Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened – Let Sleeping Gods Lie
I have a soft spot for developer Frogwares, creators of the weird, wonderful and wholly eurojank investigative adventure game series based on Sherlock Holmes. Their latest title, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a remake of a remaster, first appearing on PC’s way back in 2007 and remastered shortly after in 2008. Clocking in at roughly 12 hours, it seems a giant step back from 2019’s The Sinking City, a mostly original take on the Cthulhu Mythos followed in 2021 by open-world whodunnit Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, perhaps the most ambitious thing the developer has done in their 23-year history. However, neither of these titles had to contend with a production cycle while Russia was invading Frogware’s home country of the Ukraine.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a game riddled with a need for context – context of its production and development, context of the questionable representations of race and mental health it employs in a bid to represent prevailing attitudes of the time in which it’s set. A successful Kickstarter campaign to assist funding gained Frogwares just over 200k euros at the cost of 4800 potential sales on release, the number of backers who secured their copy of the title at a slightly reduced price. It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as a phoned in cash-grab, something the developer churned out before wrapping pre-production on their next big open-world Sherlock entry, but it feels cheap to do so. A product of constraints, but what art isn’t? Frogwares have stated their reasoning for putting out something that seems out of step with their trajectory as a developer; quite simply, they weren’t confident that they would exist as a functioning company across the 3-4 years it would take them to produce the next Sherlock game proper, leaving The Awakened as a curious stop-gap, something to keep them busy and no doubt hopefully give some sense of normalcy to their daily lives.
The Awakened loosely follows the events of the 2007 release, albeit remixes and adjusts some of them to ensure fans of the original won’t be reliving that adventure beat for beat. After investigating a seemingly benign missing persons case, Holmes and Watson uncover a transatlantic conspiracy involving Eldritch horrors, dark gods, sacrifice and summoning; pretty standard stuff for a modern H.P Lovecraft adaptation. Bouncing between London, New Orleans and Switzerland, the duo connect clues, leap to conclusions and run afoul of cultists, questionably accredited health ‘professionals’ and crooked lawmen. With a brisk playtime, The Awakened doesn’t outlast the players goodwill, but may still frustrate. Much like H.P Lovecraft himself, The Awakened is somewhat indelicate around issues of mental health and race, acknowledged in the opening title screens with the sort of warning you’d expect Disney to put in front of Song of the South or the crows in Dumbo. Well meaning, perhaps still somewhat offensive even with contextualisation but for me better than trying to pretend such heinous things never happened in history. Perhaps next time, Frogwares can hire a cultural consultant or two, or challenge themselves to replace or subvert these tropes entirely.
For those not familiar with the work of Frogwares, their titles tend to function as third-person exploration simulators that eschew combat for investigatory puzzling as players move Holmes (or very rarely, Watson) through a series of areas which will feature one or more crime scenes. When combing the scene, players are tasked with laying out the sequence of events pre and post whatever incident occurred, choosing from a number of options based on evidence discovered up to that point as ghostly figures re-enact Holmes’ deductions. Failure to accurately sequence these events isn’t penalised however, so The Awakened can be played at a leisurely pace or even brute forced if desired.
Each location in The Awakened is comprised of a fairly large interconnected area with some smaller hubs, big enough to necessitate a fast travel option that players will absolutely want to use. These locations are barebones for the most part, set dressing to make the world feel larger than it is. Repeating NPC dialogue, dead ends, shuttered buildings and path-ways – all the traits of a ‘budget’ open world title like many we’ve seen before. With sometimes very little to guide the player (a ‘feature’ which encourages proper sleuthing) there are occasionally moments where it’s easy to get stuck – both literally and figuratively. I was never more jammed up than in a locations where I could see a clue but hadn’t yet triggered whatever flag allowed me to interact with it, or when Watson decided he would prefer to stand in the sole entryway to a room rather than make way for his partner, which at one point meant I needed to fast travel to get clear. The investigations themselves are enjoyable enough but will feel quaint for anyone coming from The Sinking City or Chapter One, both of which feature far richer and more complex locations and investigations.
All par for the course given such a short development cycle, and with a ~$60AU launch price tag Frogwares’ know they’re in ‘budget title’ territory. Without the ability to plan for another three-year-plus development cycle given their current working conditions and an ongoing unjust invasion and all that, I can’t really judge them too harshly for what they’ve made: a somewhat faithful ground up remake of a 2008 game, which has the unfortunate fate of releasing merely four weeks after one of the greatest remakes of one of the greatest entries in a venerable series. As far as reworking a 15-year-old game, Frogwares have succeeded in remaining faithful to the spirit of the original with a noticeable overhaul in presentation, an admirable effort all things considered.
There’s every chance more recent Sherlock converts might find themselves severely underwhelmed by The Awakened, which doesn’t really stand up against The Sinking City or Chapter One, but I nevertheless enjoyed traipsing around period locations for a few hours a night across the span of a week, the sort of popcorn gaming that isn’t appreciated enough in amongst larger, more bombastic titles that demand endless hours across their poorly paced open-worlds.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened was reviewed on PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher.