Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is the seventh game in Frogware's Sherlock Holmes series. It is different from the previous games in that it is focused around the idea of six different cases that are mostly self-contained and playable on their own, instead of a large overarching mystery. Each case takes about three to four hours to complete and offers a variety of different things to see. The case we saw, Blood Bath, demonstrated many of these mechanics.
Blood Bath opens up with Watson returning home from a regular day to discover that Holmes, being Holmes, has poisoned himself in a rather convoluted attempt to test out a personal theory. This is a great introduction both to Holmes and Watson as characters and to how they work together. Holmes is the brains but occasionally lacking Watson's common sense, and Watson is a straightman who's there to help Holmes stay alive. This is made perfectly clear in the opening moments of the case, when you play a simple minigame to take Holmes' pulse and eventually discern that he needs the antidote to the poison. Once Holmes is cured, he's quickly whisked off to the local Roman Baths to investigate a murder.
The murder investigation will feel familiar to adventure game players, although with a healthy mix of mechanics. Holmes can investigate any object in the environment relevant to the case by mousing over it and clicking it. Sometimes, this causes Holmes to comment on the object, but other times, it may activate a minigame. In the demo, we saw a simple minigame where Holmes had to pull a burning chunk of metal out of a braiser with tongs, and in a more complex one, he had to line up three statues to discover the entrance to a hidden room. You can also use dialogue trees to talk to witnesses and poke holes in their stories to earn further clues.
Of course, Holmes is the master of deduction, and a big part of that is noticing little details. This is represented in a few ways. You're able to analyze people in the environment using Holmes' innate sense for noticing small details. This reveals a number of small facts about the character that may drop hints about their personality or history. Anything from rumpled clothes to a telegram haphazardly hidden in one pocket can be a crucial clue that allows you to delve deeper. The other major way you can use Holmes' abilities is the special Sherlock Holmes vision, which is very similar to Batman: Arkham Asylum's detective vision. It grays out the world and highlights objects that would otherwise be overlooked or hidden.
Crimes & Punishment can be played either in first- or third-person view, but don't mistake that for meaning it's an action game. Sherlock Holmes is an adventure game through and through, with almost nothing in the way of action. The only action we saw in the demo was very slow paced. You had to aim and shoot your grappling hook to create a rope bridge and then play a balance-focused minigame to avoid falling off the bridge. It was tense since Holmes was walking over a fast-running river, but failure just made you restart the sequence. There are some Sherlock Holmes stories that focus on his fencing or pugilist skills, but this particular one is all about the investigations.
One of the coolest aspects of the demo was seeing how the case wraps up. Once you've collected enough clues, you can use the deduction board to combine two clues and come to a deduction. Not all clues combine, but many do, and you can infer motives or solutions. This is a straightforward mechanic seen in many puzzle or adventure games, but there's one big twist: You can be wrong. The logic may fit together, but it isn't necessarily the correct solution. You can come to a logical set of deductions that lead to a culprit. You can finish the case and still not be 100% sure you caught the right person. There's a way to check, but you can avoid doing so if you prefer to retain the mystery. Once you pick the culprit, you're also given a moral choice to determine Holmes' recommended solution to the accused. You can choose to have a potentially insane person locked away in a sanitarium for the rest of his life or recommend that he get treatment because he wasn't responsible for his own actions. These choices allow the player to decide how they want the case to end.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is shaping up to be a great adventure game. The variety of mechanics and gameplay styles allows for a more varied and exciting game than you usually get from adventure titles, and the deduction board means you actually have to solve the mystery, not just select the right clues until you hit the jackpot. The title features a number of independent cases, so you'll encounter characters and situations that you haven't previously seen in the series.
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