Sleuthing enthusiasts rejoice: Holmes and Watson are back in the best-looking detective game to date, with a handful of murders, dozens of suspects and too many pieces of evidence to count. The newest entry into the video game franchise, Crimes and Punishments, has an unrivaled level of graphical fidelity in the genre, and brings some refreshing gameplay and cinematic feel to the table. Despite this, some clunkiness and the somewhat arbitrary-feeling nature of seemingly key mechanics holds it back from attaining investigative perfection.
Starting with a bang – literally – players are treated to a Holmes’ eccentricity and deductive ability, Watson’s oafishness and the some of the game’s cinematic promise in the first few minutes. Te high graphical quality is immediately striking, with characters’ faces being impressively detailed and a tangible environment. The camera pans around deftly, one of the production values well above and beyond the expected. Without pause, you’re dropped precipitously into a grisly murder, the first of six.
Players are exposed to the majority of the game’s mechanics over the course of the first mystery. Holmes is able to enter an ultra-perceptive mode to find clues, constructing character portraits through observation and Mass Effect-style conversation, and can link pieces of evidence in a deduction space inspired by neural maps. Somewhat disappointingly, the clues Holmes detects, either through his acute investigative senses or casual observation sometime seem inconsequential.
During each self-contained mystery, each spanning roughly two to three hours, players must use the evidence present to make their own deductions about culpability and responsibility. This allows players to fail catastrophically and inaccurately condemn innocent players in each drama, with the consequences and validity of each decision not being revealed in the short-term. Putting the fate of the innocent truly in the player’s hands is a smart decision that allows for unrivaled immersion in the great detective’s shoes.
Some of the details added seemingly to break from routine or add realism feel arbitrary and tacked-on. Mini-games run the gamut from intuitive and simplistic to frustratingly challenging, often without any instruction as to what player’s should accomplish. The sixth sense mechanic feels somewhat cheap, as does the fact that the deductive reasoning space essentially asks players to draw connections between any and all present pieces of evidence, wasting time and breaking immersion. The preponderance of loading screens in the form of Holmes in the back of a carriage investigating his logbook is also somewhat disappointing and immersion-breaking.
To back up the cinematic feel, with its high-quality visuals and camera effects, Frogwares did a great job creating an audio environment to go along with the game. Each scene begs to be explored but is hindered by seemingly random invisible walls at times. The music is appropriate, inciting tension or drama as necessary. Voice acting ranges from excellent to occasionally disappointing, and can detract from the experience overall in the latter case.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a fine adventure game with novel, immersive mechanics and high graphical fidelity alongside consistently high production values. Despite this, the immersion-breaking arbitrary nature of some of the evidence and mini-games as well as the somewhat cheap feeling of Holmes’ intuition simultaneously deifies the detective while frustrating the player. While an excellent step in the right direction and a guaranteed hit among fans, the layperson may find too many faults to enjoy the experience extensively.
Version Reviewed: PC