‘Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments’ (2014) review: Infuriating logic

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Latest ‘Sherlock Holmes’ game an acquired taste

Video games tend to shower you with information in a slew of different ways, all in the (mostly) vain attempt to point you in the right direction, to help you solve the game’s mysteries, without actually doing it for you. Most games are fairly linear in nature, given you some option in how you go about proceeding, but generally moving you along the way it wants you.

Not so much in the latest addition to Frogwares’ series, “Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments.” It’s true each of the game’s six mysteries kicks off the same way: Some type of crime is committed, and it’s up to our world-famous sleuth and his always helpful sidekick, Dr. John Watson, to save the day. How you go about doing so, though, is almost completely up to you.

The game’s premise is brilliantly simple: You advance along the storyline for each of the well-written mysteries through in a fairly linear fashion, visiting different areas of London and its surround areas, collecting clues and interviewing witness and possible suspects; however, what clues you find, what people you interview and what deductions you’re able to imagine vary drastically on how you play the game. It’s not so much a case of working your way through a case that only has one right answer so much as creating a storyline out of the clues you find and deciding how you want to proceed. Each clue you find, each interview you conduct, adds to a growing web, one from which you’ll eventually decide who’s at fault for each of the crimes that happen throughout the game.

And by the way, you can totally screw up the ending to each mystery — without ever knowing it, if you so choose. Well, let’s qualify that: It’s not that you don’t progress or get a game over or anything like that. Rather, as your mental web of clues expands, you’ll find yourself with more and more options of what could have happened — or not. It depends on how thorough you are and how you decide to link the numerous pieces together. And, as is the norm with a Sherlock Holmes mystery, the person you turns out to be responsible generally isn’t the one you first suspected (or even the second or third).

When you do finally pin the person you think is responsible for each crime, your job isn’t quite done. Each choice of culpability comes with a moral choice, as well. You can see the rationale behind why the person may have committed the crime and basically pardon them. Or you can throw them in jail. The decision doesn’t really change much, but it may ease a guilty conscience if you happen to choose the wrong guy. (At the end of each mystery, you can see if you made the right choice, but it’s obscured to begin with so you don’t have to see it if you don’t want to.)

Each mystery will take some consider attention, demanding you travel to multiple locations several times to unearth new clues or to learn new information that will shed more light on the murders. Most of the clues and puzzles can be deciphered without too much difficulty, but some others will push you to your solving capability, maddeningly at times. You do get the option to skip over some of the more complicated ones, though, which is a nice ability.

A note of disharmony: While solving each mystery does forward you into the next one, they’re actually all individual storylines, lacking any real connection between the six of them. There isn’t any grander scheme, any devious machinations stringing the mysteries together. It feels as if you’re playing six different mini-games in the context of a larger game.

Running on the Unreal Engine 3, “Crimes and Punishments” looks absolutely stellar. From the integrated action sequences to the impressive visual landscapes, the game handles better than previous “Sherlock” games I’ve played. The mechanics are simple enough (I played on PC using an Xbox One controller) once you get the hang of them. You can explore in first or third person, and the clues and other objects of interest are visually marked. Holmes also comes equipped with a “six sense,” if you will, which allows him to piece together different clues to recreate various scenes.

In the end, “Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments” shows that it’s a dangerous time to live in Britain. But don’t worry: Holmes is here to solve these riveting mysteries with all the charm and intellect you’ve come to expect from the famous sleuth. Looking fantastic with its upgraded graphics, the intriguing and complex mysteries (combined with solid voice-acting) will keep you working on them late into the night. Just remember: Go with your instinct; it’s generally right on the money.

Four “Wait, it wasn’t him?!” stars out of five.

Editor’s note: This version of “Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments,” reviewed on PC, was provided courtesy of Frogwares Studios.

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Above, a still from "Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments." (Photo credit: Focus)

Above, a still from “Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments.” (Photo credit: Focus)

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