When it comes to video games, the legacy of Sherlock Holmes hasn’t exactly been elementary; they are often shovel-ware budget titles that have good intentions but unfortunately miss the mark. A few years ago I once lost three hours of progress playing The Testament of Sherlock Holmes because a dog somehow got me cornered in a one-way hallway, and refused to move. The save system also wasn’t very user-friendly and required you to do everything manually.
So when playing Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments on the PlayStation 4, the first thing I noticed was that Frogwares had made a legitimate attempt to up the production value and presentation of the game. The graphics aren’t earth shattering by any means, but compared to previous iterations in the franchise there is a two generation gap in both detail and overall power. Furthermore, I did not encounter any bugs and the game actually auto-saves after almost everything you do. All of those things alone somewhat make this the most enjoyable Sherlock Holmes title to date.
As for the game itself, it is broken up into six non-connected cases that range from solving murders to making logic out of a disappearing train. Throughout each individual case you will do what you would expect to do in a Sherlock Holmes game: interview people, search for evidence, and engage in some mini-games/puzzles. The formula of the series hasn’t changed, but the quality has seen a significant improvement.
For starters, there is a psychological profiling system where you can freeze a conversation to analyze a character. At most it boils down to pointing a cursor over the character and pressing a button whenever the insignia turns blue, but the essence of everything really does an engaging job of making the player feel like Sherlock Holmes. Is this character married? Does he have bruises anywhere on his body? Are there any unusual traits? That is the psychological profiling mechanic in a nutshell, but it doesn’t end there.
You will then use the information you gain to ask predetermined questions about the case at hand. Of course, if you catch a character lying about something you will be given the opportunity to interject and pick a dialogue choice that will prove the suspect wrong. In other words, listening to the dialogue of the game is vital.
When you’re not trying to get juicy bits of information out of the citizens of London, players will assume Sherlock Holmes in a third person perspective – although you can switch it to first-person – and explore various areas for clues. Similar to examining the models of suspects during conversation, it essentially comes down to examining whatever the game highlights for you, but there are exceptions. Some clues require you to enter into your typical detective vision mode, as there are some aspects of your surroundings that are so small and detailed that only Sherlock can sense them, and apparently in a special sleuthing mode. I’m not really a fan of being forced to enter detective vision mode because I often find it cheap in games that put an emphasis on testing the wits of the player, but it isn’t too annoying as the game doesn’t highlight every other clue in the vicinity.
The final style of gameplay usually involves players performing something interactive – like a harpoon throwing experiment where you must aim carefully and press the X button inside of a small white box as a line slides across screen – or solving puzzles. Pouring chemicals into a vial in a specific order is just one example – but sometimes the execution is very hit or miss. During one case it was painfully obvious that Sherlock wanted me to measure something with his tape measure, but no matter what I did or how I placed it the game wouldn’t register my action properly.
So how did I get past it? Well, similar to previous entries, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments allows you to completely skip a puzzle or interactive sequence if you can’t figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. Some might consider this an act of generosity on the part of the developers, but in reality, if you are offering a feature in your game to pass portions of the game by doing nothing, it’s probably because there are some design flaws in there. You simply never know if the next mini-game will be something stupidly obvious, or something stupidly obvious that just doesn’t work because the developers didn’t think the sequence through.
Throughout your investigation you will also be able to access a deduction board from your case file, in which you take all of the clues Sherlock Holmes has deemed important and try to connect them to other clues. The ultimate goal is to continuously connect aspects of the crime until you can come to a logical conclusion on who to punish.
There is a new addition to the franchise this time around, and that’s that you can actually convict innocent people, and while that isn’t necessarily like Sherlock Holmes, it makes for a fun game knowing that just because you are finding clues and progressing you might not catch the criminal. Does it matter in the long run? Not really, although at Sherlock Holmes’ house you will receive letters from those you have arrested, meaning that if you know you caught the wrong person it could inflict some guilt upon the player. Ultimately though, this isn’t a game with one progressive story that has a beginning and ending, but rather six individual cases to solve, so your decisions really only dictate your detective grade and which of the eight endings you will get.
Before concluding this review, there is one more con I want to point out, and that is the loading times of the game. When transitioning between areas – you just open up your notebook and pick a destination – you will be greeted with Sherlock Holmes sitting in his carriage looking at his case file for around 30 seconds. Now, you too can examine your files and look at clues, but when you factor in how much you switch areas the feature becomes useless, meaning that you are basically watching a 30 second loading screens.
Like I said though, at least the developers severely upgraded the game in nearly every other area of presentation. In many ways Crimes And Punishments is the best Sherlock Holmes game we’ve seen, but it’s still just a mediocre experience. Sure, the way the characters are portrayed along with the writing are spot-on, but the narrative lacks the intensity of something like Heavy Rain. Still though, is better than it has any right to be.
This review is based on a PS4 copy that was given to us for review purposes.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments is a perfect example of only being able to recommend something to either fans of the source material or of the genre of games. It's neither amazing nor terrible, but will satisfy anyone interested.