Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famed fictional detectives ever depicted. There are books, movies and TV shows dedicated to the exceptional detective first created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When it comes to video games, Frogwares has already produced a successful formula with The Testament of Sherlock Holmes. However, the game went under the radar for many, which makes Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments their chance to capture a bigger audience, as well as make detective games more appealing to the mass audience.
As someone who’s already a fan of the Sherlock Holmes literature, movies and TV shows; I went into Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments with low expectations. I wasn’t convinced that a game could correctly capture Sherlock Holmes’ personality while also making a fun gaming experience. It seemed like a balance that would be too difficult to reach. Frogwares hasn’t exactly found the perfect balance, but I can certainly say that they’re onto something.
As a detective game at its core, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments does a great job making you feel like you’re piecing a case together. In all the six cases in the game you’ll be presented with the mystery via cutscenes, then it’s up to you to begin exploring different scenes and interacting with characters to develop new evidence. All of this is logged in your journal, which you can bring up at anytime to recall evidence or conversations.
The Sherlock Holmes personal spin comes into play via the deduction system, and his ability to observe both people and their surroundings. The deduction system allows you to string together all the evidence you’ve collected in Holmes’ mind and make connections. Once connections are made you can try to determine the right path which will lead you to a conclusion in the case. What I like about the system is that it’s actually possible to get it wrong, so you’ll need to assert some of your own thought into these deductions. This means that its not as easy as collecting evidence and piecing them all together in deduction mode, you actually have to pay attention and think like Sherlock to come to the right conclusion. Sherlock is rarely wrong about anything, so the pressure to get things right will consume you more than likely. At the end of the case you’re given the decision to see if you’re decision was correct or not, but to keep the immersion going it’s recommended that you don’t check.
At the end of each case you also get to make a moral choice on how the case should be resolved. For instance, if you’ve decided a man has murdered in self defense you can choose to protect his identity and let him escape instead of turning him over to inspector Lestrade. It’s these moments that give you some level of control over Sherlock’s personality, which is definitely a great feeling but it doesn’t happen nearly enough.
When it comes to personality, Sherlock Holmes and all of the potential suspects are the only ones who shine in this game. It was pretty disappointing to see how plain Sherlock’s companion Dr. Watson is in Crimes & Punishments, especially because Dr. Watson is just as important to the Sherlock Holmes stories as Sherlock himself. There are moments throughout the game where Watson is useful, but considering he follows you through the majority of the cases he should have played more of an important part to character developments. The exchange in dialogue between Sherlock and Watson is limited, which is surprising because Watson is known for documenting all of his adventures with Sherlock Holmes.
Personality flaws aside, Frogwares makes up for the lack of intriguing dialogue by presenting excellent gameplay scenarios. Throughout the cases you’ll be faced with challenges and obstacles to overcome so you can secure all the evidence you need. They’re referred to as mini games because you have the ability to skip them if you please, but I like to think of them as legit parts of the game. Many of them are challenging, but fun enough to not cause annoyance.
One of these mini game challenges is an arm wrestling challenge in which Sherlock needed to beat a sailor known for his strong arms so that Sherlock could gain more evidence. It was no easy feat to win, and Frogwares showed the power of the Unreal Engine during this challenge. To win you had to pay close attention to the sailors facial expressions to determine if he was pushing, restraining or sitting idle, then you had to react accordingly. Other challenges see you reconstructing broken evidence, or using Sherlock’s lab to analyze chemicals and objects.
One thing that caught me off guard was the variety of environments and locations in the game. I half expected this to be a game lacking in environments, reusing the same scenes over and over, but Frogwares have proved that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, especially when Sherlock Holmes is involved. Each case introduced new locations, many of them were huge and highly detailed. It would be wrong to compare Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments to any other game graphically because Frogwares have created their own style that works in the world they’ve created here. The game looks beautiful on PS4, and I’ve heard it looks even better on PC. Using Sherlock’s power of observation on a character shows off just how well Frogwares have made use of the Unreal Engine, the character models are well done and they each have their own unique details that ties in with their backgrounds and motives. On the animation and A.I side of things there’s room for improvement. Characters tend to move stiffly, and companions such as Dr. Watson often stand in your way, obstructing you from getting through doors and corridors.
There’s two different ways for me to look at this game overall. As a fan of the Sherlock Holmes literature I feel like Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments doesn’t always do enough to capture what makes Sherlock such an interesting character, and his lack of interaction with Dr. Watson is disappointing. It often feels like Frogwares simply choses the cutscenes before and after a case to insert as much of Sherlock and Watson’s personality as possible, but then it’s all forgotten throughout the cases themselves.
From the point of view of someone who simply enjoys mysteries and detective stories however, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments nails it. The thrill of the chase is enough to keep you hooked for hours if this is your forte. There was never really a dull moment for me while playing, which is surprising since it’s such a slow paced game. There are six cases overall in the game and each one is more complex. If investigation is your thing, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments will have you locked in for hours, just don’t expect the best representation of the Sherlock Holmes character here.
This review is based on a digital copy of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments for the PC, provided by Evolve PR.