Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Frogwares Studio
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2014


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PS4 Review - 'Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments'

by Dustin Chadwell on Nov. 19, 2014 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Unlike the previous adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in Crimes & Punishments, you are not a mere spectator during the detective's investigation. It is now your turn to become Sherlock Holmes and lead your own investigations.

My first Sherlock Holmes-related experience was watching "The Hound of the Baskervilles," starring Peter Cushing as Holmes. I remember getting the VHS tapes from the local library and being transfixed. Immediately, I wanted to seek out more Holmes-related adventures, and over the years, as the popularity of the character has waxed and waned in pop culture, I've enjoyed the occasional look back at Cushing's stoic rendition of Holmes.

That's not to say that modern renditions haven't been good. Clearly, the BBC series "Sherlock" starring Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic, and I even enjoyed Robert Downey Jr.'s take on the character across two films. One of the things that I enjoy about the rendition of Holmes in this game, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments from developer Frogwares, is that it reminds me of the character I grew up with. You still get a bit of the darker side of Holmes with some allusions to his drug use, but much of this game feels at home with the classic renditions of the character that I fondly remember.

If you've never played one of the Sherlock Holmes titles from Frogwares, Crimes & Punishments is a pretty solid starting point. This is the first game in the series developed in Unreal Engine 3, giving it a considerable visual step up from previous installments. The game wasn't visually stunning on the PlayStation 4, but there are some really great environments on display. Texture work is hit-and-miss, and character animations leave a bit to be desired. Facial animations were particularly lackluster, and I often wished that somebody, somewhere would try to bring back the excellent animation tech from L.A. Noire.

While the visuals fail to astound, Crimes & Punishments does well in other areas of its presentation. The voice acting is solid throughout, with plenty of voice work across a number of different characters in the six different cases you take on. While the game doesn't focus or rely on audio cues for figuring out when a suspect might be lying, you can still hear an actor's inflection when the character isn't entirely truthful. It's a nice touch that doesn't go unnoticed, even if it's not used from a gameplay perspective. The soundtrack, limited as it is, feels in tune with the rest of the game and doesn't feel out of place.

I also appreciated the cleanliness of the user interface, considering how many times you'll need to access the various in-game menus. A lot of mechanics — piecing together clues, going over evidence, and examining character profiles — require a button press to bring up a small menu that's rendered as the interior of Holmes' journal. It's easy enough to flip through, and the game helpfully highlights pertinent information, so you'll rarely feel stuck or unsure of what to do next.

How does Crimes & Punishments play? Essentially, this is an old-school adventure game. You'll move Sherlock via first- or third-person view. You have a variety of locations to explore, with a few that are consistent across various cases, like Holmes' residence on Baker Street. Moving between locations is easy enough via a small overworld map, and on the PS4, loading between locations is kept to a minimum. This is definitely a good thing, as you'll move between the same locations over and over again as a case unfolds.

Each location has a number of clues. Some hidden items can be uncovered with the special "Sherlock Vision" function. This helpfully highlights certain objects that would otherwise remain obscured or difficult to see. Likewise, Holmes can ignite his imagination with another optional view, which is only used when prompted by the game. Through his imagination, Holmes can view events as they likely occurred, allowing him to connect the dots between clues and the evidence on hand.

When it comes to hunting down evidence in Crimes & Punishments, players must complete various puzzle types. There is some overreliance on what I call lockpick puzzles, which feature multiple nested cylinders, and you must connect lines across the small gaps. There are more inventive and case-specific puzzles, too. The third case, for instance, has you using a molding device to create possible murder weapons from different sources. You'll use an old-school ice maker to create ice, match up different silver samples with acid blot tests, and piece together a crossbow to create a makeshift rope bridge. There's no shortage of activities and puzzles to solve, most of which help the various cases feel pretty distinct.

Another big aspect of the gameplay in Crimes & Punishments is the ability to make deductions, where Holmes pieces together evidence, witness testimonies, suspect interviews, and clues that he's uncovered throughout the investigation. As you begin to piece together what actually occurred, you'll pair up clues and unlock items on a board that you can tie into other unlocked clues. You'll seek out motive, and you'll quickly learn that there's multiple deductions possible based on all evidence collected. The game doesn't hold your hand in this regard, and it allows you to come to any conclusion you see fit. This means there are multiple possible endings and scenarios, so there are more reasons to revisit the game further down the line.

The final major piece of the arsenal is that you can conduct witness and suspect interviews. When speaking to pertinent individuals, Holmes can uncover clues by studying a person before speaking to him or her. I really enjoyed this particular aspect and thought it complemented the Holmes character quite well. You'll be able to understand a person's attitude, whether he's likely to withhold information, and you can even search out hidden clues before the interview. You'll find yourself second-guessing more character testimonies as the case continues and you discover new clues, so you can re-interview suspects later based on new evidence.

As far as negatives go, I only have minor complaints. Again, I don't think that this is a visually outstanding experience, at least on the PS4 version. While this is clearly a step up from Frogwares previous efforts in the series, it doesn't compare favorably to much of the PS4's current library. If someone told me that this was running on a PS3, I would've believed it. There's some solid work in the visual design of the environments, but just about every other aspect, particularly the character designs, are underwhelming. There's an option to dress up Holmes in different costumes, and they all look remarkably awful.

While the environments look nice, I dreaded every single one that involved larger, wide-open spaces. Crimes & Punishments does a poor job when it comes to setting boundaries for your play area, so if you walk out of bounds, it'll force you to the map screen to choose a location. Simply cordoning off sections or even placing impassable waist-high objects would have been a better solution than this. A lot of the larger spaces are unnecessary, with few interactive objects or clues to uncover. The game excels when you're in enclosed spaces, where your boundaries are easily defined and the space is small enough that you're constantly uncovering new items or puzzles.

Beyond those issues, I really enjoyed my time with Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments. It's a really solid adventure game that I'd urge console players to check out. It features a host of interesting mechanics that do a great job of capitalizing on the character and world of Sherlock Holmes, and the six cases are very intriguing. Crimes & Punishments is easily one of the best Holmes titles I've played, and I look forward to what Frogwares has in store for the next game in the franchise.

Score: 7.5/10

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