Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments Review: Precarious Deductions

September 30th, 2014 -

Sherlock Holmes has been a household name for a number of decades now due to his many depictions in books, films, cartoons, theatre performances, games, etc. Because of this familiarity, there is an existing audience that looks forward to partaking in his stories, be they modernizations of the classics (such as Moffat and Gatiss’ series) or variations of the original novels, taking place in the original time period (as seen in the games). Frogwares’ Crimes and Punishments looks to modernize their take on the series with a new way of telling the stories while keeping elements of their previous titles.

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One of the most notable differences is the change in game engine. While the models and environments obviously look better, the controls are (thankfully) much less muddled. That’s not to say they’re perfect, as they still take some getting used to (note: I played this and the last title on PS4 and PS3, respectively), but it’s a big improvement. I only got stuck in the environment twice during my playthrough (opposed to the countless times in Testament)! And I was able to get out of both situations by switching to the first person mode. One thing I was sad to see was the animation of the characters (especially Toby) are still fairly wonky. I’m not sure this would bug most people, but being an animator, I can’t help but notice weird walk/run cycles and shortcuts (like keeping the legs out of camera for Toby). Also, some of the character movements seem like they were keyframed without reference. Of course this is me being really picky, and I know it’s difficult work – the facial animation looks pretty solid, and the team is small, so I can’t criticize them too much. It’s definitely not at the point of being unplayable – far from it. The delivery of voice acting correlates well with the animation, which is done after – presumably without mo-cap, meaning just keyframes. There is subtext within the performances of the actors, and from that you must deduct whether the truth is being told, or if you’re being lied to. It’s not as in-depth as LA Noire, but it’ll definitely help with the case’s conclusion.

Something The Testament of Sherlock Holmes does that I dislike is rely on the diaries of Watson to progress the game. While it isn’t the worst way of going about it, switching back to some poorly animated/voiced children during a tense moment is rather immersion breaking. It’s the issue our very own Ryan has with the Assassin’s Creed series going from the past to the present. Luckily, that element of the game was taken out for Crimes and Punishments. Instead, you follow Sherlock through six different cases from his perspective in the late 19th century. While the game isn’t as cinematic as the launch trailer pitches it (the trailers and screenshots don’t seem to use game scenes – while I recognize the areas, they definitely don’t match what happens – though that could be to throw you off for when you actually play the cases), it definitely does a better job of involving you than previous entries.

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The majority of the game involves finding clues, following up on those clues (speaking with people involved, checking Sherlock’s archive, performing tests), and figuring out what really happened. In addition to finding the normally visible clues, you can also heighten your senses to find “hidden” clues, which will sometimes correlate with using your imagination to see things that aren’t there, that may have happened, and/or will happen. You also have the ability to do that iconic Holmes move of learning things about a person by looking at them and selecting details, such as whether they’re married, poor, in fights a lot, etc. You can then use these deductions while speaking with them to get more information out of them. The game is very kind in telling you when a clue is used to its full extent, changing its icon from white to green, as well as automatically exiting when you’ve seen everything (no need to scour that cup for finger prints that aren’t there). The game also tells you when you should use your imagination or focus abilities, which keeps you from ever feeling like you don’t know what to do next. Sadly, this takes away the sense of accomplishment in finding the various clues that solve a case, but that is given back in a new element of the game: the deduction board.

The deduction board (which is set up as the inside of Holmes’ brain) is where you take the information you’ve gathered from observations and testimonies, link them, and make deductions. Some are absolutes, whereas others let you choose what the evidence suggests. Based on what you choose, it’ll lead to more clues, and eventually a person who is the culprit, which then gives you a decision in morality – do you absolve or condemn them? Unless you are going for trophies/achievements, these choices don’t make a difference toward the overall story (each case is separate of one another) – but the game does note your decisions and gives you a rank. It also allows you to change your decision after seeing it play out, if you so desire. The game even tells you if you closed the case properly, though that is by choice and is said to be a spoiler. I didn’t bother to look, and since I didn’t get the trophy saying I chose right for all six, I guess I’m not as good a sleuth as I had hoped. What is interesting is that with each choice I made, I never felt the story decision I made was wrong. Maybe I always chose the right person, but absolved when I should’ve condemned, or vice versa – I won’t know until I go through and do the cases again.

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One of the biggest issues the game has is its load times. While you can minimize travel by making sure you do everything you can while in the area, you know it’s an issue if you can get up and use the restroom during load times and have it still going when you come back. While I believe it’d be more of an issue if the game was action packed, I can see how this can drag someone down. Another issue is the linearity of the game. Obviously it can’t be open world, but the environments are very closed off despite looking open. Stemming from a point and click genre, I can see why it is limited, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that invisible walls are so prevalent, and there aren’t more areas to waste your time in. It’s nice that everything is to the point, but I feel that it makes things too simple. More red herrings would be an interesting element to bring into the game (though I suppose Sherlock wouldn’t bother with red herrings).

All the puzzle portions of the game seem a bit easier than previous entries in the game, but that’s a good thing for accessibility. Don’t come to this game expecting big challenges in puzzle solving. However, if you’re not a huge fan of puzzle solving, or you get stuck on picking that lock, feel free to skip it. The game includes a “see the content” mode by including a skip option after a few moments of being within a puzzle. There is no penalty for doing so, other than maybe missing the trophies/achievements pertaining to them, as well as the knowledge gained from some of the puzzles (such as a timeline). I had all the trophies for the puzzles during the 4th or 5th case though, meaning I could skip everything from there on if I had so desired.

Crimes and Punishment is made for the lovers of Sherlock Holmes. The course of six cases will run you about ten to twelve hours, while some last longer than others. Amusingly, the last mission can be done within just a few minutes, if you decide to be hasty in conclusions. This is definitely my favorite experience with a Sherlock game, both in presentation and story. The cases were all pretty solid (albeit predictable at times), the design of the game didn’t feel outdated like previous entries, and the addition of the deduction board adds a unique element to the cases – allowing you to decide the fate of those involved (deductions allowing) really brings the game to life. If you are a fan of previous Sherlock games, enjoy solving mysteries, or just enjoy Sherlock Holmes in general, give this game a go.

BUY

Pros

  • Interesting Cases
  • Deduction Board
  • Accessible Puzzles

Cons

  • Under-polished
  • Load Times

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment was created by Frogwares and published by Focus Home Interactive. It is available on the PS4 ($59.99), PS3 ($49.99), XO ($59.99), 360 ($49.99), and PC ($39.99) as of September 30th, 2014. The PS4 copy reviewed was provided for us. If you’d like to see more of Crimes and Punishments, check out the official site.

 

Here at FFoP we use a rating method that you may be unfamiliar with, so allow us to clarify. When we review a game, we see what sort of BRA fits. Buy, Rent, or Acquire is the rating we give out – we’ve boiled it down for simplicity. A Buy is worth the full retail value; a Rent is something you may want to try before you buy, or grab at a discount; an Acquire is something you can play, but we’d suggest borrowing it from someone, grabbing it in a game bundle, or some other means. If you want further clarification, please feel free to get in touch.

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