Review – The Sinking City

It’s time once more, the stars align, strange eons come to pass and death may even die. It began with the flood, and will end with The Sinking City.


  • By Lovecraft, For Lovecraft: The Sinking City is not just an open world investigative action/adventure/horror title, it’s also a love letter to the Lovecraftian mythos. There are elements of Lovecraftian fiction in every aspect of the city, its cases, its characters and of course, the plot itself. Streets named after important locales, avenues sharing names with important mythos characters and even advertisements for a certain medical doctor all Lovecraft fans will recognise.
  • Weird Tales: The cases and the main plot in The Sinking City are wonderfully weird, twisting and twisted. There are characters that seem closer to primates than humans, other closer to fishes (that gorgeous Innsmouth Look), sacrifices, rituals, good ideas that backfire, bad ideas that go horrendously wrong and weirdness galore. Best of all is the main character becomes rather savvy in the madness taking place around him, even if and especially because he’s also descending into insanity. By the end, when faced with the weirdness he will casually state “you’re rather normal, at least by this crazy city’s standards,” when meeting an NPC. I love this. Also, in case it needs saying, the story is gripping and fun.
  • It’s a Mad World: The Sinking City is a bad place, it’s despair-ridden, maddening and incredibly cold towards outsiders. People in the city are at their wits end, and even the help you provide in solving their cases doesn’t make their lives any easier. In fact, on learning the things you discover, their lives are more likely to take dark turns. I love this, it’s pure Lovecraftian goodness, as are the grotesque apparitions, both the spectral and the physical monstrosities you encounter.
  • Fear is the Mind Killer: As with every Mythos game, there is a sanity meter and fun things happen as it lowers. The most common are audio-visual hallucinations, visions of creatures and your own grim future—seeing yourself hang from a noose—but as it gets worse, you’ll eventually have to contend with the figments of your deranged imagination in physical ways. This was a genius decision in my opinion, having your insanity sometimes spawn new enemies that aren’t really there but can still hurt you. Best thing is that if you take the sanity medkit aka anti-psychotics, they vanish instantly.
  • Fortune favours the Bold: There are infested areas in the Sinking City, where the Wylebeasts, the monstrous creatures that came into the city with the flood, have taken over and created nests for themselves. These areas are full of loot and crafting materials but are deadly to explore. But if you’re clever, lucky, brave or all of the above, you can make a killing without getting, well, killed.
  • Sherlock meet Lovecraft: Frogware is, of course, the wonderful people behind the Sherlock Holmes series, one of my absolute favourite video game series in the world and The Sinking City inherits many elements from that series, from deduction boards to scene reconstructions. This is a game where exploring every corner in a crime scene is recommended as it may just yield the right clue. Best of all, you can set the difficulty of the detective side to expert, where there are no hints on how to proceed, truly challenging your detective instincts.
  • Find your own way: Clues, important locales, crime scenes, houses and nests are all over the city, but it’s up to you to find them. You have the map of the city and often vague addresses, meaning you gotta open the map, find the right streets and place a marker for where you think the objective might be. But after that, it’s all exploration, on foot, on boat, whichever way you can.


  • Underwater Slog: I think the intent was for the underwater segments to be tense, dangerous and uncomfortable but they’re really just boring. There’s very little to do but walk or fall or climb your way to the glowing exit and occasionally shoot some horrific fish thing in the face to stun it and leave it behind. There’s very little tension.
  • Survival Horror Syndrome: Your first encounter with the Wylebeasts will be horrible, especially when you first encounter the really big onces with multiple limbs and teleportation abilities. But as with every other survival horror game, once you’re a walking armoury, there’s very little to fear. Hell, the moment I unlocked grenades, I didn’t fear a single thing. Also, Lovecraft is more about fear of the unknown, and with so few enemy types, the unknown doesn’t last too long.
  • Elementary Watson: I find cases are too simple in The Sinking City, at least compared to previous Frogwares games. Cases are more or less a series of trips to visit locales, pick things up, maybe uncover something with your third eye and then piece together the clues in the deduction board—which more often than not is click on everything with everything. There aren’t any juicy puzzles to create new clues, like the stuff in Crimes and Punishments and The Devil’s Daughter. It’s a shame.
  • It’s not Inns-Mouth, it’s Inns-Muth: Ok this is just nit-picking and a personal gripe but the correct way of pronouncing Innsmouth is INNSMUTH, like Plymouth, Dartmouth, Portsmouth. Inn’s-Mouth is just wrong and caused me to lose more sanity than the horrors in the game.

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

It’s been a few years since Sherlock Holmes finally vanquished his foe, Moriarty and claimed a prize like no other: a daughter. Now, something is about to throw his life into chaos and he’ll have to face the truth of The Devil’s Daughter.

Continue reading Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

Interview: Frogwares – Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

During Paris Game Week 2015, Frogwares announced the next title in the series, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter. As a fan of the series, you can imagine how interested I’ve been in any news regarding the development and release of this game.

As with Crimes & Punishments, I decided the best way to find stuff about the game was to go to the source and ask the Frogwares team! Below you’ll find the interview. Continue reading Interview: Frogwares – Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

The Weekly Puzzle – So Simple It’s Elementary!

Puzzles are at the core of Adventure gameplay, they provide challenges for you to overcome with brains rather than brawn. For Action Adventures, they offer a break from the hacky-slashy-stabby-shooty element of title.

Every week I’ll bring you a new puzzle, drawn from some of the best and worst adventure or puzzle games I’ve ever played. Every once in a while I’ll even leave you one of my own for you to solve. If you do, I’ll find a way to reward you! Continue reading The Weekly Puzzle – So Simple It’s Elementary!

Interview – Olga Ryzhko – Frogwares – Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Sherlock Holmes, Crimes & Punishments is an adventure game, developed by Frogwares. It places players in the shoes of the great detective Sherlock Holmes, solving six independent cases, using all the deductive tools in his arsenal.

Recently, before playing the game for our review. We contacted Olga Ryzhko, Frogwares’ Marketing and Business Development Manager, to ask her a few things about the game and its design and development. Below are her replies. Enjoy!

First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
My pleasure!

Where does Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments fit in the series’ chronology? Sherlock certainly looks younger than he does in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes.
One of my most favourite questions. I always have a hard time answering it 🙂 So here we go:
1888 – Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper
1894 – The Awakened
1895 – Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsène Lupin
1897 – Secret of the Silver Earring
1898 – Testament of Sherlock Holmes
1899 – The Mystery of the Mummy
Crimes & Punishments takes place definitely before The Testament, Black Peter case is set in 1895, so it’s in between.

Previous titles in the series had one large case that made up the plot, with the investigation (and puzzle solving) revealing more aspects of it, but Crimes & Punishments focuses on smaller investigations instead. What made you decide to shift to a collection of shorter stories instead of a larger one?
Smaller cases in Crimes & Punishments are now similar to the novelettes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. On the other hand, one of the biggest things in the game is your ability to make your own decisions during the investigation. Remember, every decision in the game has its own impact?  I tend to believe those choices play greater role in the smaller cases rather than in one big story.

Early gameplay trailers show there are decision points in the game, on accusing the different subjects and how the arrest and punishment should be handled. Can you tell us more about this ‘morality’ system?
Right, there are two types of choices to make.
First, decides on the guilty party, as there are several suspects in each case and all of them seem to have their own reasons to commit the crime. So there are plenty of chances to accuse the wrong suspect if interpreting the clues in the wrong way or making the wrong deductions.
Second, once you are confident on the culprit you can choose to condemn or absolve them. It’s not about approving the murder but you might justify their reasons of why they did it. Our morality system doesn’t judge if you are good or bad, there is no black and white here. We only communicate your decisions and we respect them.

With the focus shifting to criminal investigations and clues, will there still be logic puzzles like those found in previous titles, such as the puzzle boxes found in Testament?
Crimes & Punishments is not that heavy on the puzzles as our previous instalments but there is a big variety of puzzles to solve including logic, detective and others.

Aside from Sherlock and Watson, are there any other familiar characters coming back for Crimes & Punishments?
Sure! You will meet Mycroft Holmes, Mrs Hudson, Baker Street Irregulars, Inspector Lestrade.

On design: the Sherlock Holmes series has always had very intriguing puzzles (the number sequence ones being my kryptonite), what goes into designing them? Do you revise the puzzles as they go along, tweaking the difficulty and clues?
Thank you! Indeed puzzles play rather big role in Sherlock Holmes game and it is difficult to satisfy all the players. There is a delicate balance in puzzles difficulty and we continue our experiments with every game we develop. Our biggest challenge with Crimes & Punishments was to insert puzzles into the story and to make sure they do not distract you from the actual gameplay. We discussed our puzzles in the devblog here.

Have there been puzzles you’ve had to scrap? Do you forget about them or do you shelve them to use in a future title?
It’s a usual thing – sometimes you need to keep the designers grounded otherwise they have no limits. Some puzzles didn’t fit the game, we physically were not able to make others, we omitted all 2Ds and focused on 3D puzzles instead, some were not possible due to technical restrictions, etc. Do we forget any of them? – Never.

Speaking of scrapping, were there any features you had to remove from the final version of the game, for time or budget reasons? If so, will they be made available at some point via DLC?
We do not plan DLC for Crimes & Punishments; it’s our first ‘episodic’ game and we never made any for the previous games.
Speaking of the features – it’s similar to puzzles: some didn’t fit, others were technically impossible. Do we forget any of them? – Never.

Sherlock relaxing after a job well done!
Sherlock relaxing after a job well done!

For the team: What’s the most fun part of the game (case, puzzle, character, dialogue, etc.) for you and why?
I will list them from the funniest to less fun (according to the team interview): developers themselves, deduction space, characters, and cases.

For the team: How do you prefer to play the game: First or Third Person Perspective?
So I’ve made a poll on Frogwares internal website asking to explain my colleagues’ preferences; as expected, there is no single answer, voices split into 50/50. Some prefer 3rd person camera, others enjoy 1st. Arguments relate to seeing Sherlock Holmes himself and feeling being him, making fun of his wardrobe (you can’t see it with 1st person camera) or paying more attention to the Victorian setting instead to the character; there are those who switch depending on the locations. So we are happy to have both cameras in the game.

On the development side: how large was the Crimes & Punishments development team? Was there an overlap with the Call of Cthulhu team or does each title have its own staff?
Rather large, especially for Frogwares. I’d say around 50 with peaks of 80 people.
Both games have their own teams. The development of Crimes & Punishments and the one of Call of Cthulhu do not match in time – when we started CoC, we were finishing Sherlock Holmes game. So it’s pretty easy to switch people if needed; thankfully it’s not very often to happen.

The next big thing for Frogwares!
The next big thing for Frogwares!

Were there any challenges with using the Unreal Engine 3? Also, with the release of the UE4, are there plans on using this engine in future titles or remake previous ones?
Crimes & Punishments is our second game built with UE3, so it was easier for the tech team.

Do you have any advice on adventure game design for independent developers?
I’d advice to create what they want, not what they expect people to want.

What’s next for Frogwares after Crimes & Punishments? Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming Call of Cthulhu or future Sherlock plans?
I’d be happy to share our future plans but it is too early now. So I suggest we talk some time in future.

Once again, thank you for your time.
Thanks for your interest and thank you for letting me share this with you.

Review: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is the latest entry in Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes series. Instead of a grand scheme, this game treats us to six different cases that need Sherlock’s amazing deductive skills.

The Good

  • Fantastic puzzles
  • Brilliant deduction system
  • Beautiful visuals
  • Interesting and varied cases
  • Intriguing morality system

The Bad

  • Too many samey lock-picking puzzles.
  • A couple of cases are too straightforward.

Previous titles in Frogware’s series placed Sherlock on the pursuit of a large conspiracy, with several minor investigations to propel the story further. This time around however, we are treated to a classic approach to Sherlock Holmes: independent cases. If you read the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, most of the stories are just like this, one-off deductive adventures. Six consecutive cases compose the game, each with varying degrees of complexity and an abundance of red herrings. It’s classic Sherlock on PC, and I couldn’t have hoped for anything better. Having said so, a couple of the cases are too straightforward, with the responsible parties being pretty obvious.

The red herrings actually form the basis of the game’s deductive system. While on a case, any new insight you glean becomes a Clue and pairing up clues creates a node in your deductive space, modeled like neurons in Sherlock’s brain. When you have matching deductions, these will link and generate new deductions, some of which are new investigative avenues for you. Some, however, will have double meaning. You might have proof that someone had a motive for a murder, but some other evidence might point out his innocence, and the deduction space reflects that by making the node a dual one, the branching deductions depending on which one you choose. False leads and wrong conclusions come into play almost organically from your observations, which I think is the greatest accomplishment of the game’s deductive system; no matter your choice, it feels natural. Once you have enough evidence or deductions to make a case against a suspect, a golden node will spawn, representing one of the many conclusions possible. Once you’ve unlocked them all, by changing your assumptions on the different dual nodes, you can simply press a button to check your conclusion list before making your choice.

Profiling helps deduce important facts!
Profiling helps deduce important facts!

Once you’ve committed to a conclusion you have to decide how you’ll solve the case. You will have two choices at any given time: Convict or Absolve, harsh or merciful. It’s the game’s version of a morality system, helping you shape the man Sherlock ultimately is under your guide. What’s really interesting, however, is that no matter the choice, it never plays out in an out-of-character way. Whether he convicts a man or lets him go, it feels as something Sherlock would do. I was ready to have issues with this morality system but when I saw how it worked, I realized it’s a brilliant mechanic. It gives the player the feeling of choice, but it also remains true to the Sherlock Holmes we all know.

There are some inventory-based puzzles but they’re the minority, as most tend to be about observation and logical analysis. My favourite puzzles were the association ones. At a couple of spots in the game, Sherlock finds a familiar smell but doesn’t immediately know where from, so he needs help to visualize the objects he associates with the smell. These are image perspective puzzles, where you get a fragmented image, and you have to rotate it to find the point of view from which you can see the whole thing. I’m only sad that you don’t use these more, as they are quite brilliant. Instead of the complex puzzle-based locks present in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes¸ this time around all locks work the same, each increasing the complexity a bit more. While the first few times these puzzles are quite interesting, they become samey very quickly as they are all based on the same principle. Variety in the lock picking would’ve been nice.

The deduction space, where you'll (happily) spend most of the time!
The deduction space, where you’ll (happily) spend most of the time!

This game introduces two new mechanics to Sherlock’s arsenal: Sherlock Vision and Imagination, both of which you use to figure out new clues. Sherlock Vision automatically highlights important information in bright yellow, performing some initial and instant analysis before giving you the option to examine more closely. It doesn’t light up every other hotspot as it’s meant for specific clues. Imagination on the other hand reconstructs missing evidence, such as a box that might have been moved from a given spot. It also allows you to create simulations of how things might have happened. Both mechanics are very intuitive and easy to use.

As always, some evidence needs to be researched in Sherlock’s lab and archives, and Crimes & Punishments does away with the color-coded lab-puzzles from Testament, and favours a variety of lab analysis puzzles. The Roman Bathhouse case had the most of them and they are all fantastic, my favourite being the ice-cream recipe one. I can’t say more for fear of ruining it for you. Beyond the lab, however, every case will have at least one experiment, from testing out a ventilation system to throwing harpoons at pigs. Yes, I’m not making that up.

The best nose in the British Empire!
The best nose in the British Empire!

Crimes & Punishments does something really interesting with loading screens, which can get to be a bit long sometimes. While you’re on the carriage, the trip itself being the loading, you can check your clues and go over your deductions. I found this very useful, giving me the time to go over the notes and deductions before arriving to my destination, almost as if I sat next to Sherlock, looking over the case while he read Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment.

Finally there’s the social aspect: interrogations. Witness interviews and suspect interrogations are part of every case, and first you need to observe the suspects, using the visual cues they provide to build a profile on them. If you played Moebius: Empire Rising, it’ll be instantly familiar. When you have the appropriate information and you catch someone on a lie, a quick-time prompt will appear and you’ll have a chance to use your evidence against them, forcing the suspects to give up valuable information. It’s a simple system and it’s not overused and instead adds the challenge of getting it right every single time, as you must choose which piece of evidence to use to prove they are lying.

I love that the case-book he's checking in the loading screen matches the current case!
I love that the case-book he’s checking in the loading screen matches the current case!

This is the most beautiful Sherlock game Frogwares has made to date. The Unreal Engine takes the visual quality from previous iterations to a completely new level and brings Victorian England to us as never before. It’s not just the models and textures though, it’s the tiny details such as newspapers on the floor and garments hanging from chairs that take make Crimes & Punishment’s world come alive. Kew Gardens and Whitechapel are outstanding, the first with its rich floral majesty and the second as dark, grim and seedy as you’d come to expect.

Sound-wise, I loved the fact the music shifts tones to match the mood. At the start, the music is jovial, as it’s just another morning of Watson scrambling around the room while Sherlock shoots around with a blindfold on, but then in the first crime-scene it’s almost muted, just a few separate notes giving everything a mysterious air, and this trend continues for the rest of the game, the music even dying down when it would only be a distraction. Voice acting has always been one of the strongest points for the Sherlock games and it remains so in Crimes & Punishments. Some people have said they would love to have Benedict Cumberbatch voice this Sherlock, but not me, I think Nick Brimble does a fantastic job as the character.

Sherlock's costumes are something else!
Sherlock’s costumes are something else!

In the end, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments goes back to basics and delivers a true Sherlock experience. No grand plots, not a single mastermind behind everything, just a man using his brains to stump everyone else. It’s Sherlock through and through, so what more can we ask for?

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Overpaying! This is the highest score available on The Mental Attic.

On Puzzle Design

(First of all, sorry for the somewhat long absence from the blogger-sphere, settling in a new country isn’t easy, and unsuccessful job hunting is very tiring…and depressing; but now I’m back in the saddle)

This piece was inspired by a Japanese animation, Anime, series I’ve been watching for the past 3 years called Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle (Puzzle of God), and as the title suggests, it’s a show about puzzles and solving them and their craft, with feeble stories and a mixed-bag of characters enveloping them, and taking place in the most insane world ever, where there are Mega-corporations centered on puzzle making and with more money than all the countries in our world; where a particular puzzle might involve death traps, man-made islands and aircraft with labyrinths built in…or all of them combined. Continue reading On Puzzle Design