Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments Review
Allow me to introduce Mr. Sherlock Holmes, no doubt you have heard of him
Game developer Frogware have been in possession of the Sherlock Holmes license for quite some time now, and ‘Crimes and Punishments’ their latest iteration in the crime-adventure series is undoubtedly the finest outing yet for the famed detective. It helps enormously that the visuals have enjoyed a huge boost; it looks absolutely stunning in short. Meanwhile, the detailed deductions and open-ended case conclusions make up a largely compelling detective tale but the lack of any meaningful connection between cases dampens the impact slightly.
Crimes and Punishments chooses to tell six perplexing, but absorbing short cases instead of a single long adventure, hence proceedings are much tighter as a result. Holmes therefore has plenty of opportunities to partake in his favourite activities, be it snooping around crime scenes for clues, interrogating witnesses and confronting suspects. Every case is intriguing but it’s nonetheless a bit disappointing to see no real connection between them, apart from murder I mean. There’s little in the way of long-term consequences despite the fact you can actually charge the wrong person in each case thanks to the new open-ended conclusion system. This lack of cross-over in favour of self-contained cases may appeal to other players though, there’s not inherently wrong with this approach after all, but for me the absence of any overarching mystery is a bit unfulfilling.
The game plays pretty much as you’d expect it to, controlling Holmes from a third or first-person perspective, you first have to discover clues by searching the various crime scenes. Objects of interest are clearly highlighted by floating text boxes reiterating to the player than you can interact with it. But others require Holmes to use his version of ‘detective vision’ where you can uncover secrets nobody else would realistically be able to find. The mechanics in this regard are standard but well-done nonetheless, it helps that the controller vibrates when you’re near a clue that requires Holmes to use one his abilities instead of being compelled to flick it on and off at random.
Not all clues are so simple to gather though, others need further investigation such as consulting Holmes’ archives of old newspapers and encyclopaedias for a cross-reference, testing chemicals in the lab and mini-puzzles such as picking locks. This adds a lot of variety to the game without much in the way of player frustration either, since you’re given the opportunity to skip more difficult puzzles should you choose.
Finding clues is one matter, but piecing them together into coherent deductions is another. As you progress through the case, you’ll build a sizeable amount of clues needed to populate the ‘deduction space’ in Sherlock’s mind. This is where you’ll theorize which events transpired during the crime to build a firm picture of what happened and who the killer is. For instance in one case a man is killed by a harpoon, thus you can deduce that the killer was a sailor and one with the strength to throw such a weapon with the required force, ruling out his wife or a kid as suspects. As links are made, new pathways are formed giving depth to your interpretation of events; what’s crucial is that the theory doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be internally consistent in order to be presented with your final conclusion as influenced by your reading of the clues.
This leads us on to Crimes and Punishments big innovation, the very real possibility to fail. It’s easy to condemn the right person to death by a skewed interpretation of clues or a poor interrogation. This means that you may never in fact confront the real culprit in your cases, it doesn’t help that there’s never really a decisive clue that points squarely at one person, several outcomes are always possible. It represents a sizeable step forward for the genre and injects the investigations with a bit more urgency and tension.
The conclusions also come attached with a moral choice, you can choose to either arrest or absolve the suspect of their crime. This mechanic however feels rather under-baked, it only seems to alter the final cut-scene of a case and doesn’t impact at all future cases or how people interact with Holmes, even if you made completely the wrong choice. There are no ramifications to it; a mere distraction in the end, but it should have been a whole lot more.
Crimes and Punishments has a big surprise up its sleeve with regards to the presentation, it looks absolutely gorgeous with some truly amazing facial tech going on for its characters. Who knew we would get a Sherlock Holmes game looking this good? A cross-gen game at that I should add. The enclosed crime scenes are rich with detail, ranging from deserted train stations in sleepy Southern England, to the exquisite décor of an ancient Roman bathhouse. It massively enhances the overall atmosphere of the game.
This comes at a bit of a cost however with regards to the long loading times, which wouldn’t normally be a problem but due to the structure of Sherlock Holmes titles where the player is able to travel to different points of interest at will, it gets increasingly tiresome.
Crimes and Punishments is a good adventure game, forgoing the usual rights and wrongs to instead focus on interpretation and judgement. The game as a whole utterly revels in Holmes’ monstrous ego, if he has formulated this deduction then to all the police officers and the wider world it must be right, even in actual fact the player may have led him down the wrong path completely. The legendary detective is believed to be undeceivable, a more intriguing premise than it may originally appear. However the lack of any interconnected narrative between cases, half-hearted morality system and long loading times, holds back the game from being a truly great one.
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Compelling cases
+ Mechanically sound
+ Open-ended conclusions
– No meaningful connection between cases
– Morality system is worthless
– Loading times