We are approaching silly season once again. This time of year tends to feature weekly releases of games we desperately want to play but simply cannot afford – both in terms of time and money. With several different racing games and even more first-person shooters to choose from, if you feel like playing something a little more outside your wheelhouse, Frogwares and Focus Home Interactive have obliged. Crimes & Punishments is a superb take on one of the most famous fictional detectives in the world – managing to put you square in his shoes (and deerstalker).
• Developer: Frogwares
• Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
• Release Date: 30 September 2014
Spread across six different, though linked, cases, Crimes and Punishments manages to utilise all of the well-known Sherlock tropes to its advantage and turn each element into a new gameplay feature. Based on the various mechanics introduced and the freedom granted to choose your own conclusions and culprit, the game’s clear aim is to make you believe that you are Sherlock Holmes. Adventure game fans who want a more traditional puzzle-solving game will still find what they are looking for – this time though, the handcuffs are off and you are free to take on the case just like the great detective.
Utilising the proven Unreal Engine 3, the game’s stunning visuals add immensely to the atmosphere. Victorian-era London has never looked so good – though perhaps, The Order 1886 will trump it when it eventually releases. Regardless, the character models and environments you explore are finely detailed, making spotting clues and discrepancies in the world far easier. The sense of antiquity you feel, just from Holmes’ apartment on Baker Street, is impressive and adds immeasurably to the tone of the game.
The visuals play only one part in immersing you into the world of Sherlock Holmes. The first key decision Frogwares made to keep you locked into this adventure is making you play from Sherlock’s perspective. Every gameplay element stems from some element of Sherlock’s character. For instance, when you meet other characters, you are given the chance to enter what can only be described as ‘Sherlock Vision’ – where you look over a person’s physical appearance to deduce certain aspects of their lives. This can then be used to challenge a witness when they contradict some information you’ve previously gleaned.
The interrogations are handled in a similar style to the dialogue wheel in Mass Effect – you can threaten a suspect on aspects of their testimony or play nice to garner as much useful information as you can. When you spot a contradiction, you can interject – but you then have to pick out the piece of evidence you have collected previously that proves they are lying before you can challenge them for the truth. It is surprisingly easy to miss some elements of the case, so the game encourages you to garner every shred of evidence possible before proceeding.
As you collect all of the clues you can, you’re given the opportunity to make connections and deduce further elements in the case. For instance, you might find out about a clandestine relationship but you then get to decide, based on your own instincts, whether there are nefarious feelings involved in this discovery or whether the relationship is benign. At the end of the investigation, the game then allows you to link these deductions together. Depending on your interpretation of the clues, you will then come to different conclusions, which could be correct or not. There is also a moral element to the case – you can decide what you want to do with the information. Do you sympathise with the perpetrator or do they deserve everything they get?
Once you decide what you want to do, you can then present your evidence to Inspector Lestrade at Scotland Yard. This then closes the case – and if you are feeling curious, you can then find out if you got it right. There is a guilty person or group of people in each case, but Frogwares allows you to continue even if you choose the wrong culprit. This actually succeeds in making you really focus on getting the right answer – as if they are saying, “We’re not angry; we’re just disappointed”.
In between these clue-finding adventures, you are given the freedom to attack the case in whatever order you see fit. You will have multiple objectives to complete but you get to decide what order you do them. Do you use the disguise mechanic to trick a suspect into an impromptu interview, or do you complete an experiment with Watson to prove the viability of one of your suspicions? One might become a contradiction point for the other. These dilemmas make up the course of each investigation.
While I have mentioned the freedom you are granted, this actually makes the normal adventure game shackles more apparent. For instance, you might deduce a link between one suspect and another and think that they way to prove it is to re-interrogate them both. However, the game will instead give you the task of consulting your records to source a link. This is minor hand-holding, but the general liberty you get elsewhere makes it more noticeable.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is a skilfully-crafted game made by people who clearly love the character and world Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created all those years ago. Mixing brain-teasing clues with well-made, diverse mini-games helps to set this game apart from this year’s AAA titles vying for your attention. If you want something completely different to the usually safe and often sterile experiences you’ve had before, donning the famous deerstalker is certainly a recommended option.