The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series
developed by Frogwares has been going on for more than a decade now. It’s had its ups and downs, but the general tendency was upwards. After Frogwares reached their peak in the previous game, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes
, they decided it was time for a general refurbishment of the series. So they picked the last two games and put them into a mixer, along with The Walking Dead
(by Telltale), The Cave
and L.A. Noire
. Can the result live up to this legacy? If you bear with me for a moment, then I will tell you.
The first choice by Frogware was to ditch their in-house engine for the Unreal Engine 3. The result is jaw-dropping graphics. I was really astonished. Take a look at the user screenshots, this is the best-looking adventure game I have played so far.
However, the advertising screenshots and videos are slightly misleading. With two exceptions, all the locations are quite depopulated.
The second choice was to switch to an episodic model like The Walking Dead
and other games, except that the six episodes were all released at once and are almost completely disconnected from each other, so there isn’t really such a thing as a progressive storyline. However, the game fits into the canon of the series.
Frankly, with the episodic model and a storyline unclosed because it was never really opened, the game has this smell of possible upcoming DLC about it. I wouldn't be surprised at all if one or two DLC episodes popped up.
Individually, the six episodes are like well-written short stories. The cases are interesting and well-written, conceivable and logically constructed with some very neat ideas and quite unusual locations. But only the last episode has something that resembles a progressing story, the other cases consist of little more than the whodunit.
There also is a moral choice aspect which is misunderstood by many critics. It is not a moral choice system in the sense of The Walking Dead, but more in the sense of The Cave
. The Cave
had a moral choice aspect you might ask? Well, for each character there was a bad ending and a hidden good ending, go look it up. Which ending you got hinged entirely upon a decision at the very end of the game. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
is similar. For each case, there are between three and six possible conclusions. You can pick one and choose if you want to punish the prosecuted party with the full force of the law or if you want to handle the case more softly. And after you watched/played your particular ending sequence, a very bright design choice comes to life: you can return to the point of your choice and try another ending. So unlike other games with moral choice systems which have to be played multiple times, you only need to play the game once and may see all the possible endings in a single playthrough.
But as we have learned half a year ago from NOCLIP – The Game
(also known as Murdered: Soul Suspect
, read my review
), good graphics with the Unreal Engine and a decent story cannot hold up a game if the gameplay almost completely sucks. Be relieved, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
does not make the same mistake.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is not exactly a Point-and-Click adventure. You investigate the crime scenes and look for clues. Many of them are tied to minigames, most of which are skippable. You also collect items and information and talk to witnesses and suspects. Occasionally you will catch someone in a lie and have to present evidence of the lie, just like L.A. Noire
The clues you found are presented on the very fancy deduction screen, where you have to combine them into facts. And out of the facts, you draw conclusions. This game mechanic has replaced the inventory puzzles.
The aforementioned jaw-dropping graphics come at a price, and that price is loading times. The game needs to load for quite a while between every single scene transition (and there are many of them), so Frogwares made that commute less dull by A) making this particular loading screen not look boring after five seconds and B) letting you consult your notes and the deduction screen.
But the game also loads briefly before every dialogue and before many of the minigames and QTE-scenes, which messes with the pacing when the bad guy draws a gun and you are supposed to resolve this situation in a QTE, but inbetween you have to stare at a black screen with a spinning circle for fifteen seconds.
Other than that, the game flow works very well. You can always look up what tasks are left to do, so you never really get stuck and there is little reason to consult a walkthrough. Maybe it has become a little too easy, but the challenge lies in finding the correct conclusion.
Concerning the playability, I have been playing the release version and found a couple of minor glitches, but nothing remotely significant or gamebreaking. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
introduces many new
borrowed ideas, but only few of them can unfold to their potential. It is not without criticism and some of its potential is lost. The game took a step back from classic Point-and-Click adventures and made a step towards interactive movies, but without falling into the pit of irrelevant gameplay like NOCLIP - The Game
, which I mentioned earlier. This time, I can recommend to actually play the game instead of just watching a walkthrough. And given the length and the very good quality of the game, I would say that the experience was worth 40€.