Frequently mysteries are just about finding out “whodunit,” and that particularly holds true in mystery adventure games. But Frogwares’ newest entry in the Sherlock Holmes series, Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes takes it a step further: once you found out who committed the crime, what do you do with the criminal? In this iteration of the franchise, you’ll find clues and solve crimes as both Holmes and Watson, but you’ll also choose the method of justice: do you let the killer go free because he was forced to kill, or turn him in the police? The addition of moral justice on the already successful Sherlock Holmes mystery-solving franchise adds a great element to a great game.
This game brings us back to the classic interpretation of Holmes, as you solve cases in 19th-century London. Sherlock, Watson, and even the dog, Toby, venture off in search of mystery in this new game. There are six cases to solve, and in each of these you’ll travel to various locations around London to investigate crimes ranging from murder to plant theft (which actually is also connected to a murder). Using a combination of interviews, Sherlock’s imagination and deduction skills, Watson’s medical analysis, and their dog, Toby’s nose, you’ll break down each case into its component parts. Each case can have multiple conclusions, with multiple parties accused for multiple motives. It’s up to you to determine who did it, why it happened, and what proper justice is.
The mystery-oriented adventure gameplay of Crimes and Punishments holds up just as well as ever. You’ll poke holes in witness testimonies, gather evidence from crime scenes, and assemble your conclusions on the Deduction Board. A wife whose husband was a drunk may say that he did nothing but yell at her, but the multiple day-old bruises on her hands may tell you otherwise. Not only do you gain evidence from people, but he also traveled to multiple locations around London to discover more about each crime. Seeing the varied locations, from empty train stations to complex underground tombs, is definitely one of the highlights of the game, as Crimes and Punishments takes advantage of powerful hardware with some of the best visuals that the series has offered. Even on medium settings on PC, sites like the Roman baths and the large greenhouse, Kew Gardens, were ripe with detail. This especially shows in the character models, which are shown off by the game’s new third-person perspective (though you can go back to first-person at any time if you prefer) . Faces are detailed and expressive, and particularly during cutscenes the expressions seem almost lifelike. Coupled with great voice acting for many characters, it’s really easy to get enveloped in the game’s world.
Of course, an adventure game is nothing without its puzzles, and Crimes and Punishments offers tons of them. You’ll mix chemical compounds, reassemble moulds and create weapons, and more. Most puzzles are pretty simple until you get to roughly the fourth case, which is unfortunate because at that point the skills of deduction analysis truly comes into play and makes the game feel more lively. The first three cases feel more like fetch quests in comparison, hopping from location to location to find evidence to piece together in the final conclusion. But once the game gets rolling, it really shows the maturity of the franchise: complex lock picking puzzles, logical analysis timelines (which harken back to earlier Sherlock games), and even re-creating scenes via Holmes’s imagination make the game feel unique and fresh. By the time you reach the game’s final case, you’ll definitely feel like you’re filling the shoes of Sherlock Holmes.
This doesn’t mean the game gets everything right, however. Though it’s great to see so many locations around London, often you’ll need to backtrack multiple times between remote locations and Baker Street to either conduct experiments or consult your archive for historical information. This means grappling with the game loading screen time and again, and the load times can get particularly bad in large locations like Kew Gardens. And even though the graphics are gorgeous, occasionally the shine from sunlight or reflective surfaces looked glitch, as if I could see gold-colored TV snow.
From a gameplay perspective, the game’s forgiving nature makes it hard to feel like there’s anything really at stake. Finding most of the evidence is pretty easy, and there’s no real time-crunch or penalty that pushes players forward. When it comes to making each case’s final accusation, you can watch the cinematic for your conclusion, then instantly bounce back to the Deduction Board if you don’t like what happened. It’s an option that’s respectful to player’s time, and most players would probably simply save right before making the case’s final conclusion so that they could reload if they’ve made the wrong choice, but one of my best experiences with this game was the turmoil I felt when trying to make my first accusation and then determine whether I would convict or acquit. Once I realized that it didn’t really matter what my first choice was, a lot of that tension dissipated in future cases, which is a shame. Also, the couple of times I came to the wrong conclusion, it was rather anti-climactic; it seemed more like hearing the game play a sad trombone than witnessing the consequences of my poor decision. I would have loved to see some of those wrong conclusions drawn out to really feel the importance of making the right choice.
It has to be noted that the character of Sherlock Holmes does not exist in a vacuum, and it’s impossible to play this game without comparing the Sherlock to other recent creations, namely the BBC’s Sherlock. For example, in Crimes and Punishments, identified traits on suspects pop up in print on the person similar to the TV show’s style, whether noticing dirty fingernails or a train station manager’s missing pocket-watch. It’s great to see acknowledgement of a popular franchise, but this also made me feel out of place occasionally since this game’s Sherlock doesn’t feel quite as witty (read: condescending) as the BBC character. Watson definitely seems less capable than his BBC counterpart, and this makes the play between the Watson and Holmes feel bland more often than not. At one point, Watson says he can’t leave Sherlock trapped in a tomb “even though he ruined (his) favorite handkerchief,” one which you use as Holmes for the investigation earlier in the case; though it wasn’t the greatest, I wished there were more quips like these peppered through the game.
Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes is a must-play for fans of the franchise, and it’s great for newcomers to the series. Though it may come off as a little easy to some, others will surely welcome the game’s approachable nature and patience. And, even though it’s missing some of the dynamic nature of other versions of Sherlock, this version carries its own charm that makes this case definitely one worth taking on for budding detectives.
Final Score: 3.75 out 5
Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes is available for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.