Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments – Preview

Title   Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments
Developer  Frogwares
Publisher  Focus Home Interactive
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Genre  Adventure
Release Date  Q1 2014
Official Site

You look around frantically, the mist ahead of you only deepening as every visible breath joins the ever-growing grey mass around you. You hear a noise behind you, but you dare not turn around. You run ahead, never wanting to confront the potential horrors that await just out of your field of vision. Soon there’s nowhere else to go, and you have no choice but to face your destiny. You pause, and slowly turn around, only to find your worst fears confirmed. “Good heavens!” The foul creature exclaims no more than a metre away from your face, manifested as if from thin air. Creepy Watson is back.

After previously developing six titles for the Sherlock Holmes franchise, it’d be all too easy to just continue with more of the same, yet developers Frogwares have instead chosen to reinvent the wheel and bring players old and new an adventure title that truly allows players to jump into the mind of the greatest detective never to wear rubber nipples and fight crime at the behest of a bat-signal. Although it’s the first entry in the series to run in the Unreal engine, the changes made to the formula will prove to be more than just skin deep.

One of the biggest changes is to the story itself, as Crimes and Punishments will no longer confine the adventure to a single case or one over-arching plot. Instead, the action is spread over several loosely-connected cases that will put Sherlock’s mental prowess to the test in a myriad of different ways. This has also allowed the developers to make the difficulty more challenging than preceding titles, as well as providing plenty of variety within the roughly fifteen hours of gameplay on display.

Our demo began with the iconic detective enjoying a fine smoke in his armchair as he starts to hear footsteps in the distance. Fans of Steven Moffat’s BBC series Sherlock will find themselves instantly familiar with what comes next, as text started appearing on the screen corresponding to Holmes’ deductive reasoning – the footsteps were heavy, indicating police shoes, but there’s only one man who skips the ninth step on the staircase, and that’s Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade.

Soon the game is afoot, and our intrepid hero sets out to investigate the murder of a man who’s been stabbed so brutally that his body still hangs on the wall of his shed. Crimes and Punishments is the first in the series to take advantage of the Unreal engine, and it’s clear to see how it pays dividends – as Holmes walks out onto Baker Street he sees a lively and bustling street before him, everybody has their own individual actions, look and behaviour, and although there’s only a brief glimpse before we move to the murder scene, it does a great job of making the world feel that much more alive.

As Sherlock arrives at the murder scene, it becomes even more evident that Frogwares are going all out with this instalment, as not only can players now seamlessly swap between a first and third-person view, but there are also more ways to decipher the clues at the crime scene. The first of these is “Sherlock Vision”, an admittedly cringe-worthy name for what is in essence a method of visualising the crime scene before it was tampered with by the murderers. As our protagonist sweeps the shed for clues, he discovers that a dusty shelf has a clean spot to one side, and with Sherlock Vision activated you see an outline of a box that could conceivably have been there, but was removed at the time of the murder. Rotating the camera will allow clues to pop up if they’re in focus, and when in third-person view this becomes the best way to investigate the clues sans popping into first-person. If players are confronted with a puzzle they can’t solve during these stages of the case, then an option to skip it will show up if you’ve spent more than five minutes trying to deduce the solution, although I’m sure that this will prevent certain achievements from being unlocked come release day.

After investigating the crime scene, we’re thrown forward to later in the case and made privy to a new feature – Sherlock can now visit the police station and interrogate suspects in the case, and this actually proved to be one of the most interesting features of the demo. Prior to questioning, players must use the legendary powers of deduction to find all the possible clues about the suspect that can help in your line of enquiry, from scuffled shoulders to fancy buttons and scars on the hands, with the questioning continuing once you’ve gathered all the clues. From there, Sherlock can also interrupt their testimony to provide evidence that contradicts their stories or leads the questioning onto a new tangent.

I actually found myself quite excited by the possibilities of this, especially as there was what appeared to be a timer to allow Sherlock only a limited amount of time to counter what they were saying, meaning that there’s more pressure to get it right, unlike LA Noire’s system of questioning where you could go and make a cup of tea while you figured out if they were lying or not. While it wasn’t present in the demo, I was also told that Sherlock can perform autopsies on the corpses himself to get an even better understanding of the case at hand, so it seems that the police are giving him carte blanche to perform his investigations in any way he sees fit.

What appeals to me most about Crimes and Punishments is how you choose to solve each case.  Cases have multiple suspects and moral choices, and this is where the potential of the latest sleuth-’em-up really appeals to me. This section is currently presented as a deduction board, although I’m told that it’ll be redone to look like brain synapses that the player has to connect to each other, and from here you have to deduce who the culprit was, what evidence proves they did it, and whether you wish to absolve or prosecute them for their actions. Rather than letting you blindly pick any combination of evidence, the synapses will break if the combination you’ve chosen doesn’t make logical sense, demonstrated by an attempt to blame one suspect for the murder despite the fact that the murder weapon would have been too heavy for them to kill someone with the amount of strength required to hurl it.

There is a definite culprit for every murder, but the chains of logic will allow you to make connections that could conceivably charge anyone with the murder, and from there, you could also choose to completely absolve them of the crime, rather than put them in jail. The ending will also be affected by whether you’ve made the right decisions and fingered the correct culprits, with a tease that you could actually ruin Sherlock’s entire reputation if you played particularly badly.

In a weird way, that teaser was what caused me to become so fascinated with Crimes and Punishments; leaving the interpretation of the clues to the players and allowing them to truly attempt to take on the guise of Holmes, rather than assuming his role as part of a story. Now there’s an opportunity to be a detective yourself and solve crimes your way, rather than just hitting the right notes until the song plays out. And as for creepy Watson? While he wasn’t in the demo, I was assured that Watson would actually take part in several cases and could act as a moral compass for some of your choices, with the option to toggle his meme-inducing ability to disappear then suddenly appear right in your face out of thin air.

Crimes and Punishments releases in the first quarter of 2014 for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 – the PS4 and Xbox One are currently being considered too. So, when Crimes and Punishments releases, we’ll not only see the dawn of a new year, but what could also be a defining re-invention of the Sherlock Holmes franchise, creepy Watson and all.

Last five articles by Edward


One Comment

  1. Lorna says:

    It will be a near-impossible task to top Testament, to be honest. The phrase re-invention makes my blood run cold, so I’ll remain quietly hopeful that this release can equal or top the previous one and not spoil what has gone before. Some of the additions sound intriguing, and almost LA Noire-esque, which makes sense for this sort of game, and the graphics look to be impressive, so fingers crossed the game will deliver. I hope that it is more than just a series of disconnected cases – the story was what helped make the last game. Much to worry about here, but hopefully all will work out well.

Leave a Comment