Sherlock Holmes: Four Investigations is a graphical interpretation of the ‘choose your own adventure’ books, which appear to be going through a resurgence.
With its comic book style spin on the genre, does it offer a different experience, or is it more of the same?
- Designer: Cédric Asna
- Illustrator: Cédric Asna
- Publisher: Van Ryder Games
- Year Released: English Edition 2018 (Original French Edition, 2014)
- Players: 1
- Age: 10+
- Recommended Retail Price: $22.95 (Approx. £18)
I’m not going to go in to the particulars of the investigations, so this review will be spoiler free, but before I jump into the game itself, lets take a look at the package it comes in – Namely a book!
When you first cast your eyes over it, you see a beautiful case bound book with a simple, but instantly recognisable, silhouette of the super sleuth himself on the cover. The colours used on the cover portray a feeling of something created in the early 20th century, an obvious nod to the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, which I will mention again a little later.
When you pick it up and flick through it, you instantly get the impression you’re holding something of quality; it’s case bound, and weighty for its size, with nice thick pages.
The book is superbly illustrated, a liberal use of earthy colours giving the book an old fashioned charm, and the characters are portrayed in a manner that reminds me of 60/70’s cartoons, such as Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines. I must admit I was slightly disappointed by the cartoony look; it made me think that the plot lines may be of a similar ilk, and not pay due homage to the stories I love. I needn’t have worried!
The game itself is split in to four investigations, which run consecutively and form a single story. For each investigation, bar the initial one, you get the choice of playing Holmes or Watson. Watson, as a medical doctor, can examine a victim’s body; he also gets to ask four interrogation questions, and can ask Holmes for hints. Holmes, on the other hand, can only ask three questions, but can use his powers of deduction.
Unlike a lot of Choose your own adventure games, there are no character statistics or skills to roll for, or keep track of, and there is no requirement for a die. All this leads to it being playable pretty much anywhere, though a pencil is required to record your conclusions and keep track of the amount of typewriter keys you find.
Each scene or panel within the book is numbered, and you progress by looking for numbers within your current panel to follow, some of which may not be obvious. There are also little clues to look out for, which may, or may not, be essential to you cracking the case. You’ll come across a few puzzles left by Moriarty himself, though these aren’t essential to the story, they do prove useful if you solve them; one in particular took me an evening of contemplation to solve – Definitely a ‘three pipe problem’!
During your investigations you will get to ask the suspects some questions (4 for Watson, 3 for Holmes), use your powers of deduction, and examine the victims, all in the vein of a good detective story, and you really do find yourself immersed in the events, often thinking them through when your not actually playing the game!
Each case is more difficult than the previous, and the final one gave me a good mental workout. Those who are Sherlock fans won’t be disappointed here. The cases are well though out, and all have a logical solution; you really do have to keep your wits about you on the last case, and your eyes open, as every detail may count!
The characters of Holmes and Watson have been created in a manner that is respectful to the original stories, and there are a few references that fans will catch; by the time you’ve finished the first investigation you’ll feel right at home, both with the art style, and the characters portrayed within.
So, after completing the book, I have a few final thoughts.
I have played quite a few choose your own adventure books, but never one in graphical form. It made for quite a different playing experience; when reading text you have to process information as you read, sifting through what you think is relative, and what isn’t; you form a picture in your mind and make decisions based upon what you have read. With the graphical representation however, you already have the picture there in front of you; there is no text to miss-direct you, everything you need is right under your nose. ‘You see, but you don’t observe’, a Sherlock quote that is relative here; you look at the pictures and quickly form a decision as to your next port of call, but it pays not to be hasty.
It took me two attempts to get all four investigations correct – on my first play through I was pretty sure the first two were right, 70% sure on the third, but the last one I though could be one of two suspects. The book uses a clever method to determine if you have solved all the cases or not, but I will leave that for you to discover yourself.
My first play through took around three or four hours (book in hand time, plus plenty of thinking time away from it!); I would probably have completed it quicker than that if I had been able to run through each investigation without pause, as it can be quite difficult to pick up your train of thought if you put the book down and continue a day or two later. The second was about an hour; I skipped the first two investigations, as I was positive I had solved them, and I concentrated mostly on the final investigation.
Will I play it again? Probably not, at least not for some considerable length of time anyway. The problem being that, once you know ‘who did it,’ the way you achieved it becomes irrelevant. Unlike many books of this genre, where you can replay them and take different paths, have different encounters, and such like. With this, you can’t. You pretty much see 95% of the book during the investigations, and if you’ve solved the case, then the bits you missed obviously don’t matter too much. That aside, I really did enjoy playing, and was disappointed when it came to an end.
My other issue is to do with the quality of the book itself. As I have already mentioned, it feels like a real good quality package, but I’ve got a few issues. The book is tightly bound, which makes it difficult to open fully, and that makes it hard to see some of the details on the inner panels. Of course, you could apply a little pressure and open it up fully, but this brings issues itself. I have already had one book in the Graphic Novel Adventure series replaced by the publisher, when, during my second play through, the binding went on the rear section of the book, and unfortunately this one is showing evidence of the same thing happening.
Choose your own adventure books are inherently going to get a lot of wear and tear; constantly flicking from one page to another, and back again, is not a healthy thing for any book. With its beautiful case bound looks, and heavyweight paper stock, I think here, it’s a case of form over function.
It’s a difficult one to recommend – It has an absorbing and clever set of investigations, which, if your willing to pay the price, will give you a very satisfactory couple of play throughs, and if you have a couple of family members to pass it around, then it could justify the cost. But, the book may not last long enough for everyone to have a go!
Note – At the time of writing the Graphic Novel Adventure series has not yet hit retail
Official Site – Van Ryder Games
Board Game Geek Page – Here