"Crimes and Punishments' open-ended approach to morality is intriguing: there isn't necessarily a "correct" choice for each case."
"You see, but you do not observe."
Frogwares Studios has been making Sherlock Holmes games for twelve years now, and Crimes and Punishments (yes, it is partially inspired by famous Russian literature) is the seventh such game. The developers are passionate and knowledgeable about the mythos begun by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and carried on after his death to the present day, in which Holmes enjoys an unnaturally long life without any of the usual side effects of undeath. In this 3D graphic adventure, the player steps into the shoes and mind of a middle-aged Holmes as he takes on a series of eight investigations.
For the first time, Frogwares has adopted the Unreal Engine 3 to render London in greater detail, and the game features twenty locations both indoors and outdoors, from the poorest districts of the city to the richest. There doesn't seem to be much of an emphasis on exploration, but the environments are detailed and crisp, and the atmosphere feels authentically historical. This is all part of making the player feel like Sherlock Holmes, which is one of the developers' main aims.
When examining environments and objects (which can be zoomed in on and rotated), the player can call upon Sherlock Holmes Vision, which highlights and reveals details only a masterful detective would notice, such as the lack of dust in a rectangular shape on a shelf, which implies that an object once rested there. When interrogating suspects, the player can interrupt speech and connect clues mid-dialogue in classic Holmes fashion. We also saw a segment in which several phrases appeared on the screen as a visitor approached such as "chains rattling" and "ninth step missed." These represent the details Holmes notices that others might miss, and we saw him identify the approaching inspector just by these few quirks.
After clues are collected, Holmes goes to the Deduction Board and connect clues to deduce a conclusion. Depending upon how the player connects the clues, he can absolve or condemn various suspects, and each case has three to five different endings. The player is free to manipulate the clues to see various options, but the final result will have consequences that may appear later in the game. There are also a variety of different endings to the entire game, and although we weren't given an idea of how the eight cases might come together in a loosely connected narrative, it was hinted at.
Crimes and Punishments' open-ended approach to morality is intriguing: there isn't necessarily a "correct" choice for each case. The player is free to create a narrative of his own, but Frogwares hopes to make it feel like Detective Holmes' story as well. The ten to fifteen hour game time should ensure that the game doesn't overstay its welcome and could provide the conditions for a tight story. Fans of the late Sir Doyle's hero can look forward to what ought to be the best Holmes game yet.