Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments - Review
Developers Frogwares have a history of releasing kind-of-decent-but-nothing-to-get-excited-about, Sherlock Holmes titles. This latest, Crimes and Punishments, is the first to make use of the Unreal Engine 3 and the added visual clout that comes with releasing on new consoles.
Overall, Crimes and Punishments does as exactly what you'd expect. You play as Sherlock and you solve crimes. Witnesses and suspects need to be interviewed, crime scenes need to be explored for evidence, and you'll also need to link together clues in order to come up with a conclusion as to what happened. It's standard adventure game fare draped in old Victorian atmosphere.
The game's unique concept is the ability to link different pieces of evidence together, resulting in different conclusions. Make the wrong connections for example, and you might end up pointing the finger at the wrong person. This would be an interesting mechanic in itself, if it wasn't made pointless by the game's clue system. It's clear in each of the game's cases whether or not you've amassed all of the potential evidence, so provided you comb each area thoroughly it's not as if you'll ever get anything wrong.
And that's the major killer for Sherlock Holmes, it's a decent enough adventure game but it regularly feels as if you're running on auto-pilot. The game's objective screen will helpfully tell you when you've exhausted all your options in a certain area, and your evidence tab will highlight whether or not there's anything else that needs to be done with what you've found.
Normally, this will involve taking back something to be examined at Sherlock's house, resulting in a small mini-game of sorts. These range from harmlessly simplistic; pour vial A over object B, to ridiculously complicated, such as the several lock-picking segments. It's clear that Frogware don't have much faith in their puzzles either since they can all be skipped at the touch of a button, once a minute or so has passed. In one way, this is a blessing, the game wouldn't have benefitted from forcing you to complete some of its more tedious moments. On the other hand, if Frogwares are willing to let you skip through their puzzles; the core of an adventure game, they clearly must think that many of them aren't very good.
The flip side of all of this is the game's story, or stories, in this case. There's six cases in total and they vary somewhat in terms of their overall quality, "Riddle on the Rails", the game's second case, is arguably the worst, as Sherlock and Watson investigate a missing train, simply because it stretches itself far too thin by having you wander around a mass of similar looking locations, including three nearly identical train stations. It doesn't help that the larger environments in this particular case highlight just how much the game feels like a ghost-town at times, with some areas only being populated by a few static character models.
Things are much better in "Blood Bath" and "The Fate of Black Peter", ramping up the dark, Victorian atmosphere, and sticking to smaller, easier to search locations that don't give away how sparse some of parts of the game can look. The actual script is serviceable and the voice acting remains decent, although some parts make the characters appear weirdly robotic, it might be the animation, but there's moments where it feels less like you're watching two characters talking and more like two robots spitting out sentences. It doesn't help that there's several moments where characters will repeat dialogue they've already used, with Holmes regurgitating the same recorded lines while examining different objects.
Frogwares also throw in a slightly bizarre moral choice to each of the game's cases. Each case ends with you deciding whether to condemn or absolve the culprit (the developers go one step further by constantly showing a copy of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment to hammer home the theme), resulting in a slightly different ending. In theory it's there to further extend the lifespan of the game, but has no tangible effect on what you're doing. It's not as if characters will refer to your earlier choices later on, causing you to reflect on your decisions: each one is simply a "pick A or B" kind of option that's then forgotten about.
The touted disguises that were shown off in several trailer are a massive letdown also. The game outright tells you when to swap into a disguise and you only do this once throughout the entire game, in the first case in fact. It's as if Frogwares thought up the idea and then thought of no practical way to weave it into the game's investigations.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is an example of a game spreading itself too thin. It looks bigger and bolder than its predecessors, with that flashy Unreal Engine sheen, but it's not made any better by it. As an adventure game it feels almost as if it plays itself, and as a collection of stories it's essentially more of the same.
The question is whether or not that's enough.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments was released on September 30th for PS4, PS3, PC, 360 and Xbox One.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.
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