Sherlock Holmes is a more or less the most well-known criminal detective in history, and he only seems to be growing in popularity with recent films and television series. Sadly, most video game adaptions of the Baker Street fellow have fallen short in nearly every way; but thankfully ‘Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments’ breaks the trend.
You find our ace detective at his home along with his trusty side-kick Watson, fresh on the case of another murder. The game seems to throw you right into the fire with little lead-in or introduction to the world of criminal investigation in the early 19th century. The story takes place over the span of six cases with no connection between them. While six cases may sound like a small amount, each case takes several hours to complete, and thankfully are extremely varied in detail and plot. While nearly every case does involve murder, each murder scene is different in style and execution, keeping things fresh and interesting through-out.
Visually, the game looks astounding. It’s clear that developer Frogware pooled their talents to really make fantastic use of the Unreal 3 Engine. The environments are lush and filled with detail, while the character models are well-crafted and photo realistic; the game is truly beautiful.
Along with the fantastic visuals, the game offers some great sound design. With realistic sound effects, great ambient sounds from birds singing at crime scenes to the sounds of chatter in a crowded police station, can be heard throughout. The voice acting is solid as well, only falling short in a couple of isolated incidents.
The game play can take place in either the first or third person, with a default setting of the latter. I found the third-person view to be clunky, slow, and overall terrible to be honest. When I first took control of Holmes I felt a sense of dread when I felt how he controlled. Luckily the game allows you to quickly switch to the first person, which feels and performs worlds better. Why they chose to have the default play-style to be set in the third-person is a mystery of its own.
As you would expect, the game is heavily based on the investigation of your surroundings and the interrogation of various witnesses and suspects. Finding clues at the different scenes of investigation is pretty straight forward, and with certain objects highlighted, you’d be hard pressed to miss a clue. Much like L.A Noire, the game also alerts you when you’ve collected clues at the current location.
Of course the interviewing of various people is a integral part of the investigation. Crimes and Punishments mixes it up a bit by allowing you to observe the appearance of each person you question. Noticing tears in the clothes, expensive jewelry or wounds on a suspect are just few of the different examples of intel that can be gathered using this mechanic. While I did find this to be a very interesting and fresh addition, I only wish they had not made the clues and observations so obvious. Heavily highlighting items or parts of the person removes the fun and challenge of trying to pick out things for yourself.
Along with the basic investigations, Holmes also has his archive and chemical lab at his disposal. The archive is used to look up old newspaper articles or other sorts of documents that may retain information about current cases or suspects. The lab is used to concoct various formulas for forensic use. While the idea itself is something I found interesting, the execution comes across as confusing, and at least with the first use of it, down-right misleading. During the first use of the lab you’re given a graph showing the rules in which the chemicals must be mixed, and if you follow the rules given, it’s impossible to complete. Only after I tried random mixtures was I able to complete this ‘puzzle’. Luckily this was the only time I encountered such a problem, but I can only imagine how many players will use the conveniently placed ‘skip’ option after a few attempts.
Another interesting tool is Sherlock’s wardrobe. At first glance it seems like only a way to further customize how your Holmes will look, and to a point, it is. But this is also used for when Holmes must ‘infiltrate’ locations such as a sailor’s bar. Trading your three-piece suit for suspenders and a raggedy hat allows for Sherlock to fit right in amongst the salty drunkards you’ll need to question.
The game also features a few mini-games, such as lock-picking and crime re-creations; the latter being the most interesting of the mini-games. In one instance, Holmes and Watson re-create the murder of a man using a harpoon for the murder weapon by having the player attempt to throw a harpoon into the carcass of a pig. How can you go wrong with a scenario like that?
With each case you are given a ‘map’ of the thought process going on in Holmes’ brain, with different ideas, facts, and motives connecting to one another based off how you perceive the case to have occurred. Nearly every fact or ‘thought’ gives the player an option of what they think is true or false. Each option connects different thoughts or suspects eventually leading to a final outcome.
Once you have come to a conclusion, you have the option of which person to convict and are given a ‘moral’ choice. These choices vary from full conviction to execution. Each choice you make effects how you are perceived as a detective. Sadly, these come across as a half-baked idea and you never fully feel as if your choice matters in the end. Additionally, when you do pick a final guilty party, the game asks you if you’d like to see the ‘correct’ answer. After seeing the correct solution, you can change your verdict on the fly, and what’s more is that doing so does not effect the final outcome. This is another contributing factor to my opinion that the game is entirely too easy, and without a choice of varying difficulty options, those who want a more cerebral experience aren’t given the chance.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is the best video game adaption of the source material to date. With wonderful visuals and audio, the game will keep you interested in the well-written cases from start to finish. But if you’re looking for a game to challenge your mind or deductive skills, look else where. This game not only holds your hand, it grips it until the point of pain.