e3 2014

The Devil’s Men: Steampunk Sherlock Holmes

The Devil's Men 01

I had no idea what to expect from Daedalic at E3. If someone had told me I’d be seeing a steampunk murder mystery point-and-click adventure, I probably would have run to the meeting room. I adore old-school adventure games, and though I love what master of adventure Telltale is doing with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, I still love to see modern games with that retro approach to gameplay. Because of this, The Devil’s Men looks like it’s right in my wheelhouse, though the very early build I saw still needs some work.

The Devil’s Men is a Steampunk mystery set in a seaside Victorian town. The whole Victorian/Steampunk thing is quickly veering towards becoming gaming’s most overused setting, but somehow I’m not tired of it yet. Maybe it’s because of how nice the game looks, like an animated movie come to life. Unfortunately, because the build was so early, there wasn’t yet any voice acting, though Daedalic Game and Narrative Designer Kevin Mentz assured me there would be in the final product.

Naturally, such an early build of the game was hands off, but I watched as Mentz played through the same scene twice, with different outcomes each time. Mentz namedropped Telltale’s adventure games and stated that The Devil’s Men would have a similar system of decision-making in which player choices could lead to distinctly different outcomes.

There are not one, but two playable female protagonists in The Devil’s Men, and players will switch back and forth between them to advance the story. Adelaide is a formerly well-off woman with a peg leg (Mentz wouldn’t say why, only that the reason will be discovered in-game) who has been cast into poverty after her father’s disappearance. Solving that mystery and returning to her former status is what drives her throughout the game; her father is a Sherlock Holmes-esque detective, and she’s following in his footsteps. Her counterpart is Emily, the murderous right-hand woman of a local gang lord, who has no qualms about lockpicking, stealing, and even killing to get what she wants.

What’s interesting about the choice-and-consequence system of The Devil’s Men is that one character’s actions can hinder the other’s, and since you have to use both, that can create an interesting dynamic. Like any good old-fashioned adventure game, The Devil’s Men will have environments to explore and puzzles to solve, as well as an inventory for useful items, some of which will need to be combined to be effective. In the bit of gameplay I saw, Adelaide had the choice of turning over real evidence that would incriminate Emily or forging evidence; meanwhile, Emily had to decide whether to brazenly break into the basement of a Victorian home or try a more subtle approach and hunt down a lockpick.

The characters are beautifully animated, and I loved the cartoon style, but some of the movements were a bit awkward; it was also hard to judge with voice acting so noticeably missing from an otherwise cinematic experience. Even with the pitfalls of the early build, I wrote “I would totally play this” in my notes. I’m a sucker for a good point-and-click, and when you combine that with two distinctive female characters, an intriguing mystery, and actual replay value with very different paths to the two similar endings? Consider my interest piqued.

The Devil’s Men was a charming surprise tucked away from the chaos and bright lights of the AAA titles on display on the E3 show floor, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it. With a mid-2015 PC and Mac release planned, it’s still around a year away, but I’ll be keeping an eye on this one. It’s hard to find a good old-school point-and-click adventure, so when one comes my way, I try not to let it slip by.


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