I am a sucker for a good narrative. I don’t care if the latest blockbuster title has the best graphics around, greatest voice talent or even the best multiplayer action ever seen, for me if the story sucks I don’t want to know. Sometimes you have to ignore these huge multi million dollar dull franchises to discover some real treasures in the gaming world, sometimes they may not be as visually stunning but they boast real character and rich screenplay. More often than not, you’ll look at a lesser known title, initially dismiss it, but later realise it’s in fact a very consistent and formidable series, but would you expect anything less from the great Sherlock Holmes?
Sherlock returns for it’s 7th entry, this time in the form of Crime & Punishments, a game which not only asks you to solve a number of mysterious cases, but discipline it’s culprits in a moral or inhumane manner. Taking a different angle to the series than past entries, Crime & Punishments follows Holmes, Dr Watson and trusty basset hound Toby as they strive to solve 6 intricate cases in and around London, opposed to the previous titles which follows 1 vast story/case. Once again, award winning Ukrainian/Irish Developers Frogwares have brought Sherlock Holmes back to our consoles, in what was promised as a darker approach to the character and grittier stroll through the streets of London. Frogwares have a very successful catalogue for the Sherlock Holmes series, so with that in mind I’m very optimistic firing the game up on the PS4. Crimes & Punishment is the first entry in the franchise to steer away from Frogwares own custom made game engine with Unreal Engine 3 being the choice this time round, so already the team have improved the series, which again only boosts my optimism. Upon selecting new game, we are treated to a god awful and needless ‘Danny Elfman-esque’ title sequence, why this was included remains the biggest mystery in the game, so lets remove this from our memory ay?
The first case, ‘The Fate of Black Peter’, avid Sherlock fans may recognise this tale as it is one of the cases in the game actually based on one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories. The opening case follows notorious sailor ‘Black Peter’ who is found with a harpoon embedded into his torso, Inspector Lastrade and the boys from Scotland Yard (that rhymed) haven’t found any incriminating evidence yet, so let’s dive into Mr Holmes’ brain and use the first of his unique abilities. With a simple press of the right trigger activates ‘Sherlock Vision’ which gives the player to ability to spot possible leads with more ease, pieces of evidence that would be missed by any other detective. After inspecting the body, lets turn our eyes to the shed in which poor Peter Cairns was murdered in and on the desk next to our corpse we find a pack of sailor’s tobacco, which subsequently activates one of Sherlock’s many deductive talents, sensory memory. Holmes can recall particular smells and he tries to cast his mind back to where he can remember it from, thus prompts a challenging mini-game, the first of many puzzles which pop up regularly throughout the game. Turning our attention to the back of the shed we see large gap on a bookshelf where something seems to have been there earlier, if only we could imagine something that could have been there … oh wait we can, lets activate Imagination Mode! Pressing the left trigger starts Sherlock’s most impressive skill, Imagination, which using the evidence gathered so far and plausible speculation, the player is given a unique perspective into events that could have been. Enough of the crime scene, lets interview Peter’s widow, and as you can expect this is an easy task for the great detective to another one of his trademark abilities. Almost every key witness and suspect in each case has a character portrait, a list of characteristics that assists the player when making important choices and when interviewing suspicious townsfolk. After selecting the option to do so, you have only a short amount of time to scan the interviewee’s body language, clothing and face, in doing so gives Sherlock deeper information based on educated assumptions that will help in working out if certain characters are being truthful or not. Once important statement’s and evidence has been collected we are invited to the ‘Deduction Space’, an area inside Sherlock’s brain which holds everything significant to the case at hand. Joining 2 clues together will unlock an assumption, fact or lead to follow, and by the end of the case you’ll have created a huge, in-depth mind map of the case. Piecing together what you believe is the correct turn of events is a very stressful task indeed, especially when you are aware that there can be up to 5 possible solutions for each case as well as up to 10 different endings. Once you have selected your culprit, motive and method, the final decision is choosing how to morally handle the criminal. Sherlock Holmes is known to be a morally unjust man who wants to uphold the law in a morally sound manner, so how will you sentence the culprit, will you absolve or condemn? Will you do what’s right by the law or what’s right by you? This decision too must be correct if you wish to unlock each case’s ‘true’ ending.
The game is made up of 6 unique case files, which couldn’t differ from each other any more, making each chapter a truly captivating play knowing it’s not comparable to the previous. Each case was a thrilling and terrific play through, they were all incredibly well written, presented and delivered causing a real rollercoaster of emotions from start to finish. The sheer amount of creativity that has been put into each case shines brightly, even the cases which are really video game replicas of existing short stories have been transitioned to this medium brilliantly. It was very surprising to find that each chapter took several hours to complete and if you collect all the evidence, speak to every witness and honestly solve the crime to your best ability, you can expect to clock off duty around the 3 hour mark for each case; this shows you how intricate the narrative is and it doesn’t at any point dwindle or become boring. Within the narrative you’ll come across many different challenging puzzles and mini-games (making a chemical reagent, arm wrestling and moulding to name a few), that when completed unlock progression in the case and fresh incriminating evidence. Some of the puzzles are relatively simple, whereas others are frustrating & vague with a lack of explanation or help and the most frequent of these is a lockpicking mini-game which after a while gets tiresome and boring.
From the first in game cut-scene the game does look really nice, honestly it’s not the best visuals I’ve seen on the Playstation 4 but in comparison to the previous games in the series it’s a huge leap forward. The character models look great and the detail on each person’s face and body is well built. As so many games are these days, it’s a shame to not see any motion capture for the lead cast, this is how I feel this game could have really excelled, especially with the excellent characterisation they have of Holmes, I would have loved to see the voice actor’s portrayal in body too. The surroundings that serve as a primary residency for each chapter like Sherlock’s house and murder scenes are in sharp detail, however you’ll begin to notice some background landscapes and props throughout the game aren’t so impressive, (notably the autopsy in chapter 5 looks particularly poor). The voice acting for the majority of the cast is very good, Sherlock in particular is excellent, delivering a very solemn yet sinister tone to the great detective. Dr Watson has had a new voice-box installed since “The Testament of Sherlock Holmes” which with it brings a more warmer and contrasting voice to Sherlock. The lead cast deliver the script in great fashion yet scattered amongst the talent there are a few ‘bum notes’, which can quickly transform a gritty London murder mystery into a naff actor in ‘Midsummer Murders’ who is simply reading from a script. Along with some naff voiceovers, there are some issues with music where you’ll sometimes hear some ill fitting music play during dialogue, which will then cut out rather abruptly, taking attention away from the drama unfolding. Following this ‘naff’ trend, I thought Sherlock’s movement looked rather daft, the way he swung his arms around whilst running, as stupid as it sounds, it actually put me off playing the game in it’s default 3rd person camera, however one click of the O button took me into an alternative 1st person, which made for a much smoother and enjoyable playthrough. Another niggle I found in the game was the sheer amount of loading screens that were thrown at me. To travel from each area, whether it be the crime scene or Scotland Yard, Holmes and Watson will travel in a horse and cart and unfortunately you’ll be seeing this screen an awful lot; the length of them is also very inconsistent and at one point I was waiting for almost a minute just to change location.
Crime and Punishments is a fantastic and well written game. Anyone who can appreciate a good strong narrative will find plenty to enjoy here, so much so that you’ll find it difficult to put your controller down just to find out ‘who dannit’. The game doesn’t come without it’s negatives, as some audio issues can be a little off putting and perhaps a little more time and care visually could have really made this game stand out above the rest. Each case is lengthy, intricate and genuinely captivating which will make even the most casual of Sherlock fan intrigued from start to finish, however Holmes’ clunky movement and Watson’s ability to get in the way may also detract attention from the drama that’s unfolding. Frogwares have done a tremendous job with the Sherlock Holmes franchise and I am very excited to see what the series will bring in the future, It’s simply elementary.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.