I have dabbled in a few other games featuring the famed detective in the past and always found them to be very stale and unenjoyable. Maybe this made me enter the game with a bias to some degree, as first impressions were unfavourable. However, the more I played the more I began to enjoy Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments by developer Frogwares. The game undoubtedly has it’s rough edges, and unfortunately these seem to be the aspects of the game that are most immediately presented to the player, but by the time I completed the first case I had discovered a number of finer details and mechanics that made for a very enjoyable and quite rewarding experience for fans of the iconic detective and the confirmed bachelor John Watson.
The game comprises of multiple cases, each of which tells its own interesting short story that has enough mystery and intrigue to keep you engaged as you find clues and interrogate suspects until the truth is uncovered. Investigating is broken up into a number of different gameplay mechanics. You will spend the vast majority of time exploring game environments finding items and characters you can interact with. The environments are very well rendered with an impressive amount of detail. Though they are not quite as technically impressive as many other games to hit PS4, but the design and eye for detail can be quite astonishing and makes the world feel vibrant and lived in. The controls are not always ideal for exploring these environments however, with Sherlock himself feeling slightly off and the camera at times making erratic movements. Lowering the sensitivity of both in the options makes for a vastly smoother experience but there are still the occasional hiccups, particularly when you want to enjoy the fine detail put into a small room.
During this exploration mode most items of interest will be highlighted and easy to spot, and their icons will change colour once you’ve gained all clues which makes finding anything you may have missed a much easier task. There are a few clues that are hidden however, and need to be discovered using a special view similar to the Arkham series detective mode. An eye symbol in the top right of the screen will change to inform you that something in the environment can be found, and turning on the mode causes text describing what Sherlock see’s will begin to hover over the clues, which eventually begin to grow and become interactive. A similar feature can be used when talking to other characters, an option that causes the camera to close in on them and gives you a list of distinguishing features to find on their person. This feature highlights that character models very much like the environments are full of wonderful small details giving each character a bit more personality and depth, as well as adding to the clues you gather from exploring the crime scenes. More clues are gathered by a number of varied mini-games in which you partake in experiments and re-enactments usually taking on the form of a small puzzle. These puzzles can be tricky but don’t seem to be so difficult as to irritate and add a nice variety to gameplay.
After you have gathered enough clues you are able to enter a visual representation of Sherlock’s mind, where you can combine clues to come up with theories about the mystery which in turn leads you to new discoveries, offering more dialogue options and ways to gain ever closer to the conclusion. This visualising of so many aspects combined with an inner monologue of Sherlock’s thoughts makes the player feel much more connected to the thought process than in any other detective games I have played. It’s fairly rare that Sherlock says anything in dialogue that you yourself have not worked out. An especially interesting addition to the game is in the conclusion of each case. This same mechanic, in which you combine clues, allows you to decide between multiple outcomes to every story. The way in which you string together clues leads to different conclusions, allowing you to accuse different murderers or believe in a different motive. Multiple options for each outcome are also provided, letting you decide how Sherlock deals with the culprit once you have settled on a conclusion. Letting me not only decide between multiple outcomes, but also allowing me to condemn or sympathise with the character I accuse made the entire detective process feel all the more engaging, giving you all the more incentive to read through every clue in detail and to study all of the dialogue so you can understand as much about each character as possible. At the end of the case the player is given the option to see if your conclusion was correct or if the answer you chose was wrong, which seems much more enticing than forcing this information upon the player. Rather than punishing you should you accuse the wrong person of a crime, the game allows you to carry on unknowing of this or allows you to go back and alter your outcome, catering to those who want to play the perfect detective and those who prefer to continue with the mistakes they have made in place.
The occasional glitch or technical issue presents itself in the game, with a few strange visual oddities occurring around character models but no issues I encountered ever interfered with gameplay or caused any noticeable detraction from my enjoyment of the game. Load times in the game are usually fairly short, but are extremely frequent. Many load screens are masked by a scene of Sherlock riding to a new location in a coach, during which you are able to review case notes and attempt to find new connections between clues which can make the usually short load times seem entirely nonexistent. Unfortunately certain cases require a large amount of travelling between locations, especially if you happen to have missed a vital clue, and these short load times swiftly add up. As a game with such a focus on narrative it’s also worth noting the very mixed voice acting on display. A very large portion of your time will be spend in dialogue and unfortunately many of the voice actors, though not terrible, come across as rather generic and deliver lines in ways that are not especially convincing, not to mention the odd poor accent.
Despite these minor gripes, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent playing Crime & Punishments. Its rough edges initially made me wary, but a number of engaging gameplay mechanics, very well implemented visual design and stories full of mystery and intrigue helped me get past any negative associations and see this game for what it truly is. An extremely enjoyable journey that, though it would greatly benefit from some polish, should prove a treat for huge fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as more casual fans such as myself.
- Replay Value