Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments Review


Developer: Frogwares

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360

Release Date: September 30th

Putting the player in the shoes of Sherlock Holmes, literature’s greatest detective, just makes too much sense for an adventure game. Crimes and Punishments attempts to do just that amicably by having players solve six gruesome cases, each with its own multitude of possible suspects and enigmatic endings. In Frogwares’ 7th entry in the series, Sherlock Holmes breaks into new ground by having the titular character act as “the decider;” pursuing criminal justice or absolving the guilty party of their faults for each case. The change is welcomed, but it may also come at a cost.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments places you and your humble abode on Baker Street in 19th Century London. Thrust into a new mystery either by police intervention or by circumstance, you, Watson, Toby and the occasional drop-in of Wiggins help solve some of the most gruesome murders known to man. In allegiance to the books, Crimes and Punishments paints Sherlock in a very studious light, always prepared and knowledgeable about his surroundings and the people he meets. The rest of the crime-solving process is up to you.

Crimes and Punishments runs on a system of possible deductions based on the clues you gather. You can enter either third or first person mode as you click on objects near the scene of a crime, which generally lead you to a series of other possible follow ups, puzzles or analysis tests. Sherlock always has the ability to run tests at his at-home lab, or look up crucial information in his encyclopedias, newspapers or research papers. Furthermore, you may even have to dress up (or down) to get access into a place you need to investigate in order to blend in with the characters you need to interact with.

Even with all the clues, it takes the player to bring it together. Sherlock Holmes’ keen eye can spot small details missing or altered at a scene, allowing you to spot hidden clues. Additionally, a new “Imagination” mechanic lets you visualize key aspects of a case based on the clues you gathered to determine the order of events, which aid your search for motives and contradictions in witnesses’ testimonies. One can also use Sherlock’s attention to detail to observe an NPC’s body to learn any clues necessary about each character’s personality and background. Finally, it all comes together when the player pieces together clues to form trails of thought visualized by nerves and grey matter in the detective’s brain. Following a certain logical path requires corroborating statements and theories together to name one of multiple possible guilty parties.

Crimes and Punishments‘ cases are exceptional; Crimes and Punishments, overall, feels incomplete.

This is where the biggest thematic change that comes new with Crimes and Punishments; a subtle morality choice that affects the outcome of each case. No longer does a Sherlock Holmes game focus on an ongoing case with one objective party, but focuses more on how your choices affect the lives of others. There are, technically, “correct” ways to solve each case, and each of them are easy to find if you follow what the game is telling you closely enough, but how you solve each crime and how you provide a punishment is up to the player. Will you play Sherlock as a cold, calculating servant of justice, or will you let guilty criminals go in order to do what you think is morally correct?

And that is what makes Crimes and Punishments so special; its moral and ethical dilemmas. There were certain cases were I felt that the killer was wronged by fate, where other cases it felt like it was necessary for them to see prison time. It makes sense that you take out the big fries and let sleeping dogs lie, to me. People who stick to “the book” or a “moral code” strictly often end up in dire circumstances, and the fluidity of what’s right and wrong brings substance to a game where you act as judge, jury and (possible) executioner. Plus, before moving on, you have the option to at least check out each scenario as it unfolds, and each one feels justified in its focus and attention.

The settings you visit as Sherlock and Watson are nothing short of remarkable. Despite being places in a very specific setting in 19th Century London, Crimes and Punishments offers a varying assortment of gorgeous backdrops. A bath house doesn’t sound as pleasant at first glance, but once you see the Roman Frigidarium with its refined statues and ornate decorations you’ll often find yourself pausing to take in the surroundings. A grizzly double murder feels as cold and gruesome as the dark back-alley cobblestone on which the bodies lie. Along with a tempered musical score that brilliantly complements the scene, the visited locales become as much of a character to the story as the people themselves.

As Frogwares makes the jump to Unreal Engine 3, however, there are still some issues involved in the process. In the larger areas of the game, graphical pop-in is apparent at a very close draw distance. As brilliant and real-to-life as the character models for Crimes and Punishments are, there are also stark differences between background textures and the interactive NPC’s. Toby, Sherlock Holmes’ dog, has the legs of a PS2 creature at certain angles, especially when riding in a cab. As possible future entries are submitted and the developers have more time with the engine, the hope is that all aspects of the game can be as graphically stunning as its best features.

Crimes and Punishments took a risk when it came to their 6-cases approach, as it allows the player to jump from place to place to freshen things up. However, I found it did so to the detriment of an overarching story. You begin the game as Watson hiding behind furniture as Sherlock shoots at pots while blindfolded. Not 2 minutes later, in comes Inspector Lestrade to give you the first case. There’s little “downtime” in Crimes and Punishments between cases, which can be a good thing in a regular adventure game. However, because of the depth behind the characters like Sherlock, Watson, Wiggins, Lestrade, Mycroft and others have, historically, the game’s narrative is decidedly weak.

Sherlock Holmes is a decidedly cunning man, with the dry wit and smarts that only aid his charm. The way each case sets up, the focus mainly exists on him solving the crime, not the stories nor the reasoning behind each character’s actions. There’s no match for him, not even Watson. Most of the fun in the gameplay relies on the interaction and thrilling conclusions brought forth by the results. The actual process in solving each crime, however, inevitably dulls down. The game, with no difficulty or HUD options, more or less guides you down the path towards the “correct” answer. Prompts will tell you what to look for next in the case, where to go and when to use your crime-solving “powers.”

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It’s not exceptionally easy to solve every puzzle, but it takes an attentive player to follow the train of thought. I guessed each case’s guilty party correctly on my first try, yet it didn’t feel like an accomplishment. There were no “Eureka!” moments in

Crimes and Punishments,

where you could solve the case using calculated thought. It’s fine for an adventure game to lead the way;

The Walking Dead

benefits greatly from its morality-driven adventures. However, when the game surrounds the adventures of the most brilliant man in 19th Century England, you shouldn’t have to feel smart only after solving complicated minigame puzzles. Or, at the very least, there should be a crafted narrative that fits the story as a whole.

Crimes and Punishments

‘ cases are exceptional;

Crimes and Punishments,

overall, feels incomplete.


If you’re looking for a game that oozes Victorian-era British settings and an intuitive moral gameplay system surrounding your choices and hand-holding deduction skills, then Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is the game for you. Playing a case or two in one setting is the perfect amount of time the capture the heart and essence of the murder-mystery title, as each case proves to be as unique and memorable in its own right. If you find yourself someone who wants to solve a crime by themselves and without an overzealous HUD prompt system that leaves a trail of crumbs from beginning to end, you may not appreciate what this has to offer. The heart of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work is at the core of Crimes and Punishments, and Sherlock Holmes stays true to his namesake. The only downfall is that he may not be two steps ahead of you anymore.

(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)