Sherlock Holmes 7: Crimes & Punishments

 

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Frogwares Studios

Publisher:    Focus Home Interactive

Released:  September 2014

PC Requirements:  see review below

Additional screenshots   Walkthrough

 

 

by gremlin

 

What is it?

Over the last few years, I've played a couple of different Sherlock Holmes games, and so far I've enjoyed the intellectual challenge of them all. Has the Ukrainian developer (Frogwares) pulled off another gaming heist to match their prior cases? Will they foil my deductive powers as a detector of crime against game-kind?

The game in question is, of course, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments. This is the seventh Sherlock Holmes adventure game Frogwares has committed. Ooops! This is the seventh they have written! And that's not even counting the casual, hidden object games - the picked pockets and shops lifted in comparison to their greater accomplishments.

Is there a plot?

Unlike the previous Sherlock Holmes games I've played, the story of Crimes and Punishments fits the format of the original books. This game covers half-a-dozen crimes, with few links between them, and no over-arching story (such as there was in Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper for example). All of the crimes have multiple possible solutions (though only one is "right"), and when you have your chosen solution, you also make a moral choice as to whether to absolve the murderer because of the circumstances, or condemn them to the gallows (hanging being the common punishment for murder in Victorian Britain).

Having said there is no over-arching plot, I exaggerate a little, as there is an underlying conspiracy story of which small elements crop up in the main murder stories. Basically, Mycroft Holmes is investigating something at the same time as Sherlock Holmes is pursuing business as usual, and this bleeds through into Sherlock's work occasionally.

The title of the game, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a reference to the novel of the similar name Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The novel is about murder, the murderer's guilt, his pursuit by the authorities, his eventual capture, his condemnation, punishment and eventual redemption. It is however, told from the murderer's perspective, not from that of the detective (which would be what we'd expect today). You'll see Sherlock reading the book during the many loading screens between locations in the game.

How do you play?

Sherlock Holmes is an adventure game that makes significant use of the keyboard (particularly the left-hand side of it). Unfortunately there's no option to remap the keys; they are what they are. You move around using the WASD keys. Hot-spots in the environment pop out as you get close to them, at which point you can click on them. If you've seen what's at the hot-spot and there's nothing new to see, it will be green. Otherwise it will be white. The whole of the user interface is very helpful in this way. Any time you can use one of Sherlock's special abilities, there's an on-screen prompt (in the top-right corner), including the key you need to press, so whilst the array of keys you will use is quite broad, you don't actually need to remember them all without aid. Of course, it's Sherlock's abilities as a detective that are what make him so special, so we'll come back to those later.

In terms of how you see the game, you can chose whether to use the over-the-shoulder view (camera following Sherlock Holmes) or the first person view; it's purely personal preference. The game switches to the first-person perspective for close-up work, and to the third person for most conversations. And funnily enough, there are a lot of conversations in this game. Holmes needs to talk to around half a dozen people in any given case (Watson and Lestrade aside), some of them more than once. This makes for a very dialog-heavy game, but given the quality of voice acting, and the high standard of the writing, this is no great chore at all, in fact, quite the opposite.

Your main task in this game is, of course, to solve the crimes committed, by gathering clues and observations from locations, objects and people. Having obtained the clues, it's up to you to use the mind space (replacing the old deduction board of previous games) to draw conclusions as to who is guilty, who is innocent and the motive for the murder. I think all the murders have multiple possible solutions, but only one is right. However, should you reach the end of the game and discover that some of your solutions are wrong, you can re-play any such case to try to reach the right conclusion.

Notable Features

Ok, let's be frank here: I've never seen such a lush, full and detailed game environment as in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments. It is quite wonderful. There is detail everywhere, in places where you'll only spend moments in the game, and in places where you'll spend much more time. All of it has been given a great treatment visually. And the rendering of the textures in peoples' faces? Stunning! And this really matters because you're going to spend a lot of time looking at peoples' faces in this game. Interrogating suspects, questioning witnesses, and so on. Whilst doing that you also have access to one of Sherlock's special abilities: the ability to create a complex character portrait of the witness or suspect just by observing the small details of their appearance: wrinkles on the face, calluses on the fingers, wedding rings, quality and state of clothing. However, it is up to you to use the close-up view of the individual to actually find those telltales.

In a similar manner, Sherlock can do the same at the murder scene: find the little details that speak of the events leading up to, or involved directly in the murder. It is all these kinds of skills that lead to mental and physical reconstruction tasks, so that you can work out who did what, to whom, when and where.

Other clues about the cases are obtained using experimental work at Sherlock's home, book and newspaper research in his library, the construction of timelines of events, the use of disguises (which you have to put together from the wardrobe) to gain access where a London gent would be laughed out of the room, and the conducting of superficial autopsies (nothing very gory this time, compared to the Jack the Ripper cases). There's even a little harpoonery, arm-wrestling, sharp-shooting and cross-bow-based archery.

There are few occasions where fast reactions are required, but there are times where timing matters.

You will also have occasion to be more dog (sorry), as Toby the basset hound gets another couple of outings as an assistant to the relatively nasally challenged human known as Holmes. Challenged, relative to a dog, obviously, as the nose is actually quite ... erm ... outstanding in most depictions of Holmes.

Any other novelties?

A number of games I've come across allow you to pick locks without the key. They use a variety of mechanics to achieve this, but most of them result in a rather simplistic metaphor for the lock breaking task. To be fair, the mechanic used in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is also not a very accurate metaphor either, but it does provide for a graded sense of progression through the game as the tumbler puzzles used in this way get harder as the game progresses.

Oddities

One of the very few lesser features of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is the loading times between scenes. This is probably the down-side to the levels of detail and graphical quality of the game. It seems that the developers recognised this problem, however, and made it possible for you to access your case book (maps, inventory, dialog log, clues, texts, character portraits, deductions and so on) whilst the game is loading the next location in the background. This is not the perfect solution, but it is a decent mitigation.

Conclusions

As an overall experience, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, provides great intellectual stimulation for a mere mortal such as myself, or even Dr Watson, though I'm sure Sherlock himself would be slightly less enamoured. The whole polished article is tarnished only very slightly by the load times between scenes, but otherwise the quality sings through. What more can I say?

Grade: A

 

 What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements

OS: Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7 or Windows 8

Processor: AMD/Intel Dual-core 2.4GHz

Memory: 2GB RAM

Graphics: 256MB 100% DirectX 9 compatible AMD Radeon HD3850/nVidia GeForce 8600 GTS or higher

DirectX: version 9.0c

Hard Drive: 14GB available space

Sound card: DirectX 9 compatible

(I used a home-built 64-bit Windows 8.1 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+ processor, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card, with on-mother-board, built-in sound card)

 

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