There hasn't been that much written about Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments - in fact, so little has been said that one could almost end up thinking that the developers really wanted it to fly under the radar. Which is a shame...no, really.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments takes place in the gritty, unpolished London we've all come to associate with the Victorian era. For most of the game you're playing as Sherlock Holmes, the famous "consulting detective" from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous novels, as he takes on mysterious cases and solves riddles together with his loyal side-kick Watson and equally loyal dog, Toby.
The game is split into a total of six cases; each with their own plot-line, culprits and victims. Your goal is to find clues, interrogate suspects and, of course, sort out evidence. Once you've rounded everything up, connected your dots and come to a final conclusion, the game leaves it up to you to decide what to do about punishment — based on what you've found, will you absolve or condemn? No pressure, just know that depending on how you interpret evidence, your conclusions might vary and you could actually end up sentencing the wrong person.
The above-mentioned freedom is probably one of the most intriguing features of the game and, as the title suggests, is said to have been influenced by author Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment'. Not only do you need to take the moral stance on whether or not your accused should be sentenced in accordance with the law, but there is also the possibility that you've read something wrong and are in fact binding the wrong person to the crime.
The game actually does this really well — it serves the clues, but then leaves it up to you to connect it all. If some of the conclusions you've made in the deduction space are contradicting, you'll know, but the game won't tell you what's traditionally wrong or right (according to how the plot was designed) until you've already wrapped up the case. Even then, it gives you the choice of knowing how it all was constructed and if you were right or not. The game has you thinking. For yourself. And that's not too common in games these days.
Finding the clues you need requires interviews, crime scene investigation and sometimes also some science. There's the classic dialogue with different questions to choose from, depending on what you want to know. There's the hide-and-seek element of finding physical evidence on-site. There's also what could be described as little mini-games, to unlock leads or answer questions. "Uh-oh", you might think, "pointless mini-games within a game." But the thing is that they're not in any way intrusive — you never really feel like they;re ruining the flow. And while some are simple, others actually require some serious thought. Everything is wrapped up and balanced quite nicely throughout the game.
While Crimes and Punishments offers plenty of innovative ideas, it sadly lacks in other areas. Like the restriction of movement, for example — Sherlock can walk through bushes, but can't step through a cabbage patch. The path is clearly laid out and you can't stray from it, which sometimes means detours around areas instead of cutting straight through and when Watson moves up a little bit too close, you can find yourself stuck in a corner.
Another thing would be the graphics. Faces look good (the textures, that is), but the movement is stiff. Very stiff. Think, Red Dead Redemption. And Toby, the faithful basset hound, looks like a plastic sausage on legs at times. It's not necessarily game breaking stuff, but it is definitely noticeable, as is the voice acting, which can also feel stiff and soulless.
Developer and Sherlock license owner, Frogwares, has so far released 12(!!) Sherlock Holmes titles. But this is their first developed with the Unreal Engine and also the first undoubtedly good Holmes game. Hopefully this will give the boost needed for the franchise to take off. The creativity sure is there, now they just need to work on some of the mechanics.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is good. It's intriguing and quite easy to get swept up in. There are always things to do, and before you know it, you've spent three hours in a timespan that felt more like one. Sure, the game has issues, but they're not impossible to overlook in favour of the more thought-through aspects. Crimes & Punishments is one of the better, if not the best, Sherlock games out there, and if that's not saying much to you, it's also one of the better investigation-style games. The balance and variation of gameplay should be applauded. The developers are definitely onto something here.