Over the last few weeks, we’ve been discussing adventure games and one of the things I’ve noticed is the lack of violence in most of them. This thought popped into my head and was almost immediately disproved by the other side of my own personality. Pshaw! Of course there’s violence in Adventure games; just look at Sherlock Holmes games. Oh yeah, duh, that’s absolutely true, said that side of my brain. Yet, I argued back, you’re not actually the one committing the violent acts, are you? No, you’re investigating them. And so my internal monologue felt settled. But my brain wasn’t done and pointed out that in Sherlock Holmes Vs. Jack the Ripper you actually have to think through the crimes to such an extent that I was using a statue in my house to try to envision how certain acts were committed. After all, you are investigating some brutal real-life murders. I had to go through facts systematically which was both rewarding but also quite challenging.
The problem with most of these games is that they are all scripted and there is a right and wrong solution to them. If I don’t find a given clue, the game won’t advance, and that was why I fell out of love with adventure gaming; sooner or later you’re missing something and you have to resort to a walkthrough to figure out what you missed. I mean, that’s the nature of the game style so perhaps it isn’t fair of me to say “the problem”. But Crimes and Punishment has a solution for that: detective vision! Back when I played Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, I remember being stuck looking for something on-screen moving the mouse over every possible pixel until it changed; in one fell swoop it turned me off to a game that mixed Holmes with Cthulhu; an idea I typically love. Detective Vision (I confess I can’t recall if that was what it was actually called in game, but it seems to work for me) highlights key items allowing you to investigate without pixel hunting.
The game is broken out into 6 chapters and for better or worse, two of them are based on known stories from the canon. Black Peter and Abbey Grange are very recognizable, so much so that the latter had me staggering because I had just recently watched the episode. Mind you, as a fan, I was not put off by this but it would have been nice to have new adventures. Also of mixed feeling is the fact that each of these stories is a stand-alone one; there’s no arc to the game. However, it’s great looking and each game Frogwares released got progressively better (until the last one, The Devil’s Daughter which I felt went in a totally wrong direction – more on that if I decide to replay it but I make no guarantees.) Where the game succeeds with the characters is that they are very much those characters we know and love. Watson is recognizably Watson (and very reminiscent in appearance to the outstanding Granada television version as portrayed by David Burke) and Holmes is knowingly Holmes. (Trust me, that sounds like something that should go without saying but it’s not!) This is especially fun if you’ve played the other games in the Frogwares series. Frogwares does such an incredible job in fact, that when I was playing Sherlock Holmes Versus Arsène Lupin, at least one prop you obtain in the previous game makes a cameo as a clickable item on a shelf. That sort of storytelling, especially for a video game series, was really astounding. And it really felt like you were playing with known friends which is why I make it a point to buy every game in Frogwares Sherlock Holmes collection.
So how was this different from the others? What made this one stand out, considering I’ve already listed a number of other games in the franchise? Each case has clues that you need to put together – like all other games – but in this one your decision stood, no matter if you got it right or wrong. In other words, after a mission, it would tell you how you did, but it didn’t stop you from completing the chapter and moving on to the next one because you are truly responsible for the outcome. It’s nice to know when you got it right and you could go back to redo it, but if you didn’t have a given clue, you might not be able to get the “right” outcome anyway and in that way, it felt more real. To add to that, you also get to decide the fate of the characters. Yes, as in: actually do what Holmes did during the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Oh, I’m not above admitting it, I let some criminals go, not convinced that their actions were the work of evil but desperation. And that made for a great game. I don’t know that there was a value to it per se, but I often think game developers could use their games to create psych profiles of the people who play them, and that would be very interesting indeed. I think this game would show that I am often a shades-of-grey sorta guy. The game has several of those minigames of the type which typifies this style game but nothing comes close to actually making a decision and standing by it, doling out the punishment for the titular crimes.
Frogwares games have come a long way from the first one I ever played but it’s fun to make a complete run of them. I picked up Crimes and Punishment for $20 and got just under 20 hours out of it. It’s marvelous as a Sherlock Holmes game and I love the writing and the characters. One day I might go through an entire run of all the Sherlock Holmes games again, and share my experience here but of all that I’ve played, this is the one I think of most. It has a good game length, solid stories and it’s a lot of fun to play. Check out the trailer below. There’s nothing elementary about these cases! ML