Tag Archives: detectives

2017 Game Review Haiku, #37 – Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily

Detective on break
Must solve murder mystery
Melt that eerie ice

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

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Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is a crime, my punishment

sherlock holmes crimes and punishments black peter case gd post

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:

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments_20140928125417

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.

Games Completed in 2011, #28 – L.A. Noire

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my L.A. Noire experience. It’s up there with Limbo and the featureless boy’s early jaunt through the forest, with Fallout 3 and leaving Vault 101 for the first time, with finishing a level in Super Mario Bros. by clinging to a flag pole and drifting down, fireworks praising your accomplishments. This crazy creation from Rockstar and Team Bondi is a mix of genres and games and most definitely not another skin for Grand Theft Auto IV fanatics to wear. It’s also unlike anything I’ve ever played, and it’s “motion scan” facial animation work has ruined everything that’s come before it–and possibly everything else after it. Deus Ex: Human Revolution may be all shiny and futurized, but it’s impossible not to cringe during cutscenes where characters are talking to each other.

You play as Cole Phelps, a detective trying to do what’s right, as well as avoiding the horrors of his past, namely his time spent at the battle of Okinawa during World War II. It’s the late 1940s, and Los Angeles is yours for the scouring; as the city begins to thrive with post-war opportunities and jazz and all things that encompass film noire, so does crime. Scoundrels and scum really earn their nicknames in L.A. Noire, committing horrific crimes, most of them against women, and it’s up to Detective Phelps to piece together what happened from clues, inspecting the crime scene, and interviewing key witnesses or suspects.

It’s a point-and-click adventure with astounding production values. As you search a crime scene, a deep, whomping bassline plays, letting you know you’ve not yet found everything. As you drive around the city–or let your partner take the wheel–you’ll go over the case’s details while listening to remixed versions of tunes by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra, Dinah Washington, Louis Jordan, Gene Krupa, and Billie Holiday. By far, the music is the strongest factor for immersing one’s self in a period lost to time and technology. Nobody writes songs like these anymore.

It’s a game that demands you pay attention. To play detective. Sure, the musical sound clues make it a little easy for finding actual clues at a crime scene, but it’s up to you, you playing Cole, to determine what’s actually important, where to go to first, what questions to ask witnesses, when to get tough and accusatory, when to lock up the guilty. There’s even one mission during the Homicide desk where you’ll be traversing all across L.A. based on cryptic poetry, having to use your eyes and knowledge of the city to get you where you need to go. Genuinely rewarding, by the completion of it.

Unfortunately, L.A. Noire is quite disappointing come the end. The developers pull a Metal Gear Solid 2, and you’re suddenly no longer playing as Cole Phelps. Sure, there’s a story reason for it, but it felt a bit like a betrayal, as well as clearly foreshadowed what was to unfold. And what unfolded was trite, a death not needed, not justified. Cole bites it saving Elsa, the woman he cheated on his wife with, which didn’t make him a terrible man, only all the more human. Then there’s a funeral scene with some cryptic accusations tossed at minor characters. After that and credits, strangely, you can hop back into the game to look for newspapers, golden film reels, cars, locations, and missed unassigned street missions–as Cole. Yeah, it’s a videogame all right.

That said, it’s a fantastic one, and I encourage all to experience, even if, like me, you really hate the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Most of the time you can’t even take your gun out of its holster, and L.A. citizens are pros at hopping out of the way of reckless drivers. And you can skip all the action sequences if they are too tough or not your thing; it’s a story game, where the story overshadows the game, and the game exists only to strengthen the story. There really is nothing quite like it.

Color versus black and white in L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire is defaulted to play in color, which is a bit odd given its namesake and obvious admiration for film noir, low lighting, and unbalanced compositions. You do have the option to switch between playing in color and playing in black, white, and gray, but you can only select this option after starting the game and getting through its first chunk of cutscenes. That’s unfortunate because now you’ve already experienced the game in color, albeit just for a bit, and I guess it’s kind of like making a turkey sandwich, taking a bite, deciding that today isn’t turkey’s day, stripping the sandwich of its meat, and then replacing it with bologna. I mean, why didn’t you just make a bologna sandwich to begin with?

Okay, food analogies aside, after the opening narration and cutscenes, I switched over to black and white via the main menu options just as young, calm detective Cole Phelps and his partner began searching an alleyway for clues about a recent shooting. The change from color to black and white was phenomenal, striking even, especially with both detectives wielding flashlights, casting these sharp, bright cones of white on everything. It made searching for clues a little tougher due to the epic wash of white, but you truly felt like a bit part in a hardboiled police procedure.

And then a little later the game informed me that doors with golden yellow handles are open to Cole while doors without golden yellow handles cannot be opened. Great. In grayscale L.A. Noire, all door handles look exactly the same: a solid gray. There’s no way to tell the difference except to have Cole walk into every single door, making him look like a complete tool eight times out of ten. Strike one against black and white. The second strike came a tiny bit later as I was flipping through the game’s manual and noticed that, during gunfights and skirmishes, loss of health is indicated by the world’s color fading from color to black and white. The more muted it gets, the closer Cole is to his coffin. Perfect. In grayscale L.A. Noire, you can’t tell how much damage you’ve taken because the world around you is already muted and monochrome. The world doesn’t, for instance, revert back to color upon being wounded. It just stays the same. Strike two.

There’s no strike three. Two reasons were enough to convince me to switch back to color, and while it is not as aesthetically pleasing, at least I can be sure that playing the game will be easier. Certainly, I’ve found doors with golden yellow handles much quicker.

The Saboteur did not make a big splash on the gaming scene, but it’s a game that surprised me and took me for a wild ride across Paris; as the Nazis were destroyed and pushed back, color returned to France. It was a neat gimmick, but those early levels of the game where the only color you can see is red were so attractive and haunting. Same kind of goes for Fallout 3, wherein the Lone Wanderer is transported back to a simpler time before the bombs dropped, to Tranquility Lane, a virtual reality simulation housed in Vault 112. Here, the player will have to free his father from the same trap while dealing with a small neighborhood of 1950s-perfect people. Everything is seemingly pulled straight out of Pleasantville. Both games have a lasting impression on me, and both for the same reason: the excellent inclusion of effective noir stylings. It shouldn’t get in the way of gameplay, but it should definitely set a tone, pun intended.

Other than not being able to truly play in black and white and enjoy myself, I’m having a great time in L.A. Noire staring down suspects and searching for clues. As well as letting my partner drive me to and fro. Every open-world game needs chauffeurs. Yup, even you, LEGO City Stories. I just got up to the first case for Homicide called “The Red Lipstick Murder,” and I’m looking forward to solving some more mysteries this weekend. With Tara’s help, too. She’s like my very own personal assistant detective. “She’s lying! Look at her face!”