Looking at Crimes & Punishments, the seventh in a long line of successful games based around Baker Street's most famous resident, it is immediately clear that Frogwares has managed to recreate Sherlock and Dr. Watson almost flawlessly from their literary descriptions. From Holmes' nasally and patronising tones to hinting strongly at his drug problems, and from Watson's immaculate appearance to his bemused and exasperated views of his colleague, the central duo will be instantly familiar to anyone who has read the books or watched the older Sherlock Holmes TV series starring Peter Cushing.
The game itself is set out as a series of cases, each one acting as its own standalone mystery, with a few loose threads that tell a separate story that doesn't entirely reach a satisfying pay off, especially if you don't pay attention to everything the game throws at you.
It is in your best interest to pay as close attention as possible because the smallest detail can lead you to one conclusion over another. Anyone wanting to rush their way to a conclusion will inevitably finger the wrong perpetrator, or possibly the right one for the wrong reason.
Each case has a similar set up and sequence of activities. At the beginning the crime is committed and all the pieces are put in place, your Scotland Yard friend Inspector Lestrade will give you the barest details of the case, maybe point you towards the obvious suspect, and then you are free to proceed on to the meat of the game, information gathering. This can be done by talking to witnesses, examining the victim's body and rummaging through everything you can see on screen.
Sometimes to get to certain morsels of information you have to solve a puzzle; arranging blocks to create a mould, or solve a basic cipher. There are locks to be picked both figuratively and metaphorically; to crack open certain places you have to solve a rotating lock mechanism by moving the parts to form an unbroken set of lines, or collect certain information to access an option in conversation that can open up an whole new avenue of investigation.
The game hasn't been designed to be especially difficult, but it does reward dogged determination to unearth the truth, which firmly puts the player in the shoes of Holmes, allowing the player to use two modes of investigation.
The first is Concentration mode. The screen goes grey and sound is muted, and when you spot a clue there is text that cycles through various deductions in a style that is similar to the modern day Sherlock
TV series. The object of interest becomes highlighted in gold, making something previously unnoticeable suddenly open to examination.
The second mode is Imagination, this allows Holmes to put clues to use by visually reconstructing the possible outcome of events, either by arranging a sequence of events or rotating a transparent image and moving parts of it around to create a clear memory.
There is also a (thankfully) limited access to Sherlock's archive of old newspapers, research papers and encyclopaedias in which to find further clues. Some of the entries are red-herrings, some are references to previous cases in both this game and the earlier entries.
The third stage of an investigation is the Deduction screen, here you have all of the clues you have found floating freely in Holmes' mind. You try and match clues to form a web of deductions, most offering two choices that, if they match other deductions, will open up a new part of the investigation or possibly a conclusion, at which point you can end the case by condemning or absolving the perpetrator.
Each case can be solved in a matter of hours and feels complete, providing entertaining and manageable chunks of gameplay that feel similar to the feature length nature of televised versions that Sherlock
or Miss Marple
usually take. The whole game has a Sunday afternoon whodunit vibe that suits the mood and style of the game.
The sets are visually impressive in their detailing. They feel dense, but at the cost of size. The largest set is an underground labyrinth that is also the least visually appealing area in the game.
Character models are beautifully rendered and (except for a few of Sherlock's facial expressions) are really well animated, expressing the emotions necessary to reach conclusions (right or wrongfully) about them without further evidence. Voice acting is competent but not outstanding. It does the job required of it. This may be down to the material they had to read rather than any failing on the part of the actors.
The script has been written in such a way to deliver all the relevant information clearly and without excess baggage. This is commendable, but can also be viewed as a missed opportunity. Opinions and conclusions could have been tweaked to further alter perceptions of suspects, increasing the challenge of sniffing out the truth.
As a fan of point-and-click adventures and a fan of literary Sherlock Holmes
, I can happily recommend this game. Just be aware that there isn't much of a challenge, though that is by design.
+ Each case is unique and entertaining
+ Beautiful set design
+ Varied and smart systems for collecting and examining clues
- Missed opportunity with the overarching subplot
- Sherlock's stiff expressions.
SPOnG Score: 8/10