My deduction: excellent.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was my first exposure to Frogwares’ series following the famous detective, and despite some issues it really clicked with me. I especially liked the way it surfaced different elements of the investigative process, like analyzing evidence and putting clues together, that other games in the genre would have glossed over. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments takes that formula to the next level, giving players the freedom to interpret evidence in different ways, leading to multiple possible conclusions to each case. It can occasionally be a touch clunky, but it’s a terrific experience that mystery and detective fans shouldn’t miss.
Players once again take control of Holmes as he tackles six cases in 1890s London. While the number is not big the cases are impressively detailed, and generally took me a couple of hours each to finish. There is a depth to it that I don’t find in other games of the genre, and solving a case involves much more than just finding all of the clues, solving a few puzzles and watching some cutscenes. Once evidence it found it must be examined, put into context and then interpreted, and once that was all done I was left with the choice of how to handle my findings.
Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One
Price: $39.99 (PC), $49.99 (PS3/360), $59.99 (PS4/XBO)
First, the evidence. Finding it is a part of any detective game, and Crimes and Punishments is no different. While examining a crime scene icons indicated items or areas I could interact with. Some, like for instance a body, would zoom the camera in so I could inspect multiple areas. Once inspected an icon would change color, which made it easy to find new clues, or tell when I was missing a clue in a larger area. All evidence was logged in my notebook, and would be marked if it needed additional action, such as questioning a suspect or analyzing it.
As with many games of this type puzzles are a core part of the gameplay. They appear in a variety of places, sometimes as a method of interpreting or uncovering evidence, or as part of the evidence itself. I had fun with the game’s puzzles, but there were some interactive elements, like arm wrestling, that I couldn’t quite get the hang of. Fortunately I could skip any of these things without penalty, meaning players will never find themselves unable to proceed.
As a seasoned detective Holmes has many tools at his disposal. Physical evidence can be examined in his lab at Baker Street, and he has archives of information, which could be used to research different topics. He also has a sort of sixth sense for finding hidden clues, which can be triggered at will. While they add to the game the execution was lacking in some cases. For instance, the lab is mentioned but never really pointed out, and I was fortunate that I knew where it was from the last game. Likewise Sherlock’s sixth sense is not a helpful hint; it is an absolute requirement for finding some clues, which the game doesn’t adequately explain.
Evidence and information are just the pieces of the larger puzzle though, and this is where Crimes and Punishments makes a big jump forward from its predecessor. In Testament, finding clues would fill in spots on my deduction board, and interpreting that information correctly would unlock more deductions, and so on until I had solved the case.
The new deduction board is much more dynamic – concepts are all listed together, and I could select pairs that were connected. Then I had to decide what they meant, and those decisions would connect with others to create conclusions. With multiple suspects and potential weapons each case has several outcomes, so my interpretation of the facts was the key in determining the culprit. Once I made my decision I was presented with a moral choice that was some variant of condemn or absolve. After the conclusion I could see if I was correct (or not), and what percentage of other players had come to the same conclusion and made the same moral choice.
For Crimes and Punishments Frogwares moved from their in-house engine to Unreal 3, and the difference jumps out immediately. Facial animations are much more detailed than the previous game, and the characters really come to life. There is occasional artifacting around faces and some jumping in smaller shadows, but overall the game looks great. The voice work is great as well, and I continue to enjoy Sherlock’s quirky and slightly condescending tone.
Crimes and Punishments takes everything I enjoyed about the previous game and expands it, and the result is something really enjoyable. It’s not without some flaws though; occasionally the nature of the game leads to some actions that feel pointless, or instances where I traveled to a location only to pick something up, and then had to travel right back to where I started. I’ll admit to being mystified by the pricing scheme – the Xbox One and PS4 versions being $10 more than the 360/PS3 versions is not shocking, but the PC version is a real steal for $40, especially given it’s my preferred platform for the series. It’s a must play for series fans, and a great choice for anyone looking for a deeper take on the genre.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.