Sherlock Holmes video games notoriously don’t work. They’re usually a poorly sequenced set of puzzles strung together with nothing more than a loose plot based on previous stories. Crimes and Punishments is a fully 3D and interactive world so hopefully all that can change and finally bring the glory of Sherlock Holmes into the video game arena.
There isn’t really much in the way of a tutorial in Sherlock, or at least not a glaringly obvious one. There are a few text boxes to help you in your early adventures but they are irregular enough that they avoid becoming a burden. Instead Sherlock prefers to throw you into the thick of things and watch you figure everything out for yourself.
When you approach a clue a reasonably sized UI element will appear in front of you and with a simple press of the ‘x’ button Sherlock will do his thing. This is the basic principle behind finding clues. The decent sized clue prompts give you confidence even early on and is just one way Crimes and Punishments lets you feel just a tiny bit like Sherlock.
For me the most satisfying moments are using Sherlock’s unique attention to detail to spot details that no-one else can. Pressing ‘R1’ switches Sherlock into a ‘focus’ mode revealing such details. On screen text reveals Sherlock’s thought process in similar fashion to BBC’s Sherlock. It’s subtle and the black and white style ‘focus vision’ clearly differentiates between the details Sherlock can see and those that everyone else sees. It’s just another way the game makes you feel like your being clever, when in fact the work is being done for you.
The final core tool in Sherlock’s clue finding arsenal is his ability to create a character profile from seemingly minute details. Again it’s visually similar to the TV series Sherlock. When you talk to a new person pressing ‘square’ will allow you to scan them back and forward using ‘L1’ and ‘R1’ then moving a cursor over items of interest you can press ‘x’ when it lights up. You might notice a telegram in a pocket addressed to Manchester and, knowing the person’s family name, deduce that the telegram was for a family member and that the person was probably born in Manchester.
There’s not much to the clue finding aspect of Crimes and Punishment but it is when you feel most like the great detective. The simplicity of performing the tasks gives you a confidence that borders on arrogance and with simple prompts it’s very difficult to miss all but the smallest details. Having said that there are often facts that are revealed later in the cases that give light to other clues which will require you to back track and recheck an area.
Once you’ve gathered enough facts and clues you can open the ‘deduction’ menu and start making deductions and eventually conclusions. Each clue you find will appear as a single sentence with a paragraph to describe it. Matching two relevant clues together will create a deduction which appears as a neuron on what later becomes a web of choices and facts. Often there will be a decision to be made. So was someone’s presence at the crime scene an innocent coincidence or does that implement the suspect?
As you find more clues and add more deductions the web becomes increasingly intricate. The great thing about it is there’s never a correct answer during this phase. Until you find a deduction that you are confident about it’s almost impossible to make a meaningful conclusion. Once you find that firm fact there will often be contradictions, which are clearly highlighted in red, that cause a cascade effect as different clues and deductions rule others out eventually leave only the right answer – in theory.
And there is ultimately a right answer. There is, therefore, a whole series of wrong answers and conclusions. It’s a daring moment when you finally confirm your decision after hours of sleuthing, interrogating and deducing. Often the accused will lie rather than blindly telling the truth which can even provide a false confession and confirm you’re assumptions even when you’re incorrect.
What makes it feel a little futile is the ability to reload and change your mind to try a different conclusion. You can do this as many times as you like and then eventually confirm the right choice. You can even press a button to reveal the result and find out how many of the available clues you found and if you accused the right person. You can then reload and try again if you want. There’s no punishment for doing so and you could genuinely just force your way through the game, try all the solutions to a case and pick the right one to get all the right results.
But it’s not the way to enjoy Crimes and Punishment. Once you realise that your final choice isn’t anywhere near as final as it first appears most of the thrill is gone. I made a pact with myself not to reload and live with my mistakes and that allows Crimes and Punishments to be at its best. Even though sometimes the evidence isn’t quite as clear as you’d like there’s usually a reasonably logical way to arrive at the correct conclusion, and when you do you feel clever and extremely satisfied.
The gigantic leap in visual fidelity has to be mentioned. It gives the game a certain legitimacy that will hopefully finally make Sherlock Holmes a renowned name in video games. Walking around Baker street I regularly switched to first person mode to really breath in the atmosphere. Character’s faces are a particular speciality but sadly the lip syncing isn’t quite as good as I would have liked, particularly given the amount of time you spend talking to different people. Still it’s fair to say this is by far the best looking Sherlock game ever. It no longer appears like a cheap puzzle game but for the first time looks like a 3rd person game with a decent budget.
At it’s best Crimes and Punishments makes you feel like Sherlock Holmes. It gives you the ability to notice minute details that make all the difference. But even better than giving you the tools for the job is the deduction screen which makes you do the work. Sure it helps you along by pointing out contradictions but it’s you that puts the case together and makes a conclusion.
There’s nothing quite like it when you have a ‘light bulb moment’ and change an option that suddenly reveals the right answer. But at the same time the ability to replay other options before you confirm your choices takes a lot of weight away from your final conclusion. The satisfaction from getting something right on your own and the fact that you actually have to use your brain is incredibly rewarding. Crimes and Punishments is an excellent mystery game and a great addition to the Sherlock franchise. For a genre that is particularly lacking in video games Crimes and Punishments is a refreshing move forward.