Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes The Awakened is the newest member of an adventure game series that is approaching twenty years of life, and that's just counting releases from the same developer. It also happens to be a complete remake of the 2008 game of the same name, with a distinctly different gameplay approach.
The story of the game attempts to blend two diametrically opposed literary universes, the rationalism of Sherlock Holmes, based on the empirical observation of a rational world, with the transcendental horror of the mythology of Cthulhu, where the perception of reality leads to madness.
Fun facts: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the world's most famous detective, was a hard-core spiritualist who believed in communicating with the dead through mediums. The last two decades of his life were devoted almost exclusively to spreading spiritualism.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, author of the mythology of Cthulhu, was a rationalist who, along with the famous escape artist Harry Houdini, was preparing a book that debunked the claims of the most famous psychics of the time. Houdini's untimely death thwarted the plans and the book was never published.
The story begins with a seemingly mundane case of a missing person. But it soon becomes apparent that someone is abducting people of low social class en masse, in a conspiracy that extends far beyond the backstreets of London, from the Swiss Alps to New Orleans. Will Sherlock, with the help of Doctor Watson, be able to solve the case while keeping his sanity?
I won't claim to remember many details from 2008's Sherlock Holmes The Awakened, even though I played it at the time of its release. The story is certainly similar if not the same, and some, thankfully minor, flaws (the sheriff in New Orleans, for example, stands out like a sore thumb and should have been developed more) can be excused by the particular circumstances of the game's development, which I'll get to later.
What has definitely changed is the gameplay. 2008's Awakened had traditional 3D adventure point'n'click gameplay, with inventory and puzzles. Awakened 2023 fully adopts the changes that began with Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments and concluded with Sherlock Holmes Chapter One. That is, there are no more puzzles in the traditional sense, only investigations and deduction from the available evidence. There are points in the game where we control Watson, but the gameplay remains the same, since as Sherlock states, "Watson now knows my methods".
This approach is very much in keeping with the spirit of Sherlock Holmes and detective games in general, and I fully embrace it in new games in the series. The old adventure gamer in me, however, can't help but react a bit to the prospect of remaking a pure adventure game like 2008's Awakened, into a format that completely removes the traditional elements of the genre. Within Awakened 2023 there are hints that there may be a similar follow-up with Sherlock Holmes Nemesis, one of the more difficult traditional adventures from 2000 onwards. Especially for this title, I personally wouldn't really want to see that kind of remake.
At this point, I should mention that the game's development lasted only one year, and in the country of Ukraine no less, which as we know is at war with Russia since the latter invaded its territory back in 2022. This probably explains certain elements of the game that not only do not evolve Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, but rather constitute a setback.
First of all, the game is completely linear, unlike the open world of Chapter One. More importantly though, there's no longer any chance of failing or making a mistake. Only one solution is accepted in each scene, the correct one. And while trying to do scene reconstructions and mind palace deductions the "right" way requires observation and presents a moderate challenge, it's extremely easy to brute force by rapidly trying all possible combinations, since the wrong answer has no negative impact whatsoever. Only the final scene of the game actually carries the risk of game over and reload - and, since I mentioned it, I should also note that reloading always takes you to the beginning of the location you're in, not the point you saved the game at.
The technical aspect is at a good level for an AA production. Much of the adventure takes place in perpetual dullness and semi-darkness, but the New Orleans part at least is sunny and bright. Perhaps my only complaint is that the lighting makes most of the character models look too shiny. Music and voice overs are of a high standard.
Frogwares decided to present in a more, shall we say, cinematic way and pace, a story that is familiar to the longtime fans of its games. These fans, however, will hardly be excited with changes that, on one hand completely alter the character of the original game, and on the other hand are far behind and lacking in implementation compared to the previous game in the series. Newcomers will be more easily satisfied, since, as a standalone game, Sherlock Holmes The Awakened 2023 offers an interesting and atmospheric adventure of about ten hours.