One, and the environment and character details are fantastic. The game ran smoothly on PC with only a couple of crashes here and there. The atmosphere effects were moody and engaging, and I liked that we could change clothes to be better prepared for a rainy walk, or just to change Sherlock’s appearance from time to time.
For Holmes and Watson, what seems like a straightforward case of a missing person quickly spirals into a web of conspiracies by a nefarious cult that worships the eldritch god Cthulhu and are attempting to bring about an ancient prophecy. The bond between the two detectives grows over the course of the game and reminded me of the relationship between the two in the fantastic TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Utilising the gameplay mechanics from Chapter one, minus the combat sequences, we start off with a simple premise that quickly spirals into a trail of intrigue. The Awakened takes place across four locations – Victorian London, a Swiss psych ward, the New Orleans bayous, and the Scottish Highlands.
Some explorable areas were linear but there were some decent semi-open world areas like the docks. It didn’t feel as wide open as when we were running around Cordona in Chapter One though. Holmes and Watson try to separate reality from the supernatural while trying to put a stop to shadowy madmen. The story is the same as the original game with a little more emphasis placed on John Watson, with some cutscenes delving into his military past. Everything else about the game was remade using their learnings, experience and technical work from Chapter One. For me who never played the original, it felt like a new chapter in the Sherlock Holmes world, and I enjoyed myself immensely.
When faced with observing a scene or questioning passersby, we move Sherlock around and press ‘Z’ to highlight interactable items. There may be one or many observation points we need to investigate at each evidence point. If it’s a person, we can move up and down the person to look at their facial expressions, clothing, what they are carrying, and so on. When investigating inanimate objects like a table or a window, we move the cursor around until it highlights yellow and zoom in on that. All evidence that Sherlock collects is added to his mind palace. We can pin evidence so we can ask people specifically about that, but it took up a lot of screen space. Thankfully you can hide the evidence by pressing the up arrow.
In the mind palace within the game’s menu, we see collected evidence that is colour coded and in the middle are coloured orbs which gives us an idea of what types of evidence we need to solve this case piece. You may have half a dozen or so pieces of evidence, but they may be too broad early into the investigation. Trying them anyway will either turn one of the orbs to solid green, meaning it was a key piece of evidence, or it will reset the orbs. Evidence that wasn’t a match is removed from the ‘table’ so it gives you a prompt that you need to keep looking.
During your search you will see squiggly green outlines around items. Holding Q puts you into a concentration mode and you can further investigate this item or area. In doing so, it will place silhouettes of people or highlight additional objects that may not have been plainly seen as before. In these instances, at the top of the screen will be a number of green orbs. Continuing around the scene may reveal more pieces of the puzzle until you have all orbs collected and in order. This will then play out the crime at that scene, much the same as in Chapter One, allowing you to continue the story.
I did get stuck with what to do at times, and in Chapter One if I asked too many people the wrong questions, I would fail that line of questioning. This thankfully isn’t the case in The Awakened as you can try ask as many people as you want to or attempt to basically brute force and try every combination of evidence where you can. This made progress past being ‘stuck’ much easier but less frustrating than when I played Chapter One. In that game I was reaching for a walkthrough constantly whereas I was able to work things out eventually here.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened was fantastic and it was intriguing to see the dynamic evolve between Holmes and John Watson as they piece together evidence to solve dark crimes. Had I not known this was a remake, it would have felt like playing the next game in the Sherlock Holmes world. This is remarkable considering what Frogwares have endured and worked around the past year in Ukraine. I am very much looking forward to seeing what comes next from them.