Frogwares, the studio behind a ton of Sherlock Games across most major platforms, have today accused publisher Focus Home Interactive of not only delisting a bunch of their games from digital shopfronts, but of then refusing to return the code.
This letter is addressed to everyone who is interested in the video game industry, and wants to take a look at what’s happening behind the curtain.
We are Frogwares, the developer of the Sherlock Holmes video games, and The Sinking City. We make detective games because it’s our passion, and because it allows us to live off it.
But today, that is under threat. Some of our games are being removed from Sony’s and Microsoft’s storefronts, and even maybe from Steam. This list includes our titles like Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes Vs. Jack The Ripper and Magrunner: Dark Pulse (see full list below).
Why? Because Focus Home Interactive, the licensee (or “publisher”) that was in charge of commercializing these games on these platforms, refuses to transfer the title IDs to us, the creators and IP owners of those titles, even though our Publishing and Distribution Agreement has expired.
Because, according to their official statement, sent to us only last week, “Focus has put in place a policy in accordance with which they will not transfer any title – the content ID or title ID – belonging to any developer which has removed all of their games from the Focus catalog”.
A policy that is not in any of our previous or existing contracts with Focus and that has never been applied to us in the past.
Because of that policy, our games will be taken down from all storefronts.
As it stands right now, the only game left is Sherlock Holmes Crimes & Punishment which only has until September 29th. It is possible that it will be taken down at this date or earlier if nothing is done. The players will no longer be able to buy and play the game. We will also lose all our wishlists and every other bit of information on those store pages. As the creators and IP owners of all those games, we have no control and no say in this. The decision of Focus Home left us voiceless.
We are in the process of setting up new store profiles, and we are contacting console stores and hope to try and rectify the situation. However, we are unable to confirm if this can be done and already know that it will be impossible for certain games on previous gen, and very costly for others as we will have to update the SDK and that takes months. We are certainly not going to give up, and will pursue this issue through the appropriate channels.
We have always been an independent studio. We worked with many licensees on the grounds of mutual interests and benefits, but it’s the first time in 20 years we have encountered such a situation. We are losing all revenue attached to these games, for some – for an unknown period of time and for other games, forever. This new policy from Focus Home towards former contracted developers will land a serious blow to our studio, threatening our future games and the people who develop them.
Right now, we are in a tough situation. We are preparing ourselves for a significant loss. To those parties that can help us and have influence over the situation – feel free to contact us.
As of today, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes and Magrunner: Dark Pulse have been removed from the PS3 store, while Sherlock Holmes versus Jack The Ripper, The Testament Of Sherlock Holmes,and Magrunner: Dark Pulse are no longer available for purchase on Xbox 360.
Sherlock Holmes Crimes & Punishments is currently available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360 until September 29, while the rest of the company’s Steam games are self-published, so those should be OK.
We’ve contacted Focus Home Interactive for comment.
In The Surge 2’s worst moments, when too many enemies clutter too small hallways, it is a slog. But in other moments, everything falls into place, and it suddenly becomes one of the most addictive games I’ve played all year. The Surge 2 has absurd highs and damning lows, creating an inconsistent experience that I nonetheless can’t put down.
I played The Surge when it came out in 2017 and walked away disappointed. The bones of the game were strong, but shaky level design and clunky bosses made it difficult to enjoy. I wanted to enjoy the fun of its dismemberment-focused combat system, and its irreverent undercurrent of anti-capitalist sentiment had promise as well, but The Surge’s best parts were often outweighed by incredibly frustrating design.
That same duality has carried over to The Surge 2. That said, it is a marked improvement over the first game. Combat is faster, weapons are more varied, and a semi-open world design that evokes a more intricate world than its predecessor. The Surge 2 is a damn fine game on paper, and when everything works, it’s a great one to play. Unfortunately, half the time it breaks apart due to glitches or level designs that are too clever by half.
If you’re rusty on your Surge lore, that won’t matter. All you really need to know heading into this game is that the first game focused on a strange nanotechnological outbreak at a corporate facility run by schmoozy Silicon Valley types. By the end, the nano-plague had gained sentience and fired off a rocket into the atmosphere to spread itself around the world. The Surge 2 starts with you playing as a passenger on an airplane flight that crashes when rocket explodes. You wake up in Jericho City, ground zero of a new outbreak that has plunged the populace into anarchy. You slap on a mechanical exoskeleton and set out to escape the city, dealing with tough bosses and warring factions all the while.
The Surge 2 soars thanks to its combat, a tense affair in which you can target individual limbs on enemies to weaken them. Smash up an individual limb for long enough and you can perform a finishing move that kills the enemy and chops off the limb. (You can also bash them until their health is depleted.) This targeting system can be used on specific weak points—for instance, an enemy without a protective helmet—but what you really want to do with it is target the enemy’s armor. Whenever you slice off an armor piece, you unlock the schematic for it. Dicing your foes into pieces means that you’ll gain the ability to craft all sorts of armors. You can also collect their weapons. This introduces an interesting risk versus reward element to combat. Do I go for the weak point and get the easy kill, or do I methodically target the armor I want?
Like its predecessor, The Surge 2 is packed with enemies who hit like a truck. Even the lightest blows can easily melt your health bar. It’s possible to regain charge for a health-recovery injectable by landing hits on enemies, which provides a little Bloodborne-esque incentive to keep attacking. Every moment in combat is risky, but it is always exciting. The addition of a parry system brings complexity, even though it’s never quite as satisfying as it should be. The animation lacks weight and the timing window is lazy thing. When it connects, it’s a coin flip if the enemy is staggered or somehow easily recovers to smack you in the face. Still, The Surge 2’s combat is largely fantastic and some of the best melee fighting I’ve played.
Combat feels best in one-on-one scenarios, but The Surge 2 likes to populate its winding levels with numerous enemies. Fighting multiple opponents strains the combat systems to the breaking point. This is a game made for locking on to enemies, be it to target limbs or to carefully parry attacks. Turn the corner into an alleyway with three speedy enemies and an asshole with a machine gun, and that’ll undermine everything. Games like Dark Souls reward players for fighting without the tunnel vision of locking on, but The Surge 2 is built around that. As a result, some fights devolve into fracasses that are comedic when they’re not frustrating.
This is compounded by another major flaw: claustrophobic levels. While there are more open areas to fight in The Surge 2 than in the first game, there are still plenty of places with too many enemies and too little space to fight them effectively. The Surge2’s level design is overenthusiastic, packing areas with enemies in a seeming attempt to increase difficulty. It’s a disappointment to have to slog through areas like this, and one that takes away from how damn good everything else is.
In the best cases, The Surge 2’s world design is incredibly clever. Areas tend to have one medical station that players can use to upgrade their stats and gear. As you explore, you find numerous loops and shortcuts back to this location until there are multiple paths that spread out from the center like a starfish’s arms. Finding these shortcuts is gratifying, creating comfortable “aha!” moments and using the world’s limited size wisely. The Surge was more linear, with more checkpoints and a sense of forward momentum. The Surge 2 has more of a Metroid sensibility in that finding new upgrades unlocks more and more portions of an area. Each of this game’s levels are separated by a main hub where you can explore and even complete side quests for additional rewards. The Surge 2’s hub, Jericho City, is pretty generic in appearance. It’s just some run-down city and I’ve seen that in plenty of games. Still, there’s enough variety and well-designed backtracking in the layout of the game’s map that it’s never a chore to traverse. That might involve opening secret passages into the sewers, or using your drone’s electrical ability to open short-circuited doors that lead to decadent neon-lit clubs. There’s plenty to explore.
Lost in The Surge 2’s shift to Jericho City is The Surge’s acerbic outlook towards capitalism and consumption. The first game was focused on lampooning corporations and crafting a gameplay loop that tied into its themes. Your protagonist, the generic bro Warren, joins the CREO company on the promise that their mechanical rigs will allow him to walk again. That initial tantalizing promise plunges him into a fight where he literally has to carve up fellow workers, take their goods, and continue in a bloody and senseless tragedy brought about by a detached board of directors. The Surge 2 occasionally finds time to explore these ideas through its various factions, but mostly it just feels like a generic sci-fi nanotech romp. It’s a much more superficial game in terms of its overarching themes, even if it is an overall better experience to play.
There are still other problems. The Surge 2 is not the prettiest game to look at. I’m playing on the PlayStation 4 Pro, and I’ve seen a ton of aliasing and textures that refuse to load. That’s not the end of the world, but there are also glitches that get in the way as well. These glitches can be as small as mismatched dismemberment animations to enemies getting stuck in walls. The Surge 2 is undeniably ambitious, and down to the very tech, it seems a little out of its league.
As I wrote these impressions, though, I came to a realization. I really like The Surge 2. It was like realizing that you have a crush on someone you previously couldn’t stand. There’s so much to dislike here, from swarming enemies and boring boss fights to glitches galore. And yet, I’m hooked. The Surge 2 might not be a polished gem, but unlike its predecessor, the good outweighs the flaws. It might frustrate from time to time, but that’s fine. When it lands its punches, they’re knockouts.
I have not enjoyed playing Greedfall, the latest role-playing game by Spiders. That’s not because it is a poor experience in terms of how it plays. Greedfall offers a BioWare-esque adventure with branching quests, companion characters, and exploration. Greedfall frustrates me because it’s a game of half-measures. In the nearly 10 hours that I have played it so far, it fails to pull its disparate threads into a cohesive whole.
Greedfall is set in a fictional universe that appears to be modeled after 17th century Europe and America with some Celtic influences as well. There are nobles and sailors, newly founded colonies, and dialogue trees full of characters engaging in courtly intrigue. You play as De Sardet, the newly appointed diplomat of a merchant’s guild. Alongside your cousin, a jovial but clueless governor, you sail across the sea to the land of Teer Fradee in the hopes of locating the cure to a plague that is ravaging society in the old continent.
When you arrive on Teer Fradee, you learn about a burgeoning conflict between multiple factions: a confederation founded by a progressive researchers and naturalists, a zealous church, and the local native population. In addition to searching for a cure, your job as a diplomat is to liaise with these factions and resolve disputes. Along the way, you’ll have the option for plenty of companion romances, arena battles, boss fights with magical creatures, persuasion checks, and complicated questlines.
In its best moments, Greedfall provides a solid mixture of role-playing elements and combat. Quests offer a variety of solutions based upon the items you have and the skills in which you’ve invested. High charisma makes it easy to charm your way out of tricky situations, while points in the intuition trait will unlock unique dialog that leads to alternate solutions. With points in the science trait, you can make keen medical deductions or else craft potions that can be used in questlines and on the battlefield.
In an early quest, my master at arms Kurt asked me to doctor the contents of a shipping manifest so that important cargo could be smuggled onto a ship. This meant entering territory belonging to the Nauts, a sailor’s guild whose members join at a young age, Jedi-style. Intruding into their territory would draw their ire and cause me to lose precious reputation points with them. To avoid conflict, I had numerous options at my disposal. I could simply sneak through their compound if I wanted to. Alternately, I could locate one of their uniforms to explore without worry. I could use my Science skill (if I’d had it) to brew a sleeping potion to knock them out after a round of drinks. Greedfall delights in offering multiple solutions to quests, be it dialog options or other creative avenues. You are a diplomat first and a fighter second, and there’s plenty of ways to avoid combat even in the hairiest situations. It makes questing a genuinely enjoyable process no matter where you drop your skill points.
Combat is less enjoyable but has a certain degree of clumsy panache. Teer Fradee is packed with magical creatures that will attack you, and there are also plenty of ways to end up on a faction’s wrong side and end up having to face them. Combat is often avoidable, but in the rare moments that you’re forced to take a stand, the fighting works fine, even if your companions repeat the same combat barks over and over and over again.
You can fight with sabers or heavy weapons like larger swords and hammers. You can also use guns or specialize in magic. Fighting usually plays out like other action-RPGs such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. You dodge, you attack, you maybe use a magic spell to trap an enemy in stasis. If the fight’s moving too fast for you, you’re able to pause the game and select your next action in an impromptu turn-based manner that makes it easier to plan your next move or micromanage teammates. It’s a good compromise that smooths over some of the jankiness found Greedfall’s slightly stiff combat animations.
If all of this sounds fine, that’s because it is. In isolation, judged only on the questing and combat, Greedfall is a remarkably playable bit of pulp. Whether it’s helping my companion solve the murder of a friend, outsmarting religious inquisitors, or fighting massive beasts, everything works fine. But it’s all done in the service of a setting and a narrative that is, in the early moments, confused.
There’s no polite way of saying it. Greedfall is kind of fucked up. Wrapping yourself in the pageantry of the 18th century means recreating the iconography of colonial expansion and native slaughter. It means emulating a time when supposedly great men failed to do what was morally right, opting instead to do what was politically expedient. To merely call this a tension of Greedfall does it a disservice. It’s not just a momentary tension. It’s the entire game.
The visual language at play in this game harkens back to some vile shit. That isn’t to say that no art could use a setting like this, but it needs to be used with an awareness of what this setting actually means. Greedfall doesn’t demonstrate that level of care at the moment. It’s set dressing. The magical New World is mostly a playground for the player, not a means to examine complex issues. Greedfall wears a costume, perhaps not ignorant to what the costume means, but seemingly unwilling to do anything too powerful with it.
In the time I’ve played Greedfall, it’s clear that while I can alienate factions (sometimes gaining favor with my companions for doings so) there’s a great deal of advantage to placating all parties and maintaining the status quo on Teer Fradee. Don’t rock the boat. Make sure to bow before the racist cardinal even if you want to stab them in the neck. Dedicate yourself to a milquetoast middle path that keeps a peace but transforms nothing. Greedfall often pays lip service to the hypocrisies of its various factions—by what right does that inquisitor have to call anyone a barbarian, as he gleefully kills any native that fails to convert to his religion?—but in my first 10 hours of playing, I’ve yet to see these moments of awareness coalesce into anything actionable. (I could butt heads with said racist church official and state my disbelief in his god, but I couldn’t intercede as he choked a “sinner” to death.) There’s been very little opportunities to push back. You might prevent a tragedy here or there, but so long as the game pushes the player acquiesce to formality and political decency, there’s no room for any transformative action. I’m hoping this changes in the later segments of the game.
The fact that Greedfall tosses occasional scorn against colonial powers and dogmatism only makes it more frustrating that this is a game that appears to be about upholding the status quo, not enacting systemic change. These brief moments feel trite, as if Greedfall is uncomfortable with itself. Can I do anything about these injustices? Can I tear down the system that perpetuates them? For the moment, the answer seems to be no. That Greedfall has thus far limited reactions to the world around me and funneled me towards the diplomatic path doesn’t feel like a thoughtful merger of systems and themes like what was found in in 2016’s Tyranny. It feels like an unintended side effect of an under-explored setting and limited dialog trees. I would love to be proven wrong.
I ask: what is Greedfall saying? What messages does it want to communicate to me? What themes are on display? I have no answers to these questions and if Greedfall does, it’s not been kind enough to reveal them yet.
“It was never going to do that anyway,” my cynical brain says. But if part of my job is call on games to do better, then I also need to open myself up to the possibility that even fraught games may have the potential to achieve clarity. I could find that after all this lengthy preamble, Greedfall musters the strength to use its setting as more than window dressing. But based on what I’ve played so far, I’m not getting my hopes up.
Some players may not be bothered by all this. For those players, what will matter is whether the combat is decent. It mostly is. What may also matter is whether the role-play offers options for solving quests. It does, although you can probably just get by with high charisma. That Greedfall is a decent RPG will be enough, for some. For me, it isn’t. Not right now.
I see, from time to time, slivers of what Greedfall might be, and I trudge along in what feels like a misguided pipe dream that it will deliver something, anything deeper than what I’ve seen so far. I don’t dislike the raw moment-to-moment experience of Greedfall. It scratches a particular itch that I’ve been eager to scratch in the absence of Dragon Age. If you’re eager for an RPG of that form, Greedfall will oblige and you’ll likely have a good time. Regardless of my misgivings, I admit to a horrible curiosity in what might come next. But those misgivings are powerful and can’t be ignored.
Greedfall might manage to capture some of what made BioWare’s adventures great, but it feels aimless. It has, so far, not managed to speak up and say anything worthwhile, even as it offers meager acknowledgement that something isn’t quite right with its world. That lack of conviction, so far, is a black mark that I cannot get over and which leaves a frustration that overshadows everything else. Hopefully that will change as I continue.
Greedfall releases tomorrow on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
When I was first asked to preview Greedfall, an upcoming RPG by Spiders, I didn’t really know what to expect. Its vast world, packed with ruins and frontier towns, captured a sense of discovery but also evoked a strange apprehension in me. Greedfall brims with potential and clever ideas, yet even after playing it, I can’t tell if it will mark a powerful recreation of BioWare-esque storytelling or a half-measured romanticising of the all-too-violent Age of Exploration.
In Greedfall, you play as De Sardet, a citizen of the old continent. Overpopulation has allowed for the rapid spread of a plague known as the Malichor. You are sent as a diplomat to an island across the ocean called Teer Fradee, where a cure to the plague might be found. While searching, you act as a sort of diplomat to the island’s various trade factions and native peoples. The vibe rests distinctly in the 17th century with tricorn hats, armored soldiers, vibrant heraldry, and lonely outposts. Teer Fradee proves to be a mysterious place, magical even, with strange creatures that feel lifted from games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. In fact, playing Greedfall for any stretch of time makes it clear the it’s angling to fill the gap created in the absence of games like The Witcher and Dragon Age. I learned as much when I recently sat down with Focus Home Interactive creative producer Tom Butler for a hands-on demonstration.
Greedfall proved immediately gorgeous to look at. Butler started the demo in a small swampland, where beams of light pierced through gnarly branches. Distant forest trees held sage-colored leaves dotted with faded hues. Teer Fradee felt real, as if I could tell what angle my foot would take stepping on a rock. As Butler gave a brief overview of the area, he mentioned that Spider’s CEO Jeanne Rousseau, the main writer on the game, found herself inspired by Baroque art and Flemish paintings. She also found inspiration in the historical accounts of various explorers and naturalists. Greedfall’s world design held a specific ethos: to evoke awe and wonder. What I saw, limited as it was, touched upon those feelings. It was a place I wanted to poke at and whose nooks and crannies held promise.
“We absolutely didn’t want to be strictly historical,” Rousseau said in a YouTube video about the world’s design. “Rather, it had to remain inspiration. We’re inviting players to dream, explore, and discover a totally new universe.”
The world is broken up into small subsections with quests to undertake and point of interest to locate, reminiscent of Dragon Age. As I started playing, I found myself in camp with various companion characters like the cavalier yet secretive sailor Vasco or the curious native Siora. Traveling with companions doesn’t just give advantages in combat but also affects how you might handle situations. For instance, Siora can act as a translator for interactions with Teer Fradee’s various peoples, opening up new dialogue options or helping to resolve situations. Each of these characters had sidequests of their own and stories to pursue. Butler warned me that ignoring them long enough in the main game might lead party members to leave the group out of frustration.
Camp also held a workbench where I could craft armor and weapons. Each item was customizable; I could decide what sort of half cape I wanted to drape over my armor or else adorn myself how I saw fit. For normal difficulty levels, this amount of customization seemed unnecessary, but I was assured that higher-level players would find it useful to min-max each armor piece for high stats. For my part, I mostly imagined how spiffy I could make my character look, wondering if I could maybe opt for something a little more Bloodborne and less conquistador.
I decided to pursue the main quest arc for the area I was in, working with members of the mercantile Bridge Alliance to find a lost foraging team and their lead botanist. Leaving camp, I was almost immediately thrust into combat against some wild boars. This was where Greedfall started to grab me. Players can choose from three initial disciplines at the start of the game: Warrior, Technical, and Magic. It was essentially the split between fighter, thief, and mage, though players can diverge from their initial path. For this demo, I was a mage. This meant tossing magical spells that ranged from simple “magic missiles” to huge spells that exploded energy around me. If I wanted to, I could also switch to my sword or even pull out a matchlock pistol.
Combat flowed well, and it quickly became intuitive to dash away from enemies and cast spells or else wait until my Fury meter filled so I could unleash a stronger attack. (You can watch above to see a clip of skill tree management and a fight against a dangerous monster.) It was similar to the lock-on swordfighting of The Witcher, but there was a welcome twist: At any given time, I could pause the action and play like a turn-based RPG. If things were hectic, a single button tap froze everything and filled my screen with a variety of attacks and spells to queue up. While it hardly felt necessary for my battle against the boars, I imagine it’s a valuable tool in boss fights.
My quest took me through ruined camps and a detective sequence where I followed a trail of blood. Finding a corpse led to discussion of the situation between my companions. My protagonist seemed dismayed that the man was killed.
“He was only a scholar, a sage, not a warrior on the battlefield,” they said.
Siora’s reply came quick: “Do you think my people see a difference when Bridge men steal our people from their beds? All the clans hide their children.”
A game about crossing the ocean to “explore” a new, magical world holds a lot of uncomfortable implications. This was at least some acknowledgement that Greedfall wasn’t going to completely ignore those, that characters would differ in their thoughts about what it meant to explore and what it meant when new groups of people interacted. Butler boiled the interaction down to a question:
“How do you explore that one person’s notion of expansion comes at the expense of other people?”
I mentioned that I was glad to see the moment but I was still apprehensive. How much would Greedfall acknowledge the destructive impacts of colonization? How much would it allow the player to navigate and negotiate a different path, even as it wore the trappings of the Age of Discovery?
Eventually, I came across two Teer Fradee natives in a clearing and approached them. I was greeted with welcome skepticism. Who the hell is this colonist and what do they want? Are they also here to cause trouble? For the purposes of the demo, I had a high charisma stat that led to fruitful discussion, but I also had the option to have Siora step in. I was told later that I could have also snuck close to eavesdrop on the conversation instead.
We discovered the lone survivor of the Bridge survey team, a feisty alchemist named Aphra. She introduced herself by dropping out of a tree and ambushing my party, a memorable introduction that made it clear she would be a companion character. Companions clashed. Siora and Aphra clearly did not see eye to eye when it came to the Bridge Alliance’s forays deeper into Teer Fradee. The mercenary Kurt noted that if Aphra lashed out at the party again, he would kill her himself. It made me wonder how these companions would play off each other throughout the game.
The rest of my time with Greedfall was spent exploring a few major towns and poking at the game’s character creator. It had a neat framing device—a portrait session that the main character is sitting through at the start of the game. This also gave me a chance to get a better sense of the various skills you could have, like Craftsmanship or Science. These could affect dialog but also give certain options in the game world. For instance, someone with a high science skill might craft bombs to create makeshift entrances to restricted areas like warehouses.
I walked away from Greedfall extremely curious. It could be just the sort of RPG that I’ve been craving. Companion characters, stats that affect dialog, a rich and interesting setting. There’s promise here, a chance to use a familiar video game frame to explore interesting ideas and characters, should the ideas be handled with care. Whatever happens, I won’t have to wait long to see the final result. Greedfall releases in September for PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.