Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is an adventure game that doesn’t feel like other adventure games.
Typically, adventure games give the player several tasks: exploring the environment, gathering items, talking to NPCs, and solving puzzles. The challenge comes from the last element, solving puzzles. Sometimes, this becomes a problem. Either the solution to the puzzle makes no sense (making a moustache out of cat hair), or the puzzle itself is out of place.
Crimes and Punishments contains several of these elements. There is a fair amount of exploration and talking to NPCs (both accompanied by a sort of “Holmes vision”, triggered at the touch of a button):
However, the game contains relatively few of what I consider puzzles, and none of the traditional “use item A with item B” variety. Instead, it gives the player other things to do. Sometimes, these are simple tasks, such as scrubbing mud off a piece of evidence, or turning over and examining an item. Sometimes, it gives the player (skippable) mini-games, such as tinkering with Holmes’ chemistry kit:
On a couple of occasions, it serves up (skippable again) QTEs. In general, when confronted with one of these tasks, there’s not much doubt about what to do – although there can be doubt about how to accomplish it. What makes them interesting is what they reveal about the case.
The real challenge comes from deduction. As Holmes explores each crime scene, talks to NPCs, and completes tasks, he accumulates clues that the player must combine into theories. Ultimately, the player must decide which theory is correct:
Could that scrawny guy really be the murderer? Which of the two plausible murder methods was actually used? And what was the motive? It’s possible to get it wrong (and accuse the wrong person) – happily, as of four cases in, I’ve been correct each time1.
The beauty of the deduction system is that it integrates theme and mechanics. After all, Holmes’ job is to work out who did what (and why). Putting this in players’ hands, rather than delivering the information via cutscene, is what ultimately cements us in his role. I do think there is room to refine the earlier process of gathering evidence. Exploration can become a bit of a pixel hunt, and some of the mini-games can be pesky, prompting me to reach for a FAQ several times. This is an issue of execution, not design – the basic process of looking for clues, peering at items, and giving witnesses a once-over is appropriate to the theme. At the game’s best, one case saw me prowling up and down the crime scene, reconstructing evidence, interviewing witnesses (and assessing their reliability), and uncovering a mystery as I went. That felt like an investigation. And even the run-of-the-mill cases make me think.
With two cases left to go, I feel confident calling Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments a good, interesting adventure game. I look forward to seeing the developers iterate!
- You can confirm your guess after “solving” each case. ↩