The Steam Summer Sale is over and I have a bunch of new games to play and the sequel to the surprisingly good The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was near the top of my list (especially since one Humble Monthly bundle included a copy of The Devil’s Daughter).
Apparently a departure from its predecessors, Crimes and Punishments tasks the player, as Sherlock Holmes, with solving six stand alone cases in what feels like more of an episodic game. There’s a good variety here, from the straightforward (murder involving a harpoon) to the complex (ritualistic murder related to the cult of Mithras with at least four different suspects). In addition to interviewing witnesses, scouring crime scenes for clues, and solving puzzles, you’ll also be making deductions based on what you find and capping off each case by making a choice to condemn or absolve the culprit.
Most mystery games I’ve played are very straightforward: there’s a set culprit and your job is to follow the clues until the game tells you how it happened. Crimes and Punishments tries to mix it up a little by giving each case multiple endings. Holmes can make different deductions based on the evidence that allow for, say, the possibility that there are two murderers in a case, or what sort of weapon was used, and can come to different conclusions that point to different suspects as the guilty party. It feels more open-ended than most other games I’ve played, letting the player examine the available evidence for themself. It makes you feel like you’re actually in the shoes of the famous detective. I also liked the “character portraits” feature, where the camera pans around a character being interviewed and you can highlight interesting things about them (like the presence or lack of a wedding ring or the state of their clothes) which reflects Holmes’ incredible powers of observation. Again, it makes you feel like you’re actually the great detective himself.
When Holmes isn’t interviewing people or picking up every object in sight, he’s solving puzzles. The puzzles can range from “follow the directions on the screen” to “what the hell am I supposed to do?” to “a fucking lockpicking puzzle again”. Unfortunately, this is where the game often faltered for me as some of the instructions for solving the puzzles are unclear and it was much easier to just look up the solution. The most frustrating puzzles for me were the lockpicking puzzles, where you have to rotate a cylinder to connect lines that stretch from one end of the cylinder to another, and the game isn’t content with just giving you a couple of them, oh no, you have to do a bunch of them. It got to a point where I sighed in exasperation when Holmes mentioned that he needed to pick a lock. I think they’re probably in my top five of “annoying lockpicking puzzles” (I’ve played enough games with annoying lockpicking puzzles that I could probably make a top ten list, TBH). Other than the lockpicking, the puzzles were generally well done and there was a good variety of them. I really liked the puzzles where Holmes has to use his imagination to reconstruct a sequence of events. The final puzzle in the game also deserves praise for being much, much easier than the final puzzle in the previous game (which was incomprehensible to me) it almost felt like a reward for having to pick all those locks. Note that while there is an option to skip puzzles, you’ll miss out on an achievement if you do.
Besides the puzzles, my one major criticism of this game is that although the premise is that each case has multiple endings, there’s really only one correct answer, and although I feel like it did capture the feeling of being a detective, it didn’t really give you a story to be invested in. I also felt that the “moral choices” could have been scrapped entirely because it didn’t seem to have that much of an impact on the game at all. There are a few references to what seems like a main plot involving a group called the Merry Men, but it’s literally brought up in one scene and then….nothing. I feel like they should have just stuck with the episodic format and not tried to tie it into a bigger plot and it would’ve made for a better game.
In terms of things to watch out for: you can click on Holmes’ telescope to view a woman in her bedroom in the next building over, which appears to serve absolutely no purpose besides portraying Holmes as a creeper. Many of the true culprits attempt to commit suicide when you catch them, you can stop them with a QTE but you can also fail (and apparently you can’t replay the scene after the fact). A couple of victims were domestic abusers and a few witnesses have bruises attesting to that fact. There is also a fair amount of blood and examining dead bodies, including one autopsy where you examine individual organs (which honestly look like plastic fruit to me but someone else might not think so).
Overall, I enjoyed this game and prefer it to Testament. Steam has me clocked at 16 hours and that’s with most of the achievements attained (it is possible to attain all achievements in one playthrough). This would be a good game to eat up a weekend or if you have a couple days before a major release. It’s a solid adventure game with some interesting mysteries.