Sherlock Holmes, possibly one of the greatest literary figures ever, also makes a fairly enjoyable video game. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, a title so epic that it needed to refer to two great works of literature instead of one. While I am familiar with Sherlock Holmes from books and of course the movie, in which Holmes is played by Iron Man, seeing him portrayed in a game is new to me. Although, in my arduous studies of the wiki page I found that the developer Frogware has put out a number of Sherlock Holmes games. Having some sort of monopoly on his likeness, like Coke owns Santa or polar bears. I thought this was odd until I noticed that most of them were on the PC and since my PC is primarily used for Youtube, Netflix and wank material I guess it makes sense I wouldn’t know any others.
I am glad to say that Holmes makes the transition fairly well though. The game is a true representation of the original Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Doyle. Portrayed as the intellectual detective he is with little interest in anything that doesn’t challenge him. His dry wit and humorous interactions with other characters really elevates the game to a more sophisticated level of dialogue. Since the camera can be in either 3rd or 1st person you can really get a feel for being Holmes. I have always felt a kind of connection to Holmes myself; especially in the way we both find anything remotely female to be rather bewildering.
The game itself is broken up into six loosely tied together cases, most of which deal with a murder and theft of some sort, following the tradition of Doyle’s work. They even left out the ‘Elementary, dear Watson’ which was never actually used in any of the original stories, see you learned something by reading this review. It also pays homage towards a number of other lesser known characters, such as the Baker Street Irregulars and Holmes’s brother Mycroft. I can’t help but feel that the movie version of Mycroft was more accurate but since he only appears twice I guess it doesn’t matter so much. Now that this episode of Reading Rainbow is over let’s get to the actual game.
The majority of game play involves going around various crime scenes and finding all the clues. Then you rub those clues together until a logical conclusion pops out, which can lead to either more clues or a murderer. It even comes with its own version of batman vision but with fewer skeletons, that the game has dubbed ‘Sherlock vision’. Instead of high tech gadgets it just seems like Sherlock is squinting really hard at things. Pushing old ladies aside as he stares really intently at a broken pot going ‘I’m doing science stuff so hard right now’. The need for this mechanic seems really arbitrary, except to feel more like a batman game. Since most of the special clues you need Sherlock vision for are mostly visible without it, Sherlock vision becomes more of nothing. Since there are so few special clues though and the game tells you when one is near there is not much need for it to be on very often. Unlike batman, where you might as well play the entire game in x-ray vision and role-play as a character from The Corpse Bride.
Much like LA Noire many of the clues are items you find at each crime scene or testimony you take from characters involved with the crime. Similar to LA Noire, many of these clues can be tested or researched further to provide even better deductions. These test amount to mini games, of which there are a good few with very little repeating. Such as a test I found very interesting where you had to combine three plants together in a way where the reaction would kill a man. The lock picking sections are the only real mini games that repeat, they operate the same but get progressively complex, not just harder.
Where Holmes really starts to break away from LA Noire though is in the deduction phase. Putting clues together can lead to deductions and then those deductions can be paired together. If you pair together enough corresponding deductions a conclusion will pop out. Of course any deductions that run contrary to each other will not produce anything. In each case there are three to six conclusions with only one being the correct conclusion. So depending on how you put deductions together it is possible to come up with the wrong suspect. This also means that each case has a variety of different endings. Unless you reach the correct conclusion though they are all pretty much the same, which is kind of a letdown.
There is also a moral choice system, another mechanic that feels as though it is now a permanent part of the How to Make a Video Game 101 manual. In Holmes case though it actually makes sense and since it only affects the case you are currently finishing it doesn’t require you to replay the entire game for a different ending. Such as one ending where the evidence suggested that the murderer acted mostly out of self-defense. I was given the choice to have him hanged or to let him go free and cover his tracks, since Holmes word is law apparently. There is also a bonus scene at the end with the Merry Men, a group mentioned maybe twice in the whole game, where you make your ultimate choice. This provides an interesting moral dilemma for the player, whether to be known as the mad executioner or the reincarnation of Christ. However, many of these moral choices seem fairly obvious, except to the most black hearted of GTA players. After making your choice though the game gives you the option to see if you were correct or not. Then you are able to go back and get a different ending, an easy way to see all the possible endings in a single play through of each case.
The other way Sherlock Holmes really breaks away from other ‘find the clue and solve the case’ games is that the conclusions actually make sense. If you compare it to a similar game like LA Noire it is fairly obvious that Sherlock Holmes has far less in plot, mechanics, open world, cases and so on. Being smaller and more compact isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. As long as a game makes use of everything it has in a good way there is nothing wrong with it. Like Portal which had a simple premise but used great wit and great mechanics to become the biggest thing since the wheel. Or unlike The Order: 1886 which was small and just screwed everything else up from there.
At least in Sherlock Holmes when I accuse someone of being a murderer I know that the evidence supports me and makes sense. Unlike LA Noire where I spent all of the murder cases getting frustrated because the game told me I accused the wrong person every time. Then in the end I found out I was right all along and the evidence I had found was absolutely meaningless. Sherlock also doesn’t make me rub items together in a way only the most absurd crack addict could figure out, like your Monkey Island. Since such things are obviously below a man of his stature but not enough so where he can’t cover Watson in worms apparently.
The graphics in this game are probably the weakest point. This seemed odd because the developers were going on about how they made this game on a new engine and it was far superior to previous games. I can only imagine that the previous games had the same graphic level as a N64 game. It doesn’t feel like a next gen game, my version on the PS4 screamed dark and gritty realism but as soon as I moved close to anything it looked like so much wall paper. Such as a section where I had to do an autopsy to find the cause of death and all of the internal organs looked and handled like big pieces of shiny plastic. You can customize your character to a minimal extent as well but this generally makes his appearance even more unnatural. It is used twice as a way to disguise Holmes but has little use beyond that.
Characters also went for the realistic look but appear so blocky and unnatural they might as well gone with the original Watson, who only moved when you weren’t looking at him. A similar situation I imagine if Holmes was Italian and Watson was actually a ghost. NPC’s also do the LA Noire thing where they wiggle about and their eyes spin in their sockets like some Exorcist remake when you interrogate them. I’m not sure if I was supposed to use this the same way you do in LA Noire but it never really seemed to matter, the evidence generally made it clear if they were lying or not anyways. There isn’t much variety to the levels either. Most of which either take place in Scotland Yard, a house or a yard, and since they all look the same they might as well have used copy and paste to design them. There was one case that started in a Roman bath house which was a nice change of pace. Then it quickly turned into a hunt through an archeological site and turned into every other action adventure game ever.
What is the other problem with this game? Put simply, it is way too damn easy. I pride myself on my ability to figure out any plot before the half way point. In most the cases in Sherlock Holmes though I basically figured out the conclusion right out of the starting gate. When I play as Sherlock Holmes I want to be challenged intellectually, not just find all the clues to support a conclusion I already know. The game feels way to linear for a mystery game. Yes you have to go back and forth a lot to find new evidence and re-question someone but that is just busy work, the main path is still straight forward. All of the cases have some sort of factor to try and throw you off but it doesn’t take too long to figure that out either.
The game tells you when you have obtained all the clues. So if you paid attention at all it should be fairly obvious who the culprit is by the end of each case. If you just play a case to the end, instead of giving up and calling it early like the laziest bastard on the planet, the case solves itself for you. Something most of the world seems to think would entice Americans the most it seems. Frankly I was more confused how someone could come to the wrong conclusion; common sense alone should make most endings obviously wrong. Like a ‘connect the dot’ game where the final picture is a straight line. Two of the cases solve this problem really well actually. In both cases it was obvious who the murderer was but not how they killed the victim, making it difficult to reach a final conclusion. Such as one case where you have to find out what the murder weapon was made of. It was a challenge to figure out and I actually had to go back through my evidence to find an answer.
If you want to make logical deductions as a great literary figure, this game is for you. If you are looking for an intellectual challenge, not so much. If you can’t jerk off to any game with graphics less than The Last of Us, you are playing the wrong sport. If you are looking for something simple, new and fun to play you should really check this out. My only real disappointment with this game is that they did not include at least one case with Moriarty. I feel like having a Sherlock game without even a mention of his greatest opponent is missing the target a bit. Since Moriarty only ever appears in a small number of the original works though I guess it makes sense. My last small gripe is with the box art. The picture has nothing to do with the game and only makes the person buying it think the game is more action packed than it is. Beyond the opening scene Holmes never uses a gun and never against another person. In conclusion, if you enjoy doing puzzle books with half of the puzzles already done this is the game for you, you very special person.