Sherlock Holmes, the most brilliant detective in English literature, has enjoyed a renaissance of interpretations lately, that thankfully go beyond the usual parody of “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
From the modern-day depiction by acclaimed writer Steven Moffat, to the Hollywood films starring Robert Downey Jr., and even the televised crime drama on CBS, Holmes has come a long way since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned his first case. For the video game crowd looking to get their fix, “Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments” from Focus Home Interactive fills that void. As the latest installment of the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” series by developer Frogwares, “Crime & Punishments” introduces a stunning new graphical look powered by the Unreal Engine 3 and some new gameplay mechanics as well. Not everything new here works as successfully as it could, but the overall experience it creates does the Sherlock Holmes name proud.
Favoring the classic 1880s setting, “Crimes & Punishment” features six criminal cases that range from murder, theft, murder, and more murder. With Dr. Watson by your side, it’s up to you as Sherlock Holmes to figure out to who, what, when, where, why, and how for each mystery. It’s also your duty to figure out the appropriate punishment for the convicted, regardless if your deduction is accurate. For those following the adventure game genre because of Telltale Games’ adaptation of “The Walking Dead,” or “The Wolf Among Us,” the episodic structure of “Crimes & Punishment” should feel right at home. However, those expecting their decisions made in-game to have a great affect on the overall narrative will be disappointed to hear only a few cute nods from the previous cases are the result of such actions.
A selling point for “Crimes & Punishment” is the ability to rightfully or wrongfully convict someone as the true mastermind behind a crime. The game even allows you to double-check your final deduction and see how it would play out, if you choose to be merciful or merciless with your conviction. But despite whatever the player picks, there’s no apparent praise or scolding for Holmes afterward, making the nail-biting decision feel a little meaningless. It’s arguable the moral decision is more about the player’s consciousness, than Holmes’ reputation at Scotland Yard, but earning or losing the title of “World’s Greatest Detective” would have made the game experience far more compelling. At the very least, it would have been nice to see a few of Holmes’ decisions come back to bite him in the end, instead of just reading about it possibly happening.
Regarding the theme of doing what’s lawfully or morally right, “Crimes & Punishments” is successfully with its tease of the Merry Men protest movement and Sherlock’s lack of enthusiasm in perusing them for his brother, Mycroft, a British government official. As for the individual cases, rarely do they come off as a repeat of what came before. Some mysteries are straightforward; some are complex; some are short; some are long; and some are more memorable than others. However, all six cases included in the game are entertaining mysteries with plenty of distinctions to make them worth solving. If there’s one area the writing of “Crimes & Punishments” fails at, it would be the stereotypical portrayal of some of the suspects, most notable in the earlier cases. While the game never crosses the line of offensive ethnic caricatures, interviewing a few cartoon characters about a serious homicide deflates the suspension associated with these cases.
Naturally, with this being an adventure game based on the great Sherlock Holmes, there’s plenty of puzzle solving to be had in “Crimes & Punishments.” Finding ways to turn small, but crucial advancements in a case into gameplay moments is no easy task and for certain puzzles, such as imagining and piecing together a 3D visual of a ship to recognize the smell of tobacco, it can be ridiculous. With that said, Frogwares have succeeded in getting the best gameplay mileage out of Holmes’ legendary detective skills. This includes Homes’ fast and accurate character analysis based on first glance; his scientific experiments; and imaginative recreation of a crime scene.
Expanding more on the imagination gameplay aspect, it’s easy to dismiss this little feature as a pointless visual tool in the beginning. However, as the cases become more complex, so too does Holmes’ imagination skill. Specific puzzles will have you arrange exactly how a criminal incident occurred, instead of watching it play out like before, or combine it with your pinpoint attention to detail skill. There are other gameplay mechanics that grow from case to case, such as the always dependable, but predictable lock picking puzzles, or the amusing scent sniffing trails starring “the best nose in Scotland Yard.” But there are also neglected gimmicks, like the one-time use of switching between Holmes and Watson simultaneously.
As previously stated, the graphics of “Crimes & Punishments” is powered by the Unreal Engine 3, making it a first for the “Adventure of Sherlock Holmes” series. This makes the character highly detailed and act out a few awkward mannerisms. A standout image from the game would be Holmes’ imagination skill being put to use, from reenacting events to visualizing items long gone. When it comes to environments, the visuals shine brightly with its impressive recreation of Victorian London and the moody color palette that goes with it. The audio work here is appropriate, with background music effective in establishing a dramatic atmosphere, without going overboard. The voice actor behind Holmes beautifully fits the dry, smart, and amoral detective portrayed in the game. The rest of the voice cast, like the good Dr. Watson, play their roles equally well.
With six interesting and engaging mysteries to be solved, “Crimes & Punishments” delivers the value with its retail price of $59.99 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game. Its amalgam of Sherlock Holmes from past and present day creates a familiar setting for literature fans, while grabbing the attention of those who know the great detective best from his 21-century reimagining. Holmes may be pushing 127, but this old dog still has plenty of life in him.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is available for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC. This review is based on the PS4 version and was provided by the publisher.