Sherlock Holmes is one of most famous detectives of all time. The last few years have seen a resurgence of Arthur Conan Doyle’s quirky genius on both TV and film, each depicting a somewhat different interpretation of Holmes. However, for Frogware, Crimes & Punishments, is their 7th outing in the Sherlock Holmes series, and it’s clear by now they’ve got the formula well honed.
First of all Crimes & Punishments looks absolutely fantastic, it is definitely deserving of its next-gen status. Each area in the game is wonderfully detailed; from the noisy crowd outside Baker Street to specs of dust on shelving units at a crime scene. The facial animations are also life like and, similar to LA Noire, a hint in a facial expression can aid you during an investigation. Its authenticity does a brilliant job in immersing you into a vibrant Victorian world.
You can expect screen tears here and there but it really is nothing major, and it certainly wont detract from the experience. What will, however, are some of the voice performances. Most of the characters in the game are voiced well with emotional recollections of what they witnessed, whereas some feel wooden. In a game which heavily relies on character interrogation, the voice performances need to be consistently good. Thankfully Holmes’ performance is almost perfect. He’s sarcastic, arrogant and unorthodox in his methods.
Although Crimes & Punishments features some point-and-clink gameplay elements, you can fully explore with Holmes, and sometimes Watson, in a number of diverse environments. In Sherlock Holmes it’s all about finding clues and linking them together to solve each mystery.
Exploration of the crime scene rewards you with those clues, which can be anything from a piece of metal in a steam room brazier to a harpoon through a victim’s body. You can find hidden clues with Holmes’ sixth sense or imagination, but these aren’t used that often and feel a little tacked on. Each clue or piece of evidence is added to your case book, which acts as the hub for everything related to the mystery. You can review all of the evidence you’ve found here, consider how you can link them together and, when you do get a revelation, it can feel immensely satisfying.
Interrogating suspects also provides you with an insight into the case. A quick character study of a suspect also opens up new interrogation opportunities. Holmes can pick up hints from the suspect’s clothing and general appearance to determine wealth or even their hobbies. This makes you feel even more like a sociological genius.
Where Crimes & Punishment really stands out is the deduction board. Unlike other detective games, which have a predetermined outcome, Crimes & Punishments allows you to link together important pieces of evidence and solve the case how you want to solve it. Some points on the deduction board give you more than one choice, which lead to different pathways in the case, ultimately resulting in more than one way to conclude the mystery.
Once you’ve decided who to convict, you are also presented with a moral choice, which has a direct link to your reputation as a detective. In some circumstances you can deal full justice on a suspect or show them some sympathy and admit them for help, sparing them the death penalty. It’s a nice touch to the game and it only feels right to add a moral compass to a Sherlock Holmes adventure.
There are 6 cases to complete in all, which may sound very short at first, but each case can take up to 3 hours to conclude, so you can expect a lengthy game. There is some variation to the mysteries too. Of course, there are the usual murder mysteries to solve, but one case has you trying to explain a train disappearance. You might even recognise one or two cases from actual Sherlock Holmes novels, and the plots that have been written solely for the game are also just as well thought out as Conan Doyle’s adventures.
Unfortunately Crimes & Punishments isn’t a smooth experience. The gameplay is clunky and slow, especially from a third-person view. Even after switching to a first-person view, clicking on clue pop ups often requires two or three clicks of a button before anything registers.
There are also some odd gameplay elements that have been added into the game. For instance, some clues require a chemical analysis, which can be done at Baker Street, where you have to conjure up different concoctions to reveal information that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Examinations like these involve mini-games which are extremely confusing. There’s no indication of what you need to do for these activities, and they are also quite challenging. What’s even stranger is that there’s a skip button which means you don’t even have to do it yourself, with no apparent consequences towards the case. There are dozens of these mini-games too, including pick locking and crime re-enactments. They should either be implemented into the game well or not be included at all.
It’s difficult to find a detective game where you can actually solve a mystery how you want to. In Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments the deduction board gives you this ability, which ultimately leads to a number of different conclusions to each case. You can also enjoy a great sense of satisfaction as you make a plot revelation. Visually, Sherlock Holmes is brilliant, from the detailed crime scenes to the realistic facial animations. The clunky gameplay, frustrating mini-games and inconsistent voice performances do detract from the overall experience though.