When we investigated The Testament of Sherlock Holmes two years ago, we found the adventure entertaining, despite some weaknesses. Crimes & Punishments offers yet another different slant on the character at the same time as introducing a few new gameplay features.
The most important thing to note is that Ukrainian developer Frogwares continues to employ a wide variety of game mechanics in order to avoid the repetitive nature that so often plagues these sorts of adventure games. It lets us concentrate on enjoying the investigation at hand.
This newer Sherlock is a bit cooler and more sympathetic than the Holmes of old, while his brother Mycroft is integrated into the adventure, and the pair's relationship is similar to that in the recent adaptation of the same characters in the outstanding BBC series. Despite the inclusion of this dynamic, Frogwares is offering us their own take on both the famous detective, and the stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle that underpin the game.
Because a modern adventure needs a modern hero, we're given both an adventure and a hero that are neither bleak nor boring - our main criticisms of the last game. It's just a pity that this time Dr. Watson is pushed into the background as much as he is, and because of the episodic structure, we're given only small chunks of gameplay, and so the game lacks a sense of being one big narrative. Similarly, the illusion of being an open world from the last game worked better than it does in the smaller locations found here; we're regularly confronted by invisible walls.
Likewise we're ambivalent towards the new investigative techniques, such as checking out the person in front of us and searching for special attributes. Knowledge gleaned this way is then used in subsequent conversations, as Holmes tries to intimidate or draw the person out of their shell. Finding someone's weakness is very simple, and even though it's not particularly demanding, it fits perfectly into the style of detective work expected from the iconic character.
Yet this analysis of character is but one part of the evidence we need to accrue before we can begin our interrogations. Yet even further evidence is easily acquired, as Holmes comes with a sixth sense that can let him scan the environment and pick up on what would be otherwise hidden to normal eyes. Again, it won't tax the brain, but there's plenty of variety here to maintain a budding sleuth's interest.
The decision making system is better. As we collect information, we can create links between pieces of evidence, and draw conclusions from that. If we want to come to a conclusion, it's not necessary to find all of the evidence. It's even possible to make a wrong choice. That said, at some points it becomes too easy to see the limitations of these game mechanics, at times Frogwares tries to make you think that anything is possible, that it's a wide-open case, but usually it's not. It can be too straightforward.
The six investigations offered in Crimes & Punishments are only loosely linked, so there's no major consequences if we make ill-considered deductions and accuse someone wrongly. After doing just that, we're treated to a concluding scene that shows the fallout of our accusations, though we're offered a reprieve and are allowed to fix our mistakes directly after, if the ending doesn't suit us.
Our impression is that the game seems slightly undercooked, as if grappling with the new tech, multiple formats, and fresh gameplay mechanics took up too much of the allotted development time, and as such the game's not as deep or rich as it could have been, even if the characters are well-rounded and fleshed out.
As the game's been built using Unreal Engine 3, there's a massive upscale in terms of visuals this time round, though the character animations are still very weak.
Despite these issues though, our time spent with the game was entertaining enough, and the different cases managed to maintain a level of tension throughout. Here's hoping with these new foundations under them, Frogwares can continue building on their new Sherlock Holmes - there's enough here for this to end up being a strong opening chapter for them.