Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments--A New Kind of Sherlock Holmes Game

Whodunit?

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The character of Sherlock Holmes has a timeless appeal. Nowadays, we have many incarnations of the character to choose from. There's the original deerstalker-hat-wearing detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels. There's the modern-day New York City Holmes of Elementary and the modern-day London Holmes of Sherlock. And there's the Holmes of Frogwares' long-running series of games. The latest, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, represents a departure from the studio's earlier games; whereas those were somewhat traditional adventure games, this entry, according to associate producer Olga Ryzhko, is an investigation game in which you have the tremendous deductive abilities of Sherlock Holmes at your disposal. The goal is to make you feel like Sherlock Holmes. After all, why should Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller get to have all the fun?

Crimes & Punishments will feature six individual murder cases, and in each case, you might guide Holmes to the right conclusion, pegging the true killer in the end, or, if you're not thorough in your investigations and rigorous in your logical reasoning, you could send an innocent person to the slammer. I was recently given a look at one of the game's cases, titled The Murder of Black Peter, and got a sense of how the focus on investigation will work, though not a sense of how it will actually feel.

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In a moment visually reminiscent of scenes from the BBC Sherlock, the game established Holmes' uncanny ability to pick up on details most people would miss and make conclusions based on them. Holmes and his assistant, Dr. Watson, were talking at 221B Baker Street when the sounds of someone climbing up the stairs were heard. Words like "clicking handcuffs" appeared in the air around Holmes as he listened to the person approach, and he deduced that it was Inspector Lestrade before the officer made his entrance.

Usually, though, it's up to you to draw conclusions from the things that Holmes notices. While questioning a woman about her recently murdered husband, Ryzhko demonstrated how you can closely examine people you interrogate, and how the details about them are automatically stored in Holmes' casebook. Will it be relevant in the end that Mrs. Carey was wearing gardening gloves and that she had recently been fiddling with a birdhouse? That will be up to you to determine.

Next, Ryzhko made her way to the nearby work shed in which Peter Carey had met his grisly demise. Standing outside the entrance, Ryzhko activated what she called "Sherlock Holmes vision," which enabled her to zoom in on some tiny scratches on the door and conclude that someone had tried to force it open. Entering the shed, Holmes was confronted with the sight of Carey's corpse pinned to a wall with a whaling harpoon. Here, Ryzhko closely examined a number of items--a tobacco pouch, a liquor bottle, and a knife lying in a pool of blood, with which Carey had attempted to defend himself.

"I accuse that man--of having an impressive beard!"

Ryzhko eventually skipped to the end of the case, when it was time for Holmes to piece together the facts and make his accusation. The screen showed a representation of the concepts floating around in Holmes' brain, and it was up to Ryzhko to link some of them together based on her own conclusions--for instance, was the person who killed Carey tremendously strong, or tremendously lucky, to have managed to impale him with a whaling harpoon? Ultimately, the conclusions she'd arrived at led Holmes to home in on a particular suspect, but it doesn't end there. You can also decide whether you want to inform the police of the suspected killer's identity, or, if you think the killer acted in self-defense or had other justifiable reasons for his or her actions, you can opt to let the suspect go free. Then, in a touch that seemed lifted from Telltale's The Walking Dead, you're presented with a screen that shows you what percentage of players reached the same conclusion that you did. You're also given the option to see the truth and discover if you got it right or wrong.

It's difficult to tell from a brief hands-off demo just how challenging and involving the gameplay of Crimes & Punishments might be. I love a good whodunit, but there are few things more frustrating than a poorly constructed one, and until I get to step into Holmes' shoes myself and take my time closely examining murder scenes, questioning suspects, and making deductions, whether or not these cases are worthy of the great Sherlock Holmes will remain a mystery. I look forward to solving it when the game is released later this year.

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