Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments achieves its aim of putting you in the role of the storied detective, but falls victim to monotony and a somewhat lifeless game world. Ultimately Crimes and Punishments passes as a good game, but minor tweaks could make the experience infinitely more immersive and enjoyable.
Crimes and Punishments is the sixth entry in the Sherlock series from French developer Frogwares, and serves as the series’ first foray into the realm of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. As the titular character you are tasked with solving the cases brought to you by Lestrade, the Gordon to your Batman. As you progress your investigation new and interesting deductions, assumptions, and theories are made. You begin to question your own understanding of the evidence, your belief in the characters, and will likely have at least a few investigations that you aren’t quite sure of your final choice.
…brief moments make you feel incredibly intelligent when you successfully utilize the information gathered to disprove the next answer your suspect gives.
In these regards, and upon immediate looks, Crimes and Punishments is a success. The game looks great rendered on the new tech (we played the PS4 version) and realizes the ability to produce detailed environments that challenge your senses and attention to detail. Character models are striking upon profiling them, the game stops time and zooms in, allowing Holmes to get a good look at the character in question. Crow’s feet crowd the eyes, dirt under the nails, fresh stains on the sole of the shoe indicates a recent venture outdoors. Holmes takes the mantle of intrepid detective here and really showcases his ability to notice the smallest of variation, and these brief moments make you feel incredibly intelligent when you successfully utilize the information gathered to disprove the next answer your suspect gives.
When a character lets slip an obvious lie or omission, a quick button prompt presents itself on the screen. Holmes is then able to use evidence or statements to disprove their attempt to subvert the investigation. Moments where you catch the lie feel quite beneficial to your investigation, and honestly provide what feels like true progress.
After gathering evidence Holmes is able to use his Case File to refer back to notes, fast travel, check objectives, and review said evidence. Able to be viewed even during load screens, the case file quickly becomes the best friend of the truth seeker. Trying to objectively draw conclusions from the evidence and testimony passes time and allows you to talk yourself into your conclusion, be it the right or wrong one.
In coordination with the Case File, the player can be thrust into the mind of Holmes in a few ways. The first is Deduction Space, where the clues, testimony, and thoughts Holmes has gathered so far are put out in a view resembling neurons. This neural network branches and extends as you commit to one of two outcomes. Did the mentally disturbed man take too much of his St. John’s Wort? Or did he not take enough, rendering him prey to his disease and therefore irresponsible for his actions? The choices are yours, and can lead you to the truth, or far from it. A nice touch in this space when selecting a path is the ability to instantly gain feedback as to which conclusions are direct conflicts. The system allows for infinite tinkering and those that just aren’t sure, will surely feel anxious to commit if they’re lacking evidence.
While investigating scenes we find Holmes’ other two “powers”. I say “powers” because they are simply imagination and focus, but mapped to individual buttons. Focus highlights things you may initially miss, like a letter that fell behind the desk, or show quick text deductions like “deep tire tracks, heavy load” to give you a new clue that Sherlock makes the assumption for you. Sometimes while in Focus, you will see a prompt to launch Imagination. Imagination allows Holmes to see things as they may have happened, or things that used to be in a place. A box that left a dust outline is highlighted, a train that has disappeared is seen by Holmes traveling the rails. These quick scenes provide insight in to what may have been, or what is missing, and help you to move along your investigation.
Moving along the investigation is the name of the game in Crimes and Punishments¸ as I couldn’t help but feel that’s all my purpose was as Holmes. Initially, the first mission and game in general feel very “trial by fire” and throw you in to figure some things out. I found myself very frustrated in the first mission when I, according to my own deduction, figured it out. I couldn’t accuse anyone, and had not yet learned that in order to accuse, you had to piece all the clues and assumptions together within Deduction Space. I simply found myself traveling between locations hoping for something to happen. Only when I returned and decided to talk to a character whom I thought I was finished with did the new evidence appear, leading to a new deduction.
The feeling of London comes across, but only as mere set dressing, and doesn’t translate into a living, breathing world.
After figuring out that the game will essentially inform you are finished with an area by pulling the character away from the zoomed in focus you have, I knew that I basically needed to highlight everything on said table, perhaps turn it around if it came up on the screen, and let Holmes do his thinking out loud thing. I began to find the investigations a bit tedious and felt as though I was simply fulfilling a checklist, and solving puzzles that honestly weren’t terribly challenging. Later in the game investigations became a little predictable, go here, look at everything with the icon, solve a puzzle, put it all together and accuse or absolve. Frogwares does a good job to attempt to mix up gameplay with things like lock picking, puzzles that vary from mission to mission, and even some gun/crossbow/harpoon play. Unfortunately even these sections feel a little half-baked sometimes, and merely serve to get you another deduction and get to the end.
I found it easy to draw comparisons to L.A. Noire in that the investigations and crime scenes were interesting, and profiling the characters was wholly interesting. The facial tech doesn’t rival what was pulled off in L.A. Noire but it does a good job, and gets the point across without crossing into uncanny valley territory. The game looks good in the Unreal 3 engine, but certain things took a double take. For instance after profiling a character, the game returns to your choice of first or third person view (a nice touch). Immediately apparent is the amount of detail that went in to profiling, as the view you are now presented with has characters looking a bit waxy, and nearly lifeless barring some brief scripted movements.
Investigating the scenes also feels somewhat lifeless, as after walking around for a bit, the scene feels like it is a set designed specifically for you to walk around, as opposed to a living farm, or an estate in the middle of a busy section of town. The characters remain in their chairs, or leaning against their wall, and the police set to patrol or guard the scene, stand there and perform intermittent motions. The feeling of London comes across, but only as mere set dressing, and doesn’t translate into a living, breathing world. Small touches could have changed this, even scripted events like a maid continuing to tidy the entryway, the police patrolling the grounds, or even giving the police a few more lines than “Mr. Holmes” would have gone miles in the immersion department.
Investigations require a lot of travel, and while the load screens are quite well done, allowing you to see your deduction space and case notes, and showing Holmes, and occasionally Watson, en route to the destination in great detail, it seems there is somewhat unnecessary bouncing around. If Holmes discovers a clue at one location, it almost certainly requires going to a character you’ve exhausted all dialogue options with thus far, and talking to them again to get another clue or deduction space element. After my first investigation I learned that whenever the game fades to black for a moment, you’re doing something right. I found the traveling and repeated attempts to chat with characters tedious, and perhaps due in part to the fact that I wasn’t interested in why the sailor’s wife was crying, because she sat there doing it for what felt like a day.
The most disappointing omission in my play was lack of narrative direction for Holmes and Watson themselves. While the title Crimes and Punishments may very well serve as a description of the game, as you simply have different crimes pop up, and decide the suspects punishments; I felt as though it was more of a retelling or chronicle of cases, instead of any sort of cohesive tale. I didn’t feel as though it served Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary character or expanded on the mystique and fabric of the character. To me, the game didn’t even feel as though it interpreted the character, more like it retold the character as we expect to see him.
The voice cast deserves recognition, as they successful convey emotion and wit throughout the game, and constantly provided some amusement. When I did find myself becoming a bit bored with the investigation, I tried to slow down and appreciate what the actors were doing, as they did stellar work in bringing the characters to life the best they could. Ample writing no doubt assists in this, and should also be noted.
Overall Crimes and Punishments serves as a deliberate, well put together mystery game. It serves as a great change of pace from the shooters and action fodder out there now and that will undoubtedly follow in the coming months. Unfortunately, lack of a cohesive story, feeling of being on a set, and the overall vapid nature of those sets lead the game to a somewhat boring end. I found myself almost forcing my way to the end of investigations, and while I cared about the result and finding the truth, if I was wrong, I moved on. Crimes and Punishments delivers on the promise of the title, but doesn’t take those daring steps forward, or interpret the characters in ways that are interesting or challenging. While the game is enjoyable, good looking, and technically sound, it may fall victim to its own stricture as a game that feels like it wants you to move faster, when in reality, it needs to be deliberate.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is available for Playstation and Xbox consoles, as well as on PC.
yeahstub.com was supplied with a press copy of this title for review on Playstation 4.