If there’s one thing that you can expect from an adventure game, it’s puzzles. They’re part of the genre, and even the slew of choice-based adventures we’ve seen in the past few years have at least one puzzle in them, a little challenge to break the pace from the monotony of watching interactive cutscenes.
If the above sentence makes it sound like I don’t like choice-driven games, you’re getting close, though it’s not exact either. I like challenges and puzzles in my videogaming, and when it comes to adventures, I want puzzles, be it logic, inventory or even conversation based. It’s why I loved Life is Strange, it didn’t sacrifice the puzzling for the choices, finding a good balance between them.
But as I sit here contemplating adventure games I realise there are different approaches to puzzle design, and while this might a gross oversimplification and generalisation, I believe you can put the overall design approaches into two categories: Narrative Driven and Challenge Driven. Continue reading Puzzle Design – Narrative vs Challenge
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.
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.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been catching up on series I missed in the past months, particularly with Anime. That’s how I found Sakurako–san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru (translated as Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigaion). Many sites and forums described it as Bones the animation. As someone who enjoyed Bones until it got too tiresome, I decided to give it a shot.
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.
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.
Brilliant deduction system
Interesting and varied cases
Intriguing morality system
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.