Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments: Eyes open

September 30, 2014


Sherlock Holmes, the eccentric detective and one of the most iconic fictional characters, has seen a number of attempts at franchises based on his escapades, but few stand out as worthwhile. Frogwares’ series of titles is the most recent, delivering a more authentic Sherlock Holmes experience. Most of these titles are riddled with problems, and although each game has gotten better than the last, it was typically hard to recommend them. Understand my surprise when the newest game, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, exceeds all expectations.

Crimes and Punishments follows the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion, Dr. John Watson, as they tackle six different cases taking them all across London. There isn’t an overarching narrative or connective tissue between the cases, outside of some references here and there, but that allows each one to stand on its own. These six cases all tackle elements you come to expect if you’re at all familiar with Sherlock Holmes’ many incarnations, but they all feel fresh and never overstay their welcome.

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This is mostly due to the game’s fantastic writing. The interactions between Holmes and Watson seem like they are ripped straight out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works, and the overall structure of each case is riveting. There are moments of boredom when the plot for certain cases seems to be losing steam, but these are few and far between, and I often found myself eager to see what happens next. That is the highest compliment I can pay Crimes and Punishments: it captures the feeling of the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but with many modern-day sensibilities.

The gameplay, or at least the structure, has remained relatively unchanged from previous Frogwares efforts, but again, focusing on multiple cases allows each one to breathe without too much added filler. Crimes and Punishments features the typical investigation and puzzle-solving elements you come to expect from these games. Thankfully, Frogwares focuses less on the random puzzles this time, and more on putting you in the shoes of Holmes and his methods of deduction.

For example, when interviewing a witness or key suspect, you have the opportunity to do a character analysis based on their appearance. In these moments, you scan over the character, picking up on the important details; this allows Holmes to reasonably deduct what kind of person they are. This changes up the typical interrogations and allows you to piece together more about the person without even saying a word to them, making each interview feel less like a typical mystery and more like a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

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On top of that, when the character says something questionable, you have a chance to counter what they are saying with a piece of evidence, either one found during your investigation or based on your deduction of their character. The game is forgiving about it though, making sure you come to the same conclusion as the detective. This ruins the flow of conversations a bit, making you wish you could move on after you get it wrong. Sure, you miss a potentially important piece of evidence, but just because you’re Sherlock Holmes doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes.

Thankfully, the game is more open when it comes to your ultimate conclusion. As you gather important facts and pieces of evidence, you are given the opportunity to put the pieces together yourself and solve the mystery however you see fit. Each case has multiple endings and the game never spoon-feeds you the answers, making sure you are capable of solving the case yourself.

This means you can mess up and arrest the wrong person altogether and the game moves on without question. You can rewind if you aren’t happy with the result, but I found it more satisfying to continue without knowing if what I picked was truly correct. You can even solve a case before you even have all of the clues, giving you a chance to flex your powers of deduction without worrying about the consequences. These changes make each case more dynamic as a result.

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It wouldn’t be a Sherlock Holmes game without a decent number of puzzles to solve. As I mentioned, it’s not as puzzle-heavy as previous games have been, but it has a good number of them to keep you from getting tired of the typical investigation process. Unfortunately, many repeat themselves way too often. Just when you think you’ll never have to solve another lock picking puzzle again, the game throws three more at you. That’s not an exaggeration either.

As is custom with Frogwares’ titles, there are a decent number of technical issues as well. When in third-person view, you’ll often run into larger environments where the game’s frame rate fails to keep up with the “action.” On top of that, there are a number of audio glitches that sometimes interfered with the spoken dialogue. These issues are far from game-breaking, of course, but they popped up just often enough to be annoying.


I never thought I would say this, even as a fan of these games, but Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is an excellent entry in an otherwise-middling franchise. Even if you don’t consider yourself a huge Sherlock Holmes buff but enjoy a good adventure game, you’ll find a lot to love here, especially if you go into it knowing as little about the specific cases as possible. Hopefully this a sign that this series is finally reaching the level of quality you expect from the best Sherlock Holmes stories.

Pros: Fantastic writing, excellent pacing, open-ended cases and focus on deductions are great additions
Cons: Some repetitive puzzles, technical issues

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.