Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
Holmes and Watson are back for more, and things are going to get messy in Frogwares' mystery adventure game Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments as you take on the role of the legendary and borderline insufferable detective solving a series of challenging (and sometimes gruesome) cases. Six cases, to be exact, each centering on a very different crime. A violent murder, a baffling disappearance, a daring theft and more... all of them will require Sherlock's unique mind and talents to solve. With the help of his own unique and formidable brain that will allow him to see things others don't as well as perform a variety of other useful abilities, you'll guide Holmes to uncover not just the truth behind the crimes committed by interrogating witnesses, solving puzzles, and tracking down evidence, but you'll also decide what, ultimately, you'll do with the perpetrator... as long as you can figure out who it is, since it's perfectly possible to accuse the wrong individual. While unfortunately Creepy Watson is a thing of the past, Crimes and Punishments still manages to deliver an engaging, carefully crafted adventure game with high production values and an immersive atmosphere.
For the most part, gameplay is about traveling around different maps, exploring locations, interrogating people, searching for clues, and playing dress-up with Holmes' wardrobe and makeup table. Sherlock has a variety of methods for pulling apart evidence, from assembling a mental picture based on scent to finding correlations between things you've spotted, but you'll need to guide him and point everything out because, well... video game. Holmes himself controls with [WASD] to move around and the mouse to interact whenever a prompt appears. By pressing [T] you can toggle Sherlock's keen sense of observation to help spot clues others have missed, recording them as evidence. When talking to people, you may be required to quickly press a key before time runs out, giving you the chance to choose the piece of evidence you've observed that will back up your statements. Arguably the most important tool in Sherlock's arsenal, however, is Baker Street itself, which you'll have to return to frequently to consult with our hero's formidable archives, make use of chemistry, change disguises, exasperate Watson, and more.
Hitting [B] will open a menu that will allow you to combine elements, observations, clues, and people to form deductions that will drive your case. This allows you to construct a psychological map of connections, and the way you choose to interpret them will impact the outcome of a case. You could, for instance, choose to believe an item at a murder scene belonging to someone is merely circumstantial evidence, or clear proof that person is a suspect, and combining that train of thought with a clear motive and means will allow you to accuse that suspect of the crime. If a node turns red, it means the deduction you've made conflicts something you've already established, such as claiming someone is the murderer despite previously tagging them as having no motive. You can swap out and change any of these elements at any time, but when you're finally ready to decide who comitted the crime, you then have to decide how you want to do so. Do you accuse them of premeditated murder? Were they merely protecting themselves? Lead astray by someone else?
Analysis: Yeah, I admit, Crimes and Punishments won me over a little right from the get-go with its snappy little opening cinematic like I was watching House or Hannibal, and then the way the very first gameplay had me play as Watson dodging wild shots around the furniture as a blindfolded Holmes took potshots at vases for funsies. It established a certain amount of character, tone, and charm, and when it popped up with a little visual representation of how Holmes could know who was coming up his stairs before they even came into the room, I was hooked. Having a scene in which you get to conduct harpoon experiments on a pig carcass, Mythbusters-style, was just the icing on the cake. Make no mistake, this Sherlock is closer to a more reserved and smug version of Robert Downey Jr's interpretation of the iconic detective than Steven Moffat's, but it's still nice to see him depicted as a brilliant yet rude and socially distant jerkward instead of a brilliant, aloof, perfect ladies' man as some interpretations have done.
Though the tank-driven controls are still, ehhh, clunky to be charitable, Crimes and Punishments is actually a very solid and effortlessly playable game. Though it initially seems like the game piles a bit too many different minor gameplay elements on you when you're trying to hunt for clues or make certain deductions, it's actually a good way to illustrate the way Sherlock's mind works and how he constructs his conclusions and connections. Some of which, incidentally, seem like rather large leaps of deductive reasoning, but I suppose that's why he's Sherlock and I'm writing this in my novelty kitty pajamas. The game is good at nudging you where it wants you to go and never goes quite so far as holding your hand, though it never quite feels like it develops enough teeth. There's no penalty for failure, so if you give a character the wrong answer the game just reloads that dialogue option and lets you try again until you get it. Puzzles will even let you skip them without much prompting. It makes for a game that's accessible to everyone, to be sure, but it also would have been nice to have multiple difficulty settings to avoid all the pop-ups and guidance.
Each crime and scenario is distinct and well-crafted with layers of depth and possible suspects. Though you'll find there's a lot of backtracking involved, the game is great at providing you with a brisk pace and keeping you involved with tasks that feel critical to your work, rather than acting as simple busywork to pad the length. Each case has a distinct cast of characters, and offers up new locations as well, keeping the game fresh the whole way. Occasionally it feels like the game's "best" outcome for each case is perhaps a little too predictable and boring compared to some of the incorrect solutions, and several puzzles, such as the locks, are repeated throughout the game. Most cases will likely only take around two hours or so to complete, despite gradually increasing in complexity, and some of them are easily more cozy than others, though it's fun to see how your decision in one case may be referenced in another.
Crimes and Punishments is, it must be said, an absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous game from every conceivable angle. Most areas are limited in their interaction to things relating directly to your investigation, but you can still spend a long time just wandering around them and admiring all the detail that went into crafting every single environment. Sure, there's a badly mutilated corpse pinned to the wall over there, but gosh look at the wee little garden and the way the sunlight comes in through the windows! Characters tend to have difficulty expressing emotion, unfortunately, with faces that don't quite move or flex enough to really bring them to life, though the voice acting is on the whole very well done. (Which helps to make up for the numerous typos and errors in the subtitles, sadly.)
Despite its flaws, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is still one of the best adventure games to come along in a long, long time. The passion behind the subject matter is clear, with intriguing cases to solve and stunning locales to explore, and the writing is top-notch. It's the sort of game that's likely going to take you a lot longer than an evening to play through, but you'll do your best to burn the midnight oil with it because, like any good mystery, it's hard to put down. Crimes and Punishments is a Sherlock game to be proud of, balancing wit and inventiveness with the more horrific aspects of its crimes, and a worthy addition to any fan's archives indeed.