In the last few years, we’ve seen a large growth of interest in all things Sherlock Holmes. We have the movies starring Robert Downey Jr., we have the TV shows like Sherlock and Elementary and, coinciding with this explosion of all things Sherlockian on various screens, we have Sherlock Holmes book sales rising as well. Unfortunately, all this hype never really translated into the video game world. Frogwares, the makers of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, is hoping they’ve found the perfect formula.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is, according to Frogwares, an investigation game and if you’re coming in hoping for some sort of parkouring Sherlock Holmes who roams the streets at night and beats up on criminals like he’s some caped avenger in an action-packed game called “Sherlock: London Asylum” (or “Sherlock: London City Origins” even), then you will be greatly disappointed. That’s not to say there aren’t exciting parts in Crimes and Punishments, but that’s not what this game is about.
What you’ll find is a game that is not too dissimilar to LA Noire in the way it plays, minus the free-roaming of the city. It’s all about utilizing the skills you gain from being Sherlock Holmes, finding clues and evidence, interrogating suspects, drawing conclusions and exacting your own brand of justice on Victorian London. The concept seems solid and if you’re looking to play a Sherlock Holmes game, this is the type of game you were probably looking for to begin with, but how well did Frogwares do in implementing all this?
What you see on screen is something Frogwares has been really hitting on a lot in their promotional materials. Crimes and Punishments is the first Sherlock Holmes game they’ve made on the Unreal 3 Engine and it does look quite extraordinary indeed. The environments are gorgeous. The textures and details can be quite exquisite. Notice I said can. You will find that quite a few textures, specifically ground textures, don’t really hold up on closer inspection, but for the most part textures are quite good. For any other game, this would be fine, one does not normally stare at the ground all that often in video games anyway, especially zoomed in, so why is it a problem massive enough to mention in a review?
Unfortunately, Crimes and Punishments just happens to be a game where zooming up close to the ground happens quite frequently (because you know, that’s where dead bodies usually lie and you sort of have to examine them if you want to be a good Sherlock Holmes) and having a patch of very pixelated ground next to what you’re looking at can potentially ruin the experience.
What’s even worse is the pixelation doesn’t stop there. It could totally be a PC-only issue, although I am running the game on the highest possible settings on a computer that exceeds the meagre minimum requirements by leaps and bounds, but I have run into many different snags with the visuals. For one, I’ve noticed weird blurry outlines around faces (specifically eyes) in the in-game cut-scenes. Outlines in the sense that there are relatively thick outlines around the face, blurry in the sense that they blur out the background, so unless Sherlock Holmes developed magic and is exhibiting some sort of aura around himself, I’m pretty sure that it’s a graphical bug. Another common visual mistake I see is the pixelation of things that aren’t in focus (so usually the background) during in-game cut-scenes and the edges of objects flashing when the camera pans in cut-scenes.
These issues mainly pertain to cut-scenes and aren’t as evident in normal gameplay. So again, you might ask, why is this a problem worth mentioning (other than the fact that you would expect a cut-scene to be perfected at release)? The thing is, a fairly large portion of Crimes and Punishments is found in cut-scenes (and I’m using the term cut-scene very loosely here because I would personally count interrogations and conversations as interactive cut-scenes along with the traditional cut-scenes) and the visual issues pervade throughout. I wonder if the issue is a systemic one within Crimes and Punishments where the visuals in general looks really, really pretty from afar, but when you get in close, such as when you go in to examine a body up close or the camera does a close-up of characters in a cut-scene, things start tearing at the seams.
However, if you aren’t so eagle-eyed (or forcibly looking for imperfections like myself), you could very well miss most of the issues and who knows, maybe a patch or two can fix all the visual problems as I played a pre-release version of the actual game. Without a doubt, Crimes and Punishments is the prettiest Sherlock Holmes game ever made and holds up relatively well to modern standards in regards to graphics.
The Content & Gameplay
In my opinion, as someone who has read the Sherlock Holmes books, Crimes and Punishments portrays the character Sherlock Holmes most faithfully to the Conan Doyle books over any of the other mediums. He isn’t some extremely eccentric boxer detective, like in the movies, or a sociopath, like in the TV shows, but just Sherlock Holmes: A detective with a sense for justice and a love for non-trivial murder cases. However, what’s perhaps best of all is the fact that Sherlock is who you want him to be. In this sense, the moral choice decisions play a part in this. Do you condemn your criminals or absolve them because you sympathize with them? Sherlock really does mold around the decisions you make and becomes a sterner or nicer bloke in his demeanor as a result of your decisions.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the moral choices affect much else in the story. The same 6 cases will always run in the same order every time you play through the story and I did not hear a single reference to a previous case that I’d completed in any of my subsequent cases bar a letter or a newspaper article about it, which is a bit disappointing.
Another thing you will notice is Crimes and Punishments’ lack of a difficulty setting. There is one universal difficulty and that’s the one you play at, regardless if you are struggling or cruising through. Not that the game is overly difficult. In fact, the hardest puzzles to me were the ones that required perfect timing, because I’m just bad at those things, hence, why I’m not a massive fan of quick-time events. The game also isn’t particularly long in length. I managed to complete the game (finding all the clues in each case and watching a few of the possible endings thanks to the ability to change your decision before you continue on to the next case) in just around 12 hours and I wasn’t really rushing through the game. In fact, I was being particularly meticulous in order to not accidentally miss any potential gameplay.
For a game with nominal singleplayer replay value (it’s kind of hard to get excited about a case you’ve solved before and know how it unfolds) and no multiplayer, $39.99 on PC and $59.99 on everything else feels quite steep if the game can be completed in 12 hours. Crimes and Punishments is also clearly designed to play on consoles, with movement being extremely clunky with a keyboard (as opposed to the analog sticks on a controller), but the port was more than acceptable and if you are playing with a controller or on consoles, you really should have no problems.
It isn’t all a torrent of hot vinegar though, there were many things that I thought were good about Crimes and Punishments and liked very much. I liked that they removed the linearity of the game (as any investigation game will end up being because you always start at point A, the beginning of the mystery, and move towards point B, the end of the mystery) by making it entirely possible to miss clues if you aren’t attentive and letting you, the player, make the deductions and determine what the evidence suggests. Make the wrong deduction? You will eventually lead yourself to the wrong conclusion and potentially send the wrong person to prison and you’re going to have to live with that (unless you decide to replay your decision, that is) and it’s not like the deductions are clear cut. You will have to balance out the probabilities and many a time I have sat there thinking for minutes on end about one decision.
Between and during the search of evidence and analysis of said evidence, you will frequently find yourself playing one of the many small mini-games in Crimes and Punishments that range from lockpicking, to being the Sherlock’s dog and following a scent, or doing science experiments. There are a very, very wide variety of mini-games whereby you will always be challenged, somewhat, and kept guessing and they all have to do with solving the case. However puzzles in general is the name of the game and you can expect to solve many well thought out puzzles. There was, however, one mini-game that I absolutely hated (and is frankly impossible to complete on a keyboard) and thus skipped (which is an option for all mini-games) which was crossing the rope bridge. Good luck trying to balance yourself on a rope without an analog stick!
The voice acting also has to be commended in Crimes and Punishments. There wasn’t a single character whose voice I thought was a bit too much or pure over-exaggeration, it was as good as it gets. Unfortunately, the lip-sync leaves much to be desired, especially on Inspector Lestrade’s. It’s not overly terrible, but it just looks… off. It would have been nice if they didn’t reuse assets as much and maybe just recorded a line a few different times and used different variants of the same line when necessary to increase the immersion.
While Frogwares themselves have joked about Creepy Watson, Crimes and Punishments’ Watson isn’t that much better. It’s quite obvious he teleports to you when you’re not looking in certain situations and his pathfinding is quite atrocious. He sometimes even disappears entirely or just stands in one place, refusing to follow you. It’s not game breaking in any way, but it’s not ideal.
There also exists an information gap between the player and Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock is a well-learned individual with many nuggets of useful information that the average player, well… Probably doesn’t possess. And even the most learned player probably couldn’t tell you that a cross on a woman’s rosary meant that she went on a pilgrimage to Gibraltar and thus, on her journey to Gibraltar traveled through Plymouth which is where she met her now deceased husband, lest use that information in an interrogation. It would have been nice when you are profiling a character, to hear a narration by Sherlock on the significance of certain noticed traits, especially on things as obscure as the rosary.
Loading times can also be a bit of an annoyance, especially if it’s right before a suspenseful scene as the game tries to load in the gameplay part of it and I also hit a handful of fatal crashes (although, I’ve yet to find a single game that hasn’t crashed for me in some shape or form). It would also be helpful if they found a way to demarcate where you can or cannot go in your environment without having you blindly run into the invisible walls constantly, which can become quite troublesome and frustrating in the much bigger areas. Also quite frustrating is how, sometimes, the game is really pedantic about how cleanly you have to wipe something down, even though you can clearly see what a dirty sign used to say.
I’ve said a lot of negative things about Crimes and Punishments, but I don’t think a single one of them is game breaking on its own. Unfortunately, the combination of all the issues makes this an imperfect game. It is, however, a playable and thoroughly enjoyable imperfect game and I would have been wholly satisfied if it still had the same problems (which hopefully can and will get patched out), but just had a few more cases. Crimes and Punishments is, however, good enough to keep me intrigued all the way to the very end and I genuinely can’t wait to see where the cliffhanger at the very end leads. What Crimes and Punishments does is it takes a simple gameplay mechanic, the search for clues and evidence, and expands from there into a much more complex and fun animal. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a game that will make you think and it will show you lots of pretty pictures and scenery whilst doing it.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
- Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Published By: Focus Home Interactive
- Developed By: Frogwares
- Genre: Adventure
- US Release Date: September 30th, 2014
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "This is a game that will make you think and it will show you lots of pretty pictures and scenery whilst doing it. Unfortunately, the combination of all the technical issues makes Crimes and Punishments an imperfect game. However it is still a playable and thoroughly enjoyable imperfect game."