A good mystery is always welcome to those who like a challenge. When it comes to mysteries, there is no detective more iconic than Sherlock Holmes. He has the brains, skills, tools, money, and experience to solve problems that confound even the most veteran of police. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments allows players to take on the role of Sherlock and put his unparalleled deductive abilities to use in several unique cases. Although the players get to use the resources of Sherlock, will they get the full experience of being Sherlock Holmes?
With Holmes’s genius comes eccentricity. Players quickly learn this when they are introduced to the interface of the game. Their first objective is to dodge between areas of cover while Sherlock, blindfolded, randomly shoots at a newly gifted vase collection. The bullet-riddled décor places the setting in the late 19th century. The clean yet cluttered apartment is home to the player’s more unique tools, such as a laboratory, a newspaper and book archive, and a trusty bloodhound. With the introduction to Holmes and his apartment out of the way, it is not long before Scotland Yard comes knocking – time to solve another murder. The developers could have taken every opportunity to use this introductory scene for a full-blown tutorial to assist the player in all facets of the game, but instead chose to hit the ground running with very little instruction. (More instruction is given as you go, but be careful not to miss it.)
At the scene of the crime, players will find that Sherlock is playable in either first or third person views. It is worthwhile to note that Sherlock has a very sprightly walk, so turning him around corners may end up being a tad sharper than expected. Tips and abilities will appear as the player explores the scene. One option allows the player to exploit Sherlock’s eye for detail to help him pick up vital information that other people tend to overlook. This is similar to Batman’s detective mode, only more limited by the fact that it is only useful in certain places of the game. It is a shame that this feature is not more freely useful to the player. The Inspector of Scotland Yard will provide the preliminary details of the case after the player has walked (or attempted to walk) around the area in question. The victim’s name is Black Peter; his wife is standing a short distance away from the scene in disbelief, although she doesn’t seem to be overly distraught at her husband’s passing. Speaking to her introduces the player to Holmes’s people-observation mode for the first time, allowing him to relay, in detail, what he notices about each person. Completing this activity will open some dialogue options as long as the right things are noticed. This skill is especially useful in catching witnesses lying.
The game itself doesn’t force the character to find every clue in the game. On the other hand, the more clues the player finds, the more deductions Sherlock can make. (Not to mention, achievements are earned whenever players find all clues.) Sherlock’s deductions are made when the player combines two key facts that have been gathered to form a conclusion. The deductions are visualized on a neural map, which resembles neural pathways of the brain. Inside the neural map, players will be prompted to choose between two possible deductions. For instance, if Sherlock finds that a suspect is covered in blood, he can either conclude that the suspect is guilty of murder or that the suspect happened upon the body after the fact. (This is where finding other clues will assist the player.) The conclusions that the player makes will combine together and lead to a possible solution to the crime. Players should be careful not to settle on the first conclusion, however. By playing around with the deductions and changing what Sherlock concludes, new resolutions appear. This is where the player ultimately decides what happened; the game allows players a real opportunity to play sleuth by requiring them to analyze the clues, listen to Sherlock’s input, and pay close attention to detail. The players can reference the in-game journal to assist them. It is a very powerful tool in that it records every detail of the case that Sherlock has come across in his investigation. Once the crime is solved, the player’s job is not done. The player will also have to make a moral choice, to either convict or acquit the criminal based on the criminal’s motive and circumstances. The player’s decision determines Sherlock’s reputation.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments includes several mini-games that contribute to the game’s unique style of play. Players will find themselves participating in experiments in which they throw spears at pigs, fit together a plaster mold, or mix the correct chemicals. Finding one’s way through a precarious temple is also required, should the player wish to collect more clues in a certain case. The game even allows players to take a turn as Watson or Sherlock’s trusty bloodhound Toby, who gets to sniff out vital clues.
The game includes some entertaining extras, such as a look-a-like cameo appearance by John Goodman and chances to joke at Watson’s expense.
All in all, the game provides a fun experience that allows the player a look inside the head of Sherlock Holmes. But even with Sherlock’s expertise, the player is still the ultimate judge of how the case ends, both from a moral and logical standpoint. The game’s only flaws lie within the oversensitive controls, the underdeveloped tutorial, and some of the repetitive puzzles (e.g. lockpicking). The first two have lingering effects that carry through a significant portion of the game. The latter carries through the entire. These faults are easily drowned out by all of the other positive aspects of the game.