Sherlock Holmes is one of those perennial characters we think of when we think of intelligent people.  Sometimes it’s Einstein, sometimes it’s Plato, but for many of us, Sherlock Holmes is the example of a finely honed intellect.  Never you mind that the original stories have Sherlock abusing drugs like a madman and clearly highly unstable.  That’s not how we view the character for some reason.  Instead, it’s his keen observational skill that we value and his ability to make rational deductions based on limited or almost invisible evidence to the average person.  But because the character is public domain, there are many interesting takes on him over the years, but perhaps none as unique as Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened from Frogwares.

Originally published in 2007, Sherlock Holmes: the Awakened takes the Sherlock investigative style and blends it fully with Lovecraftian horror.  Sherlock and Watson are dragged slowly into madness and only their keen investigative skills have any chance at saving them…and the world.  It’s a unique concept that could have badly failed but didn’t.  Now, you might be thinking ‘what’s the point of looking at an old game from 16 years ago’, but Frogwares has rebuilt the entire game from the ground up using the Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One engine with entirely new puzzles, solutions, dialogue, UI and more. 

 In The Awakened, you control Sherlock and Watson as they are slowly drawn into a unique mystery.  Starting with a simple investigation of a missing manservant (this is 1882 after all), you will find stranger and stranger events taking you to a variety of locations around the globe including an asylum, the deep bayou, and even a forlorn lighthouse.  Along that journey, you will experience tests of sanity that push Sherlock and Watson further than they’ve ever been before and have them questioning the nature of reality as we know it. 

Now, there’s no real point in distilling the plot for you as the entirety of the game is based on enjoying the story, and with 8 chapters and about 10 hours of gameplay, this isn’t a long game.  In fact, the script is quite excellent and the characters are rather compelling, so be prepared for a fairly intense experience overall, at least as intense as a point-and-click game can be.  This is a horror game as much as a detective game and there are definitely some disturbing events along the way. 

But what you really want to know is how well a game this old plays.  Sure the story is good but what about the gameplay?  Frogwares has managed to release Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened in the middle of the Ukrainian war (and that’s a feat in itself) but it’s hard to get a remaster right.  What you’ll find out first about The Awakened though is that it’s got a fairly steep learning curve.  This is not an intuitive game, at least not at first.  While you’re investigating with Sherlock or Watson, there’s little to no real guidance in the game and figuring out how to play is half the battle. 

As Sherlock (and sometimes Watson), you must identify a variety of key points allowing Sherlock to deduce what is happening in each scene.  To do so, you simply look at the zoomed in area and click on each item.  Once they are all identified, you’ll be able to proceed, allowing you to either talk to someone, trigger an event, or slowly put the pieces of a larger puzzle together.  However, this is where The Awakened runs into its first hitch.  It turns out that it’s remarkably difficult to tell what you can click on and while the cursor changes, the combination of the way the camera moves while zoomed and the size of the interact-able areas make some puzzles incredibly tricky to solve, even though you’re basically just playing a Where’s Waldo for clues.  Now, this might dissuade some players, but never fear, once you get the knack for searching the scenes, things get a lot easier!

Once you’ve managed to find every set of clues, it’s time to piece together what happened.  In The Awakened, this is done through a series of poorly explained ghost images.  Holmes can select which image is correct based on the evidence you’ve compiled and a bit of deduction and then you can validate the answers.  What’s weird about this is that the game does a bad job of explaining exactly what to do.  There are several different images in each puzzle and your job is to get all of them correct.  By hitting a button on the controller, you can switch from image to image until you see the one you think best represents what happened.  If you miss a clue or two, you can’t complete the puzzle either.  But select the wrong one, try to validate it, and the circle at the top turns from a blue-green to red, indicating that you’ve made the wrong selection.  It’s a weird system that takes some getting used to.  If you get every single one correct, Holmes will launch into a narrative describing what actually happened, often with some rather amazing insights. 

That’s not all you have to do however.  You’ll also have to examine the evidence by thinking about it.  This is cleverly done through a series of synaptic pathways in the menu.  Each synapse is red until you solve the puzzle, then it turns green to indicate success.  However, if you don’t have the right clues, you can’t solve the mystery and you’ll end up wandering around in circles.  Solving the puzzles in your mind requires you to link the clues to the question.  Again, this is poorly explained by the game but there are three colors of clues and several points in each synapse to connect them to.  Select the right clue and it lights up, locking into the port on the synapse like a chemical receptor.  Fail and that clue temporarily disappears.  As you make your way through stages, you add a plethora of clues that can come in handy in figuring out what’s going on or what to do next.  Each time you match them to the synapses, it helps to progress the main storyline.  It’s an interesting system that takes a bit of getting used to.  Oh…and NO SPOILERS FOR YOU!

Complex enough yet?  Don’t worry, there’s more!  You’ll even have to consult your notes and use them to come up with solutions that can help you to further understand what’s going on.  You’ll also have to participate in a few light action sequences.  There’s no combat in the game, but a few things are still challenging!  Suffice it to say there’s a heck of a lot going on in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened!   And throughout it all, strange gibbering creatures and madness beckon to you from the shadows, making it hard to trust anything you see or anyone you talk to as you work your way towards the dark but inevitable climax. If you’re stuck, it’s also important to note that you have to flag various clues in the menu system in order to activate NPC responses. As with much of The Awakened, this takes a bit of getting used to but there are indicator markers as to which clues to flag to progress. It’s not so important in the first chapter or so but as you proceed, it’s integral to use this system or you’ll be hopelessly stuck.

The last thing you’ll be doing in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is solving puzzles.  Not just the synaptic ones or the ghostly action sequences but there are a bevy of environmental puzzles as well, from mazes to traps to confusing otherworldly events that will have you initially scratching your head.  None of them is outrageously hard but you’ll definitely have to stop and think if you get stuck.   There’s always a solution in The Awakened so be patient and diligent and you’ll get through.  The more Lovecraftian puzzles are particularly delightful here and players will have to think critically to proceed!

As part of the remaster of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, Frogwares also added in an entirely new sheaf of side quests to accompany the main one.  These are included in the deluxe edition of the game and while they aren’t directly related to the main game, they add wonderfully to the already rich character development of Holmes and Watson as well as the various areas they find themselves in.  Several of them are actually quite interesting while a couple feel tacked on but all in all, the extra immersion into Sherlock’s world is a welcome diversion and if this is your style of game, it’ll be worth the extra cash to grab the deluxe edition!

But there wouldn’t be any point in remastering a game like Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened unless you updated the visuals and the Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One engine sure looks amazing here.  The detail levels on close-in shots of characters are fantastic and the character modeling of Sherlock and Watson are particularly outstanding.  The camera work is excellent, the texture mapping adds significant depth, and the visuals across the board are wonderful.  Now, it’s not all perfect of course.  Some of the character models still move a bit stiffly and some of the expressions are somewhat more wooden than they could be, but all in all, the effect is excellent.  You would never know that this game was over a decade and a half old with the outstanding rebuild that Frogwares has created.  Cinemas are particularly spectacular, maximizing storytelling potential and really drawing players in.

The sound work is also quite good in The Awakened.  The music fits the Holmes aesthetic and as things trend progressively towards the otherworldly and supernatural, the tension ratchets up in the score and the sound effects only magnify the horror.  Spoken dialogue is also outstanding and the voice work is quite excellent, a welcome surprise.  All in all, between the sounds and sights of London, the mysteries of the bayou, and the strange and unknowable chittering madness skirting the edges of perception laced throughout the game, the music and effects will have you on the edge of your seat!

There’s really a lot to love in Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened.  Taking a classic and modernizing it with updated controls, visuals, and sound is a labor of love and Frogwares has gone above and beyond here.  For anyone who’s a fan of horror or detective stories (or both like some of us), this is a true delight of a game and even if you’re not a fan, you might be by the time you get done!  The learning curve is definitely daunting at first however, and the first hour or so will definitely have most players frustrated until they learn the ropes but by Chapter 3 or 4, you’ll be an old pro and the entire rest of the game feels like it absolutely flies by.  At $40, The Awakened won’t break the bank either, and for only $10 more you get the deluxe edition with some fun extra cases.  While it’s not the longest experience, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is absolutely an enjoyable one and it’s definitely worth your time to spend a couple of days solving mysteries and fending off madness! 

This review is based on a digital copy of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened provided by the publisher.  It was played on an Xbox Series X using a 55” Sony 1080p TV.  Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is also available for Nintendo Switch, PS4/PS5, and PC on Steam.