I’ve seen one episode of the much lauded and Cumberbatch-starring Sherlock crime drama series, and even then I think I fell asleep towards the end of it. It wasn’t from total boredom, I swear. See, going into it, I wasn’t aware that every episode is basically a mini movie, clocking in at around 90 minutes. I was not prepared for this, thinking it would be much shorter, like a typical serialized drama (see Criminal Minds or Stranger Things), and starting the episode just before bed proved to be my undoing. One day, I’d like to watch more, but I haven’t reached that right one day yet.
In terms of videogames, I’ve never played one based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective stories, and there have been quite a few of them, especially from Frogwares. Well, I’m here to muse about Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, the tenth entry in their series, which I and everyone else subscribing to a Gold membership on Xbox One got for free back in March 2016. Strange enough, a year earlier, I also got a free copy on my PlayStation 3 for PlayStation Plus, along with CounterSpy and Papo & Yo. Here’s an early spoiler: I’ve uninstalled both versions of the game.
Plot is actually a difficult thing to describe for this game. Mostly because there isn’t a main through-line. There’s an overarching story about group of terrorists called the Merry Men, who are attempting to overthrow the government and free the people of the United Kingdom from debt. It’s extremely minor in the grand scheme of things, showing up once early in the game and then at the very end where you are tasked to make a moral choice, one that probably seemed epic in the developers’ minds, but didn’t actually matter. Other than that, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is split into six separate cases, with some being direct adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, such as “The Fate of Black Peter.” Each case is self-contained, and they range from a train that mysteriously vanishes to a murdered archeologist in a bath house to the theft of exotic, poisonous plants from a botanical garden. I came away enjoying a few of these cases, but ultimately not caring too deeply about the characters involved or the actual outcome, so long as it netted me an Achievement in the end.
Gameplay is, more or less, a traditional point-and-click adventure game. Except you aren’t using a mouse to hover over items and click on them. Instead, you control Sherlock Holmes–and sometimes Watson or a dog!–and you can play in third person or first. I went with the latter, as I found it easier for examining areas and moving around with a solid camera angle. You look at items in the world, speak to witnesses and suspects, solve a mixed bag of puzzle types, and finally make enough deductions to pin the crime on someone. My favorite part was connecting clues to make deductions and see ways the crime could have happened, as well as analyzing witnesses to learn more about them and open up dialogue options. Sure, L.A. Noire did it better, but that’s okay.
My biggest problem with Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments has to do with its loading screens. I’m not against loading screens and will never be against them, as I understand their purpose, even in this day and age of modern gaming, but you have to travel to and fro a whole bunch in this game, often returning to your apartment on Baker Street multiple times during a case, and these loading screens are drab and long, probably worse than the ones in Secret Agent Clank. Backtracking is the name of great detective work. Unfortunately, each time you travel to a different place, you are treated to a loading screen in the form of Sherlock riding inside a horse-drawn carriage to the actual place you are going. Sometimes he is alone, sometimes Watson is there with their knees awkwardly close, but regardless you are just watching Sherlock read a book or look out the window the entire time. You can open your notebook during the ride to review clues and such, but I began to use this downtime as great moments to play on my phone. Honestly, I would have rather watched a generic bar fill up. I’d estimate you see this screen roughly 15 to 20 times during any given case.
One of the more troubling parts of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments appears in every single case chapter. Well, I guess one could not see it, but when I’m roleplaying the titular Sherlock Holmes I’m being as observant and scrutinizing as possible, which means checking every corner and shelf and thing for clues. That includes the telescope his keeps in the main room on Baker Street. If you look through it, you’re treated to the fixed sight of this busty woman:
Now, nothing happens. Sherlock makes no comment, the woman simply stands there and stares back, and about five seconds of silence passes before you are booted out of the telescope’s point-of-view. I examined the telescope at the start of every case, just as I did with Toby, to see if anything would happen or change. Nope, same sight, same seediness. I figured she would come into play at some point in the game, for some case or another, but that never happened, and I think all we got in terms of reference was a quickly dismissed line from Watson at the end of the game, implying that Holmes should stop doing that creepy thing with the telescope. Evidently, after doing some research outside the game, it turns out this character is from a previous entry in the series. Hmm.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments was a game I didn’t expect to frustrate and bore me as much as it did, but I’m the kind of person that not only likes to finish what I start, but sometimes needs to. So I persevered and finished, only to realize I missed two Achievements and had to go back and replay a couple cases. Thankfully, you can mash your way through most of the dialogue and cutscenes, as well as skip every puzzle if you wait a minute or two. Still couldn’t do anything about those cutscenes. If there’s one deduction I reached, it’s that this was not iceberg-like pacing and lackluster detective work equals enjoyable, and I don’t expect to try any more future–or previous–mystery adventures starring the eclectic Sherlock Holmes in 19th century London.