Hang on! I need my pipe…
While it could be argued that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s popular sleuth has never really gone out of fashion, there is no denying a recent surge of interest in Sherlock Holmes. Movies, TV shows and videogames, the detective has been making appearances everywhere and, while not always exactly how Sir Doyle would have imagined him, they have all kept within the Sherlock Holmes theme, to one degree or another.
Crimes & Punishments is the latest title from Frogwares, but not their first game featuring Sherlock Holmes. The previous Holmes games from the developer have not all been completely successful, but Frogwares have been learning from their mistakes is trying to make a game that really embodies the idea of Sherlock Holmes. Crimes & Punishments is simply the closest they, or anyone else for that matter, have come to letting the player feel as though they are wearing the deer stalker themselves.
Crimes & Punishments is about exactly what the title says. There is no convoluted storyline running through the game here. Instead, there are a series of small crimes that Mr Holmes, and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson, must investigate and solve, at which point the player will be able to deal out the punishment as they see fit. Although there is a small thread tying the six crimes together, it means that players can progress through the game at a more comfortable pace without having to follow a long story. The crimes will take a few hours each to work through, meaning that the overall length of the game is satisfyingly lengthy.
The popular portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as arrogant and flawed in his genius has been carried through to Crimes & Punishments, making him a really interesting character to play as. This comes through especially well in the voice work for Holmes himself, really filling the scenes. The same cannot be said for the other voice work in the game, where non-native voices have attempted, rather badly in places, to take on UK regional accents. In some ways it is embarrassing, but quite easily ignored.
As a title on PS4, players would expect some pretty great visuals. It has to be said that the various environments that Holmes visits are really nicely done, and in keeping with the period. From Kew Gardens and random tombs, to Baker Street and the back streets of London, everything looks authentic and highly detailed. Of a similar detail are the character models themselves, which really bring the game to life. There are a few visual anomalies, screen tear, slow down etc. but overall this is a good looking game.
While the settings and voices go a long way to making Crimes & Punishments enjoyable to play, it is the investigating itself that really allows the player to step into Holmes’ shoes. Players will need to search for clues through the course of the investigation before making their conclusions and picking their perpetrator. The great thing is that players could get it all wrong and still continue with the game, moving on to the next case as an innocent man suffers the punishment. It really makes the player think before they act, or not as the case may be, especially as the player even gets to choose the appropriate punishment for the alleged criminal. Do you play it safe by picking a mild punishment just in case you picked the wrong suspect? This is investigating with moral consequences.
The actual investigating comes in the form of finding clues at various scenes, which thankfully highlight to save the many hours of searching for obscure clues that could have been the case, and interviewing witnesses or suspects, before putting all of the clues together. Sherlock’s detective skills are played out in the game by his ability to spot seemingly random clues that other may miss, or to use his imagination to visualize what happened or even missing evidence. He can also create a character portrait of some characters, providing further evidence that will need to be taken into account.
There are mini games that relate to the investigation, such as chemical analysis, lock picking or even having Holmes’ dog follow a scent, but these can be skipped for the most part and, whilst providing a nice break from the regular investigating, are not a large part of the game.
The crimes themselves are very well laid out. Some may seem fairly obvious to solve, others are definitely more obscure, and some may even be familiar to Holmes fans. But they all conclude quite nicely and putting together all of the evidence to reach a conclusion has a really satisfying feel to it. There is a lot of backtracking in the game, which can be a bit of a chore. But solving mysteries in this way really has a nice feel and makes it all worthwhile.
Crimes & Punishments feels like a next gen Holmes game, not in its looks as they are not quite good enough for next gen, but in the way it plays, the way it involves the player and the way it doesn’t shepherd the player to a conclusion. The crimes are varied and well devised, and the settings are authentic. The relatively slow pace may not be for everyone, but amateur sleuths will get a real kick from showing off their skills.