The worlds favourite and most famous detective returns to the scene of the crime in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments. For the first time you are not merely a spectator in these strange and mysterious tales but get to take on the role of the great detective himself! Will Sherlock prevail and nail the right suspect to solve the case or will he falter and let the criminals elude him? Read on to find out.
Game: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Crimes & Punishments does not follow one, but six riveting high-profile cases to solve, written in the tradition of the Conan Doyle novels. Set in Victorian England, the various cases each offer a different mystery to solve in distinctive settings set in and around London. Cases range from brutal bloody murders to cunning thefts and intriguing disappearances and it is down to you find the culprits. Whilst each case differs, there is an overall deeper plot that develops throughout the game, adding more context to how the world develops around you, keeping the mystery up until the end. You are not alone in this venture, for by your side is your trusty partner and faithful friend, Dr.Watson, the best nose in the job, Toby the dog and the occasional help from Scotland Yard.
You also get your own secret special police force. This game however is not simply about laying down the law. You will be presented with moral choices throughout the game that will test your judgement and reveal your personality, which in turn will influence how you are perceived in your reputation and how others interact with you. This makes for a fully immersive experience where you will have to carefully consider the evidence and situation whilst bear the responsibility of your actions. Will you bring down the full justice of the law or will you show compassion? With up to ten different endings and up to five suspects per case it is down to you how each story will end.
Frogwares have abandoned their previously used in-house engine in favour of the Epic Unreal Engine 3 which allows for more realistic environments and shadows. Previous instalments have been criticised for the visuals, however Crimes & Punishments vastly transcends its predecessors. Each case will require you to scrutinise every little detail in every nook and cranny which is the pure essence of the game, so due to its nature you would expect to be met with opulent details. Fear not for it delivers just that!
As you explore various locations and crime scenes you are immersed in rich diverse environments that have been realistically captured in the new engine. Dynamic lighting and shadows reveal great depth, shining softly through net curtains, or dazzling over ruins and lakes as the sun sets. The shadows will follow you and distort in your movement as the light hits you, and dark haunting caves and alleyways can leave you feeling a little nervous, with only candlelight to barely show what may be lurking in the depths. Brick and concrete walls and ceilings will reveal their age through the many small and large cracks you find as you thoroughly examine for clues, so real that they might crumble if you touch them. Lavish homes are decorated with finely detailed fabrics and wallpapers that show off their wealth, with wooden furniture and laminate floors that shows off the natural woody grain through the glossy varnish. Less fortunate places will appear dull, looking unkempt and tired compared to the other vibrant environments.
As you traverse you have the option to view your surroundings in full by third person for a broader scope or you can get up close and personal in first person to focus in on particular areas and objects of interest. Clues are not often obvious, some are better seen from a distance whilst others may be more hidden and require a much closer look. Making full use of both perspectives allows you to truly get in touch with your surroundings. Paintings on a wall close up will show the texture of the paper or wall underneath and look as real as any you may see in a gallery whilst posters, advertisements and diagrams show copious detail, much more than you would normally expect from something that elsewhere may seem trivial.
As extensive as the details may be in the surrounding environments, objects of interest have also been given much consideration. Items of interest can be further examined in a full 360 degree view, leaving no corner untouched which allows you to find even the smallest detail which might otherwise be overlooked in a single glance. This feature further enhances the feeling of immersion in the game and lets you see the world directly through Sherlock’s eyes so you don’t miss a thing.
The improved graphics manifest especially well in the characters themselves. You will spend a lot of time interrogating suspects and questioning witnesses and much can be revealed about a person through their face. A younger person will have soft and smooth skin whereas an older person will have wrinkles in all the right places, or skin discolouration through age or a skin condition as well as revealing ones health. Someone who has found themselves in an unfavourable position will have shocking abrasions such as a deep and bloody cut or a bruised eye. Eyes may appear bloodshot and reflect the light whilst wet lips and beads of sweat will gleam as the light touches them, whilst deep tones will make pores become more apparent. The Unreal Engine 3 also allows for great facial expression which is very useful when discerning if someone is telling the truth. People may glance away and avoid eye contact and show signs of nervousness whilst others may furrow their eyebrows in rage or confusion. This of course can lead them to reveal what they may want to keep hidden.
Overall the graphics excel in this latest instalment and considering the time and attention you will take on your investigations it certain makes for a sensuous experience.
The ambience is very subtle throughout the game, providing a good atmosphere whilst not being too distracting. This doesn’t mean however that less attention has been paid to what you hear. The voice over cast has been very well chosen and is quite diverse and each is narrated perfectly to their character and personality. Emotion comes through clearly and it would be hard to find much fault in their performances as they are brought to life. Sherlock can put on a variety of accents to fool others. As you change from one location to another this is clearly reflected in the sounds you hear. Bars hidden in alleyways will leak chatter and cheers from the patrons inside, whilst a more desolate pub for sailors boasts blues harmonica. Countrysides will be filled with birdsong in the air with the occasional dog barking, surrounded by the gentle lashing of the water in the lakes. Your footsteps will change tones as you go from carpet to laminate flooring which is a nice little touch along with the cippity cloppiting of horse shoes on the cobbles in the streets. More haunting places will have more sinister orchestral pieces, accompanied by creepy whispers in a dark temple that makes your heart skip a beat before turning round every corner. Of course on a lighter note Sherlock’s apartment makes you feel right at home with the noisy gossip on the streets and the timely reminders of Big Ben. The orchestral pieces are used well to add a sense of calm but change to reflect a more tense situation.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a crime investigation game that takes you on a journey through some rather troubling times, meeting some rather unfortunate folk on the way. You will need to use your wit and Sherlock’s intelligent mind to unearth the truth, making your way through some rather tricky puzzles and deductions to find the culprit and it’s not all elementary, my dear Watson.
For the first time you take on the role of Sherlock Holmes himself and fully immerse yourself in his shoes with all his skills at your fingertips. You will soon find yourself well on your way to experiencing life as Sherlock Holmes as you delve straight into your first case brought to you by Inspector Lestrade for whom you will meet often when Scotland Yard can’t handle things alone (which in Sherlock’s view is quite often.) Predominantly you will play as Holmes, however no great man is without his trusty companion by his side, and lucky Sherlock has three great aids ready to get stuck in. Dr Watson, your most trusted friend and partner will accompany you on most cases, though there are occasions when he will have to leave you for his patients. At first Watson serves to help you with enquiries when he is not lost in Holmes trail of thoughts and can prove very capable when the time comes. Some instances will allow you to gain control of Watson to help you solves puzzles that you could not do on your own. Other times he will leap in to save a life, including your own so long as you have the quick reflexes to do so. Too slow and you may end up costing someone their life! Much fun banter can come from conversations between you two which makes for a merry adventure. Sometimes a less human hand is needed to solve a mystery and this is where man’s best friend steps in. Toby your dog who can always be found in your apartment has the best nose in the business and at times you can take control of this loveable canine to sniff out a criminals tracks to reveal what is hidden even to Sherlock himself. Lastly you have a secret police force at your disposal that is far more capable than Scotland Yard in Sherlock’s eyes. Wiggins and his group of young lads can be bellowed from your window to help you track down key information and people of interest when you need to go unnoticed. Controls are simple to remember and don’t get in the way when you need to make a move quickly. You can take control in third or first person, and depending on your play style you may find one easier to play in than the other. Movement can sometimes seem slow and clumsy and less responsive and sometimes items cannot be found unless looked at from a certain angle. Roaming in first person makes for the smoothest exploration.
Each case will have their own unique maps for you to traverse which can be accessed through your casebook. As you travel from place to place you will be taken by horse and carriage where you can take time to collect your thoughts if you wish. You can access this book at any point where you can view currents tasks, character information, evidence and a history of your dialogues amongst other things. This book is a very handy tool as it allows you to store all the evidence you have collected in one place that you can go back to at any time in case you forget or want to analyse information to help in your decision making. Souvenirs are listed that you collect after each case and if you look closely these can later be found scattered about your home, a lovely touch.
The core element of this game is of course investigation and puzzle solving, some of which are quite mind bending. Do not be fooled into thinking it will all be easy as some puzzles can be very complex and will take time to solve. Holmes has many incredible gifts and talents that surpass any other and they are all yours to exploit. As you inspect various scenes you will need to examine a plethora of clues and interesting items to piece together in order to figure out what happened, and any little detail could prove valuable or a hindrance if missed. Not all of these are obvious and you will spend hours rummaging every last inch of a location, leaving no stone unturned. This is where one of Sherlock’s skills will come in handy. Using your sixth sense Sherlock can locate anything of significance that most other people would simply ignore, such as a speck on the floor or a dust free spot where something once there is now missing. This will help in your deductions and for finding that crucial piece of evidence. The hunt for clues however can become very frustrating and it is not always made clear when you are missing something. Hours can be spent looking for one clue, going to and fro between locations until you realise that you just didn’t look at something from the right angle. Clues that you find will be available in your casebook to reference later. Some of these clues will be of particular interest as they can be used later in your investigations to support your theories.
The art of conversation is one of Sherlock’s favourite weapons and is quite powerful when used correctly. When questioning a witness or a suspect Sherlock’s keen eye allows you to carefully examine a person, picking up on details to piece together a character profile. You may for instance notice an old scar, fresh wounds or pick up on social status from items of clothing. These along with other clues you have gathered can be plucked from your brain within a set time limit to deduce key elements from a witness that may reveal a much deeper connection to the truth or discover a lie, catching your suspect off guard. This is another important skill as without prying for information you may leave a door locked that could reveal a vital piece of information for solving the case. Any clues and information you gather will sometimes require you to search through your archives. Yes those piles of newspapers and packed shelves do hold a purpose! These precious archives will help you link one piece of information to another to reveal past events that may be part of a larger picture. For times when interrogation is not enough Sherlock Holmes can embrace different characters through disguises via your wardrobe. This will allow you to get close and personal to persons of interest that as a detective you could not meet to acquire information.
Solving a case is one big puzzle but throughout the game you will be presented with many puzzles or experiments to keep those cogs in your head turning and add a fun or sometimes frustrating relief from hunting for clues. Lock picking is a recurrent puzzle that at first may seem hard but soon gets easier and quick to solve as you will get much practice! Other puzzles will be more challenging and require much more consideration. For example you may have to figure out a pattern or a sequence, piece together an image of smoke to remember a smell or have a go with some chemical experiments which are the most fun but more difficult. If these prove too taxing for you and you feel like giving up the game does allow you to skip them after a few failed attempts so that you can continue with the story, but where would be the fun in that!
Making deductions from clues will present you with a more practical experiment that can be carried out at the scene of the crime, for example hurling a spear through a pig’s carcass or poking a poisonous plant with a pin in the right order. Once you have all the information required Sherlock can use another one of his powerful skills, his imagination. Once all the preparations have been made you can use your imagination to play out a sequence of events of what occurred at the crime scene which will lead you to discover the criminal’s modus operandi and discover the truth of what really happened. This gives you a better understanding and another view of the information you have gathered, to put it all into greater context and see the inner workings of Holmes mind.
As you collect clues they will gather in Sherlock’s mind, the deduction space. It is here where you will link the information you have gathered to form deductions in interlinking webs. Here you will form your opinions on the truth by picking out correct statements which can be done as you go along a case or right at the end. Be warned however as sometimes these can reveal other pieces of the story you have yet to discover. As you start to link it all together the nodes will light blue if it leads down a plausible path or turn red where it conflicts with another choice. Once all possible links have been made you will form a conclusion on who you believe to be the culprit based on your chosen deductions. This is where your morals come into play. You can choose to bring down the full cold force of the law or you can show compassion and absolve them of their crime. You may however wish to reconsider your choice. Each case offers multiple endings and suspects and it may not be clear if you have chosen the right path. Things can often be misleading and point you in the wrong direction. You can however go back and change your deduction to lead down a different path. Once you have made your decision and can live with your choice the end will play out and that case will be solved. Depending on how you act your reputation will be effected which in turn will effect how people act towards you in following cases. Should you wish to know if you made the right decision you can view if you found all the clues and made the right deduction. If you did then you can continue to the next case, if not then you do have the option of changing the outcome to the right one, or if missing some clues you can go back and try to find them.
With 6 cases to solve Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments does not offer an extensive amount of gameplay. For casual gamers in a more leisurely experience this game will last a fair while, however for those who find themselves engrossed in the story you will find that each case can be completed within a few hours. With the option to change your deduction at the end, be it wrong and finding the right answer or just to see alternate conclusions without replaying the whole case, re playability is low. You do however have the option of starting from the beginning should you wish to, but this may be best done after some time has passed and you forget some of the story.
As a fan of Sherlock Holmes and puzzle games it was great fun to step into his shoes. It was a visual delight to play, the environments were stunning and richly detailed and it was amazing at how much detail had been crammed into every corner. Characters were almost spot on and the voice over cast was a pleasure to listen to playing out a visual novel of sorts. Storylines were varied and whilst some felt short others left me feeling in awe about how cleverly a murder had been carried out. Overall the graphics are gorgeous and the gameplay and storylines are very engaging, however as I got into them too much I found that I was completing one or two cases a day which meant that the game itself did not last me even a week, and after lengthy amounts of play I found that certain elements became repetitive and less of a challenge. I had many aha! moments followed by periods of frustration trying to solve one of the many puzzles but a great sense of achievement was always found when I beat a puzzle or caught the right suspect. For fans of Sherlock, mysteries and puzzles this is a must play however for those looking for a long lasting game with more action then this may not be for you. With the addition of more cases the experience would be even greater and with the addition of harder challenges, such as timed puzzles it would provide an even more extensive gameplay experience. I have great expectations for the future of the series which on this experience, looks to be quite promising.