By his very nature, Sherlock Holmes is a confident character who is sure of his ability to get the job done. Whether you share the same confidence remains to be seen. For the first time in the franchise's history, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments Achievements is giving players a chance to get it wrong. No longer are you simply replaying the case as it unfolds; you get to make the conclusions from the evidence that you have gathered. Will you get it right? More to the point, did Frogwares get it right with their latest title?
Crimes & Punishments is a title that has eschewed a lengthy story in favour of six shorter independent cases, each of which will take between 2-3 hours to complete. While each case will grab your attention and hold it for its entire duration, they do tend to become forgettable once they are over. Two years after playing The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Achievements, I could still recall the name of Holmes' bloodhound as soon as he reappeared in this title. Mere hours after completion, the same cannot be said for the characters that I met in this title. You barely get the chance to get to know the game's characters, with the exception of those in the recurring supporting roles: faithful sidekick Doctor Watson, Detective Inspector Lestrade and informant Wiggins.
Despite the impression that you may have gathered from the many trailers that have been released over the past few months, Crimes & Punishments is still very much a point-and-click title. Any action sequences are represented by Quick Time Events, but these are few and far between. There are, however, several new game mechanics that improve on the typical Sherlock formula to which we have become accustomed. Within the game's first cutscene you get a brief look at one of the new gameplay mechanics. Clues appear around Sherlock's head as he tries to deduct who is coming up the stairs of 221B Baker Street, to the point where you expect the camera to pan around to Benedict Cumberbatch standing in his living room. The influence of the recent Sherlock TV series is obvious in the new Focus mode where players use to concentrate on a specific area, which will then lead to the discovery of a clue that wasn't obviously apparent to the naked eye. Don't panic — exploration is still a key part of the title and few clues are handed to you on a plate. The game's logbook contains objectives that tell you which areas still need to be searched and, when all of the clues are found, these are updated so that you know that you have to move on. The chances of you unintentionally missing something important are much smaller than before.
As clues are found, they are entered into the inventory where an icon will appear if further action is needed, be it research in the archives or an experiment that needs performing. Occasionally Sherlock will also need to use his Imagination where pressing will trigger an action replay of an event. Originally his imagination is just used to visualise a potential clue but, as the game progresses, players will need to use Sherlock's imagination to piece together events that have happened in the past so that more clues can be found. The puzzles range in difficulty from those that merely require players to go through the motions to those that require a little more thought, but all can be done without the need to dive for a guide. If you are struggling, there is the option to skip the puzzle. However, skipping too many will mean that you won't be able to earn all of the game's achievements.
The real challenge comes with the new deduction boards. When an important clue is found, a statement is added to the deduction board. Each correctly matched pair of statements results in a deduction that can be used to form a conclusion to the case. The catch is that each case has up to six possible conclusions, so the potential to get it wrong is high. Each case will happily lull you into a sense of security so that you feel like you're on the right track, before throwing a piece of evidence at you that seemingly blows the case wide open. There is an immense amount of satisfaction that arises from reaching the correct conclusion and I challenge anybody not to return to the case to keep trying until they get the correct conclusion, especially as there is an achievement for it.
Speaking of achievements, the chance to form your own conclusion means that the game's list contains a mix of unmissable and missable achievements. The vast majority of these will not prove to be too much of a challenge with the exception of the achievement for reaching all of the conclusions in the game. Done without a guide, this will keep you replaying cases over and over until you find the one deduction that you had missed. This is not necessarily the easy 1000G that you had envisioned.
As well as the gameplay changes, the step up to the latest generation of consoles has meant that Frogwares has moved away from their own game engine and over to Unreal Engine 3. The improvement in graphics is obvious. Gone are the texture box outlines around scenery. Gone is the hopeless lip-syncing for the game's characters. Pop-up also makes a welcome disappearance, although players will notice Holmes jerking around if they try to move while the game's autosave is at work for a brief few seconds. Some people may notice that Holmes has a slightly more modern appearance, although players can easily alter his outfit and facial appearance just minutes into the first case if it isn't to their liking.
The game's soundtrack has also had an upgrade. Unlike in previous titles, you wouldn't know that the developer's native language is not English unless I told you so. The voice acting is flawless for the characters that take on the cases' main roles, although you will wish for a little more variety in the vocabulary of the other NPCs when the umpteenth policeman has addressed you with a polite "Mr Holmes". The subtitles are also much improved. The whole game just doesn't appear to be as clunky.
At the end of the day, Frogwares has made what is its most competent Sherlock Holmes title yet. Point and click titles are sorely under-represented on consoles and fanatics won't be disappointed with this instalment. It's just a shame that, unlike the game's predecessors, the lack of a substantial story won't leave gamers with a lasting impression.
The reviewer spent approximately 16 hours completing the campaign for the first time. This earned her 23 of the game's 25 achievements. The reviewer then spent three more days trying to get the final two achievements — a task that she only managed this morning. Her husband is grateful for the fact that there will be no more swearing. This review is based on a pre-release, new gen version of the game that was provided courtesy of the publisher.