Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
Sherlock Holmes will be known to the majority of gamers in the UK and a fairly large number worldwide. That might even be underselling him - he is probably the world’s best known literary sleuth. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s wonderful storytelling dreamt up convoluted but logically sound mysteries and puzzles and with Holmes, a wonderful tenet around which to wrap the stories. Holmes is clever, funny and he knows it. He’s aloof. In the books, in the old movies and even in the modern day versions played by Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. Here, Holmes is more classical than either of those most recent takes on the character and might be unfamiliar to some younger gamers. Regardless, it is definitely the famous detective and the six crimes he works his way through here are challenging and entertaining, as well as being mechanically superior to many similar investigation games it could count amongst its peers.
This release is the seventh main such in Frogwares’ series and the first to come out on this current set of consoles. It gets a graphical overhaul to bring it inline with what you would deem the price of entry. It looks like a good last-gen game but doesn't match the finest we’ve seen to date on the new machines. This is all fine and not at all a problem, nor is the sound or voice-acting which is suitably styled from the period in which the game is set - the 1800s. What is a problem is the awful loading screens which are seen time after time, for a good thirty to sixty seconds in each instance. It’s understandable when you’re loading a new area up that’s not been visited yet, or perhaps going back to one long since expunged from the cache in the console, but when you choose to go to 221b Baker Street, then to the pub and back, having to wait for the new area to load is tantamount to cruelty.
Fortunately the cases themselves are worth waiting for. There are six in total, each with a different motive, crime and way to establish the culprit. What doesn’t change however are the tools you have as the great Sherlock Holmes to determine what you think has been going on. You can walk around the locale and search for clues, perhaps switching on your detective vision (learning from Rocksteady’s Batman there) to highlight something you might have otherwise missed. You can interrogate folk and run experiments to add credence to the conflicting evidence you collect. You can look at someone and take note of key aspects of their appearance enabling you to tell them their life story, amazing them in the process. When you garner yourself a clue you can try and link it to another and if you succeed retain them in a screen which is made to look like neurons in the brain. Collect multiple clues, generate more neurons and try to link them together. Here the determinations must always be consistent otherwise you can’t go anywhere; if you get a good connection you might link to other neurons helping you get closer and closer to the source of the crime. It’s all quite different to a point and click investigation where the effort is largely in finding the clues - here you need to find some, seek out others by talking and thinking, and finally link them all together by sound logical reasoning.
Brilliantly once you've done all that you get to the fun part. The really fun part - where you get to call everyone into the room like a great murder mystery novel and espouse your theory so the case can be put to bed. This might be entirely wrong and that’s not a problem. You are the great Sherlock Holmes therefore everyone believes you anyway - after all you have found more evidence than anyone else and devised a believable solution. They can’t say whether you’re wrong or not. Like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment you also get to choose what happens to the individual or individuals in question. The choice, as they say, is yours.
What you choose to do has little to no impact on the rest of the game - each case is standalone. What it does do though is make you feel either good or bad about yourself. After you’ve done your thing the game tells you whether you were right if you want it to. Imagine having just sent someone to prison to then find out you were wrong and they were innocent! What japes. If you really did feel hurt by your failure then you can choose to rewind and make a different conclusion now you know the answer. Of course, no one would do this, would they? It seems a mechanic purely for longevity via trophies (you get one for seeing all possible conclusions in the game for example), presumably because playing through the case a second time adds very little to the enjoyment of the game overall given you do the same things and learn all that you did before - only you put it together in a novel way.
Throughout the game Sherlock interacts with a great many folk but this fortunately includes the characters you’d expect to see and hear from, like Lestrade, Dr. Watson and Mrs Hudson. It’s all good fun and helps add to the atmosphere. Sherlock himself is quite hard to like in this iteration of the character - he is all about the logic and little about the humour. The peripheral parties bring all of that to the table ensuring the journey across London is a fun one. Watson in particular is entertaining in the scenes you and he work together; other one-off characters are hit and miss but it does stop you from getting bored too much by any one person, or group of people.
Oddly as you tour London in your horsedrawn carriage you get involved in various mini-games which don’t fit into this release on the surface but given it could be described - at a push - as a third-person adventure, the developers do get away with it. Fortunately if it’s not what you want from a game you can skip the arm-wrestling and chemistry instead of sitting there trying to defeat the burly sailor in order to get him to talk to you.
This latest puzzling offering is more than elementary then, we’d say. Multiple cases presented well (ignoring the loading issues) all with a variety of possible outcomes which can be achieved using various tools and the power of your own deduction. You do get to feel like Holmes if we’re honest; searching for the evidence, logical reasoning and grand espousing - it’s very Conan Doyle. The fact it can all be played in bursts or short sessions given we’re looking at discrete cases, and the way the game gives feedback on your choices compared to the reality of the situation - and compared to other gamers - adds to the experience the same way similar feedback does in many interactive novel games around at the moment. Ultimately Sherlock’s alright - not much more, but alright might be all you need in the quiet autumn evenings.