Reviewed on: PS4
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary creation Sherlock Holmes may well be over 100 years old, but in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments for PS3 and PS4, developer Frogwares does well to make the super sleuth’s work feel as fresh as a daisy with an impressive production and set of features that makes the ancient art of crime-solving in videogames much more than a traditional point-and-click affair.
Set in the Victorian Era, Crimes & Punishments focuses on six mysterious cases. From a grisly murder and daring theft, to a train that has seemingly vanished into thin air, there’s an impressive amount of content with each case taking around 2-3 hours to complete. Stepping into the role of Holmes, players examine locations, question witnesses and analyse a series of clues before making a final decision on who to accuse. Though the concept is familiar – and despite the turn-of-the-century setting – the execution feels fresh with a level of presentation that captures some of the spark, albeit not the drama, of the Sherlock T.V. series.
Based on the 1904 novel "The Adventure of Black Peter," the first case tasks players with solving the death of 50-year-old sailor named Peter Carey who is gruesomely harpooned to death. Holmes soon stumbles across a missing tin, a set of size 9 footprints, a tobacco pouch and an engraved notebook left behind at the scene and it’s up to players to piece together the clues. With reams of dialogue from witnesses to listen to, as well as documents to peruse that evolve the narrative and open up new lines of enquiry, it’s essentially a series of interactive short stories with each case having multiple outcomes based on your interpretation of the clues.
Gameplay largely involves moving Holmes around the screen from the third-person perspective (first-person camera is also available) and scouring investigation scenes for clues. To investigate locations, Holmes has a variety of tools at his disposal. L1 can be used during certain situations to recreate events in his mind, often conjuring up a cinematic on-screen sequence, while R1 flags up items of interest and small details that anyone other than Holmes may have missed, such as small scratches around a keyhole. You can also freeze-frame relevant NPCs and then scan them all over, before using Holmes’s razer-sharp intellect to create a character profile. Throw into the mix mini-games and an innovative way of deducing crimes via a conceptual ‘Deduction Space’, and you’ve got decent feature-set that adds some variation to the traditional point-and-click clue searching.
Throughout the game, the casebook acts as a hub for all the information you gather. This sub-set of menus has been very well designed with all the information you need easily accessible and displayed in a clear and precise way. This includes details of the current task, a map, all evidence gathered, victim profiles, documents, a recap on dialogue and character profiles. Players can also see what activities they’ve completed and what they need to do next, so you’re not left entirely lost on how to proceed through some tricky cases. Though you’ve always got this help available, the game doesn’t hold players by the hand and can be quite challenging. Part of the challenge is making deductions in the ‘Deduction Space’, which is triggered once you’ve gathered enough clues.
Here, players are presented with a conceptual place where they can link pieces of evidence together that in turn unlocks deductions. Make a series of deductions, and you’ll eventually be able to accuse a suspect and close the case. There’s also mini-games which you need to complete to unlock clues. While some are fun and thought-provoking, such as having to pour coloured chemicals into a jug in the correct order based on listening to some cryptic instructions, others are frustrating and unnecessary. A prime example is the arm-wrestling game when players have to watch the facial animations of their opponent in order to guess when to press and resist his arm movements. It took me a good 20 minutes just to get past this section as the facial animations in the game are very subtle, so it was hard to work out what action the opponent was supposed to be doing.
A large chunk of the game involves moving between various locations on the map to examine clues and speak with NPCs; going back and forth between crime scenes and the likes of Baker Street and the Station, where you can put on a new outfit, interrogate suspects and analyse/research clues. Though each location is impressively detailed, the frequent loading screen that you have to sit through gets a little irritating. Nevertheless, Frogwares has at least tried to prevent frustration by giving players access to their casebook during this time which is full of information to help you come to a final decision.
Aside from the sluggish animation of Holmes himself, who moves with the grace of a rotating penguin (with his awkward 360 degrees movement and arms strapped firmly to his sides), the production is still decent enough; locations, such as Holme’s Baker Street residence help to bring the world to life with impressive detail. While the graphics certainly don’t push the PS4 hardware, the attention to detail and lighting effects are impressive, creating a suitably realistic set of backdrops that are fun and interesting to investigate.
It’s also great to see that Frogwares has taken inspiration from the Sherlock T.V. series to give the game a modern feel. With words flashing up on screen to let players know what Holmes is thinking and how quickly his brain computes even the smallest of sounds and details, it’s an excellent addition that draws you into the world. Script-writing is good too with Holmes’s trademark sarcasm and wit portrayed well in places, while the drip-feeding of information cleverly builds up each case and leaves you eager to find out more.
Though Crimes & Punishments lacks any real drama or memorable moments, the stories and dialogue are engaging and there are many enjoyable “Eureka” moments along the way, as well as an element of satisfaction to be gained from closing a case successfully.
On the flip side, animation could be much better, while frequent loading screens frustrate and some of the mini-games are totally unnecessary or poorly thought out. Nevertheless, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments offers a decent, thought-provoking set of cases that may appeal to your inner sleuth.