Sherlock Holmes is incredibly cool. It’s strange because everything he stands for is looked down on in other circles. He’s antisocial, violent, a drug addict, a complete nerd and works for the police, but still we adore him. Why? Because he has a huge amount of power, his intelligence allows him to run rings around others and make them look ridiculous, his eccentricity just adds to his charm. Crimes and Punishments is the first Sherlock Holmes game I’ve played that gets this entirely right. From an outstanding opening to the moments where you get to decide your judgement (and it is your judgement) it never feels like anything other than a sherlock holmes story and it is immensely satisfying.
The game is split over six cases, each of which takes around three hours to complete. In each you play as Sherlock (save some brief interludes) and walk around various locations, interview witnesses, analyse evidence, solve puzzles and piece together ideas. Walking around the locations is a joy on the PS4 – they’re all beautifully created and filled with small details. It’s odd how refreshing it is to play a game based in London but the developers have really captured what we imagine Victorian England to be like. There’s a lot of invisible walls and boundaries but it serves to keep you focused in the densely packed locations.
Once you start interviewing witnesses and suspects there’s a few approaches. Before you even ask questions (or anytime during) you can look them up and down to tag little details that might help you with your answers, like some mud on the bottom of a trouser leg implying they’ve been in a garden or scars on their hands suggesting they’re clumsy. If you ask someone something and think they are lying a prompt appears and you can pick the evidence that you think proves it. If you get it wrong it’s easy to reset but if you get it right you really feel like a genius, entrapping bad guys (and occasionally innocents) in their own lies.
Evidence is handled in a variety of different ways, you can often turn objects over, look around and even open them up. Occasionally a puzzle starts which often involves aligning something. They try to make it all relevant to what you’re doing but it’s often more than a little tenuous. Thankfully with all of the quick time events and puzzles, you can simply skip them if you want by holding the clickpad down. This is a nod to the gamers who just care about the stories and shows a willingness to cater for a wide variety of audiences.
As you progress through the cases you need to piece together clues you’ve found. There’s no penalty to getting it wrong other than a red shade appearing but it’s satisfying to get it right first time. Similarly at the end of each case you can link together ideas into a hypothesis that you can then commit to to bring about the final scene. As you go on if you want you can check to see if you got the right answer and play the final scene again until you get it right, or you can simply keep going to try and keep it authentic, although this means you’ll often convict innocent men as the cases are rarely cleat-cut. You’ll normally have two or three suspects and a range of evidence and motives to support each one. Your job is to eliminate the unlikely possibilities and decide which pieces of evidence are most convincing. It’s incredibly compelling and the best part of the game by far, so it’s nice to see that if you want to be a perfectionist you can, or if you want to play it hardcore then that’s your prerogative too.
Overall Crimes and Punishments is an exceptionally pleasant surprise. It’s funny, challenging, accessible and visually impressive. The voiceovers can be a little stiff at times and some of the mini game puzzles and evidence connections feel forced (there’s often two options with ever so slight differences between them but one is wrong and one is right, seemingly at random) but these are minor problems with what is a fantastic game. This feels like a natural progression for the adventure game genre.