He’s been around for over hundred years he has. That’s our Sherlock Holmes, the World’s Only Consulting Detective. As one of the most beloved characters in fiction, he and his stalwart sidekick, John Watson have been entertaining us through film, TV and this other antiquated medium I believe are called “books” for quite some time. There have even been a few games, though none of them could right be labelled as good. Well, until now.

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Ukranian developer Frogwares has been in the Sherlock Holmes game development business for a while now, churning out game after game that do little to differentiate from each other. In Crimes and Punishments, their seventh game featuring Holmes and the quirky characters that surround him, it feels like they’re finally beginning to hit their stride. It helps that this time, Holmes has been given a little bit of a more modern sensibility. Though it’s still set in Victorian England,  Crimes and Punishments almost immediately makes it clear that it’s borrowing few elements from the Bandyduck Camembert-driven BBC show that’s given old Holmes a surge in popularity.  Words hang about in the air, visibly demonstrating the thought processes leading to the detective’s deductions. Using his talents, Sherlock can look at a scene and garner information that would be invisible to somebody without such deductive prowess. There’s even a mode where Holmes can activate his imagination and visualise his thoughts as to what exactly’s happened at each of the game’s six, three-hour long scenarios.

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It mostly plays out as a traditional point-and-click adventure blended with one of those irredeemably addictive hidden object games, where you’ll walk about the area picking up and examining everything that isn’t nailed down. Conversations and evidence spill out from the crime scene, making it so that you, as the player, have to piece together exactly what’s transpired, coming – hopefully – to the the right conclusion. When clues come up , whether witness testimony, examined evidence, or sometimes, through re-enactments, Holmes is able to cluster them together -shown stylistically as nerve endings within his own Mind Palace – before deciding which deductive avenues to pursue. Holmes is able to instantly analyse and profile suspects, looking them up and down as time slows, enabling him to spot peculiarities in their dress or demeanour – things like dirt under fingernails, or the quality of a man’s suit – that could help in coming up with the right conclusion. Sherlock will need to consult his archives, examine letters, conduct a few chemical experiments and open one too many locks that utilise the exact same puzzle.

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Yes. Sherlock can indeed get it wrong. Unlike most games of this ilk, the game never really forces the player towards the right conclusion – and it’s quite possible indeed that you could end up sending an innocent man to the gallows to hang from a noose. Where Murdered: Soul Suspect, and indeed, even L.A noire essentially led players down a garden path, here you very much feel  like you’re doing detective work, rudimentary as it may be. Even when you do solve the case, there’s a half-baked morality system in play that lets you decide what to do with them; absolving them, sending them off to jail, or even to an early grave. While these moral choices carry through, there’s little genuine consequence to them, beyond how they affect the accused. Once you’ve wrapped a case up, you’re able to replay your final point of the finger and its resultant moral choice,  which is nice given the lack of a concrete solution.

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The cases themselves are ripped straight from the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary works, and will be instantly familiar to fans. Cases vary in complexity, with some being mind-numbingly obvious, and others the sort that’ll leave you scratching your chin in some sort of wayward effort to find a solution in your own face. The Holmes canon’s staple cast is all there for fans; the indomitable Watson, the bumbling Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, the Baker street irregulars and even Toby – along with a few knowing winks and references to other Sherlock works littered about Holmes’ Baker Street residence.

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It’s fun stuff for fans of slower-paced, mystery adventure fare. Where it falters a little though, is in presentation. Games that are essentially 3 dimensional interactive media need consistently good facial animation, and consistently good voice acting – and here, both suffer. Where sometimes, faces are lifelike and detailed, at others they’re very much on the wrong side of the uncanny valley. The same goes for the delivery of the vocal performances, which range from spot on, to spotty. That, coupled with what can only be described as erratic controls, and a deluge of loading screens all helps detract from what would otherwise be a masterclass in mystery games. It’s very easily the best Sherlock Holmes game in existence, and given a little more budget, and a bit of production polish could have stood as one of this generations finest adventure games.

Last Updated: November 11, 2014

Sherlock Holmes - Crimes and Punishments
Summary
With clever puzzles and a dash of modern sensibilities inspired by the BBC show, Crimes and Punishments is an easy recommendation to armchair detectives - and the first to let players really experience being Sherlock Holmes.
7.5
Sherlock Holmes - Crimes and Punishments was reviewed on PlayStation 4
73 / 100

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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