Crime Stories: “Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments” (PC)

Note: This review was written in cooperation with fellow editor Annagram.

Frogwares‘ adventure game Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments doesn’t only have more than one case to solve, but also many important decisions to make.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments (PC)
(France 2014, developer/publisher: Frogwares), platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch)

The deduction skills and moral decision-making of the world’s greatest detective are put to the test in 6 cases.

5 stories and mysteries
The Fate of Black Peter is about a whaling captain who is murdered with a harpoon in his own garden tool shed. Being an adaptation of the original short story The Adventure of Black Peter, it’s a rather conventional tale with only the murder weapon being memorable.

Riddle on the Rails deals with a train that has mysteriously disappeared between Staffordshire and London, taking narrative parts from The Lost Special. Mixing supposedly supernatural elements with politics makes this one a much more interesting follow-up, even though the connections between the various characters can be a bit confusing.

In Blood Bath, a famous archaeologist has been murdered in the locked steam room of the Roman baths in London. As the case also involves an ancient cult and has an Indiana Jones vibe to it when exploring an excavation site and creepy catacombs, it’s probably the most engaging case with an unusual setting for the detective.

The Abbey Grange Affair is about an aristocrat who seems to have been killed by three burglars in his own home, while his wife was taken hostage. The story is an adaptation of The Adventure of the Abbey Grange and treats controversial themes like domestic violence, thus being more serious in its depiction of society. But anyone who has read the original short story will find it a bit boring, as the solution isn’t new, and even if one hasn’t read it, the outcome isn’t that surprising. It’s also extremely short with just about 1 hour of playtime.

In The Kew Gardens Drama, exotic plants have been stolen in the famous botanic gardens of London, which might be connected to a possible murder of the former director who has died a few days before. While the premise doesn’t sound particularly engaging at first, learning all the personal stories of the people who work there and figuring out what motives they might have for the director’s death makes it rather interesting. As the garden is quite large with various parts to explore, it takes a while to complete the case, too.

A Half Moon Walk deals with the older brother of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregular Wiggins who has been accused of a double murder. It’s again a good example of how the game designers criticize society, with the police’s prejudices against street kids becoming evident. The rest of the story isn’t extremely well-thought out, but with a suspect that claims he has seen men disappear into the darkness, it’s a mystery that is interesting enough to persevere, even if it culminates in a silly Home Alone-like finale, tasking Holmes to set up traps for the baddies.

One story to bind all cases… or not
In addition to these separate cases, there’s a story about the Merry Men, anarchists whose cause for liberating the poor from the oppression of the rich society ends up as a plan to make the House of Parliament explode. It’s supposed to be an overarching plot strand, but it’s only mentioned briefly in three cases by either Sherlock’s brother Mycroft or Inspector Lestrade. After the detective refuses to take any interest in it due to his indifferent stance on politics, he finally finds the men and has to decide if he should let them carry on with their work or stop them.

While it asks the important question of what can be called justice and what defines a crime, the far-reaching consequences for the capital of Britain of creating a new world with everyone being equal or everything falling into chaos aren’t shown, though, making for a rather strange and overblown ending.

Main characters in top shape
Dialogues between Watson and Holmes are as fun and witty as ever, as can be seen when the detective takes a sip of an unknown liquid and “calms” his friend down by stating that if it would be poison, then it’s a good thing that a doctor is nearby. Holmes’ addiction to drugs is also taken to extremes when he examines a spoonful of cocaine, exclaiming “Delicious!”. When one gets to meet the detective’s brother Mycroft, more entertaining moments can be found, as the brothers don’t see eye to eye about politics and society.

Profiler work
The illusion of taking on the job of the world’s greatest detective is almost perfect, as it’s not only the deduction board that was introduced in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, but quite a few other additions that make sense when playing as Sherlock. Just as in the short stories and the previous games, Holmes closely observes people and establishes character profiles. Only this time, it’s the player who does the work by scrutinizing their faces, hands, clothes etc..

This can be rather helpful during dialogues, as some information can be used to contradict people’s statements. With clear indications of how many observations have to be made, it doesn’t feel like endless pixel hunting, although at times it can be a bit hard to pinpoint what is so remarkable about the current interviewee. Another way to contradict a person’s statement is to present evidence to him or her which has to be done fast, though, with a special key pressed before time runs out.

Coroner work
One doesn’t only observe people during conversations, but when they lie dead on the morgue’s table. Part of this was already used in past games, but turning over a dead body with the new realistic animations feels as close to the real thing as it could uncomfortably be. One obviously looks for clues of how people met their end or if there’s something that unlocks a new lead to follow.

Changing clothes
One element that was already present in previous games but that can now be used by the player is Sherlock’s way of disguising himself. Granted, this is only essential to access some areas or talk to specific people, but it’s another logical step towards more interactivity for the player and a good use of the literary source material. Being able to not only choose the right clothes, including hats, but also various beards, makes for some fun screenshot material, too.

Sources of information
Gathering information to progress is as important as ever, and the investigation work is a lot of fun, as one uses Holmes’ extensive archives that hold newspaper articles and books that offer insight into various topics which result in new leads. As the reading material is far less text-heavy as in past games, one doesn’t spend too much time in scanning through unnecessary information, either. Sometimes one also scrutinizes texts by underlining key words, checks lists for people’s names or professions, etc., which all adds to variety as well as realism for the investigation.

Talented Sherlock
While the lack of a hotspot key results in some pixel hunting, the new Sherlock Talent ability evokes the feeling of being a very special investigator who sees things others don’t. It helps finding clues that are only discovered by focusing on specific parts of the environment and then interacting with them.

Exploring places and picking up items
Sometimes one has to collect items, but the number in the inventory is very low and their usage is usually clear. As objects are never too far away from the locations where one has to use them, frustration is kept at a minimum, although it’s rather annoying that some can only be picked up later and other points of interactions become available after one has received a new objective. It doesn’t help that exploring the environments is made difficult with invisible borders Holmes and Watson run into.

Reconstruction of the past and ideas
Figuring out how certain events took place is also part of the investigative skills of Holmes, as he has to re-enact scenes in a chronological order. This is done fairly easily, being reminiscent of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, only far less obscure. It can become a bit more challenging in later cases with more actions, though. One simply looks at various actions of people without any additional dialogue or monologues and then assigns a number to them in the order one thinks these events occurred. Then one can watch the scene as in a recorded video, unlocking new clues and leads in the process.

Sometimes one also has to piece together disparate parts of a model that serves as an idea, e.g. a ship or a sombrero hat that refer to a specific type of tobacco, which is already a bit strange. Unfortunately, this turns out to be quite a fiddly affair, as one constantly switches between layers and perspectives, re-arranging parts that only fit together if they are laid on top of each other in a pixel perfect way.

More information doesn’t mean more guess work
With all the evidence that can be collected and analyzed, it might at first seem overwhelming to keep track of it all, but thankfully, each piece of information is given an appropriate symbol that indicates where it can be used, e.g. being mentioned during dialogues, searched for in archives, or put under the microscope, into flasks or dissected in other ways in Holmes’ home lab. Having constant objective updates also helps to keep track of what to do next, so that one rarely jumps back and forth without having a clue where to go next.

Who-dunnit done right or wrong
One can sometimes solve a case in very little time, as certain conclusions can be drawn relatively soon. If one decides to continue the investigation, more clues can be found, more leads can be followed, and more people can be interviewed. This is obviously the recommended way of playing the game, as it provides a better chance of uncovering more background information, but it’s still nice to have the option to finish a case sooner.

The biggest change, compared to the previous Sherlock titles, is that each case can have a different ending, as one has to decide which suspect is guilty, how he or she should be punished, condemned or absolved. One usually has to choose between 3 people who only show up if one has gathered every clue and chosen every logical assumption on the deduction board. While this decision-making sounds great in theory, it’s not perfect, mainly because some of the cases don’t offer enough evidence for the player to really know what some of the suspects’ motives are. Without all the information giving a clear picture of who is guilty and who is not, guess work becomes more common than logical conclusions.

Moral dilemmas
Moral decisions about life and death don’t have an effect on the individual cases or ending of the game, but they still create some thought-provoking moments by testing the player’s conception of what is right and wrong. Feeling compassion for the culprits’ actions makes this even more intriguing, but also difficult at times.

While the cases usually don’t have anything to do with each other, one still receives letters from those involved in previous ones. These can be read at Holmes’ home, again rewarding or punishing the player’s decision-making process. Even if they don’t have an effect on Holmes and Watson’s personalities, the player’s conscience certainly takes a hit or two after he or she has checked that the person one condemned turns to be innocent.

Not lacking in logic puzzles
Of course there are still a few conventional logic puzzles to solve, and it’s here where repetition and frustration sets in. One of the worst examples are the lock picking scenes. These weren’t much fun in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, but at least they didn’t take too long to clear. This time one has to turn and move various parts of a mechanism in 3D spaces.

While it would take almost a decade before Syberia: The World Before perfected 3D puzzles to make them actually fun, here one is confronted with more and more complicated mechanisms that don’t change much of the goal of connecting lines from left to right. Doing this five times in the last case shows that the developers liked the idea so much that they forgot that it could be a nightmare for everyone else. Thankfully, one can skip these parts if one doesn’t want all the achievements.

Something that also requires a fair bit of patience and trial-and-error is safecracking, as this entails remembering how many times one has to turn the dial left or right before a clicking sound indicates one is correct about the sequence. As there’s no clue as to how far one should go and one has to do all the previous turns again, this becomes a time-wasting and illogical puzzle that could have been made much easier with fewer turns.

The return of the mini-games
A few mini-games require even more patience from the player, including a silly arm wrestling contest in which one has to read the opponent’s face in order to predict when one should be more offensive or defensive. This is made rather difficult as the facial expressions look very similar and one has to rely on trial-and-error perseverance.

Some other fiddly examples can be found when one has to aim a harpoon to determine the strength of its impact on a pig carcass or when one has to use a crossbow for shooting a rope to the other side of a river. Both sequences require holding either keyboard keys or controller buttons in line as if one is drunk.

More variety in environmental puzzles
Despite all these repetitive scenes, the puzzles are usually varied for each individual case. The best example is the second story in which one does a bit of chiseling work on a wall at the excavation site to uncover a fresco that hints at a hidden chamber in the Roman baths in London. One then compares strange symbols that provide clues to how certain statues have to face each other. Creating different types of daggers as possible murder weapons by casting them with various materials in Holmes’ home lab also adds to the unique archaeology atmosphere.

There are more inventive puzzles that don’t feel superfluous, but are actually important for finding a new clue. For example, one examines the behaviors of various plants by pricking, feeding or putting alcohol on them. Putting them in the right order, i.e. next to each other, their reactions then create a domino-like effect that helps to establish an assumption about how a victim was incapacitated by them, challenging the player to use his logic and deductions skills.

Holmes is not the only one doing the work
At times, one doesn’t only take control of Holmes, but also Watson and their trusty canine friend Toby. Using the dog to follow the trail of a suspect is made much easier than in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, as one doesn’t have to do any pixel hunting for footsteps, but simply goes after scents that can be clearly seen.

The sequences with Watson are less successful. In the catacombs, for example, one has to constantly switch between Holmes and him to activate levers in order to open and close various grating doors. As the game only presents their actions in a first-person or third-person instead of an over-the-top perspective, it becomes quite confusing which passages are affected and especially tedious towards the end when both characters have to leave the place in the same room. A puzzle like this wouldn’t feel out of place in a Tomb Raider game, but not in a title that is more successful in the deduction department.

Wonderful looks and sounds
Graphically, the game is a big step up from its predecessors, as can be seen with more detailed characters with realistic animations and some wonderfully atmospheric outdoor and indoor levels with impressive lighting effects. With more cinematic camera angles and zooms, conversations or interrogations feel less static, too. This comes at a price, though, as loading times between locations are rather long, which makes changing between them rather tiresome.

The music is less repetitive and (most importantly) less obtrusive than in other titles of the franchise, as it never feels as if one is caught in a loop. The classic themes using piano music are appropriate for the individual scenes, ranging from moody to quite elevating and beautiful pieces. As one case takes place at an excavation site and in catacombs, these locations feature some otherworldly themes, while African drums or Eastern flutes are used elsewhere to mix things up.

The effective use of background noises like wind howling, croaking of frogs, hooting of howls with the absence of music adds to the atmosphere in the case about the ghost train. At times the mix of high and low volume sounds can be a bit disorienting, though. Voice acting is generally good, although Watson’s new voice needs some getting used to, but at least it’s not as frequently over-dramatic as in past games.

A few technical and movement problems
Control issues still prevail due to a camera that sticks too close to the protagonist so that one constantly stumbles against objects one doesn’t see, which becomes extremely annoying in small spaces when important points of interactions can easily be missed. Using the mouse to look up and down is recommended, because the controller is simply too inaccurate.

It doesn’t help that Watson either stands in the way or decides to run into Holmes, making navigating certain scenes even more cumbersome. Fast camera movements also cause motion sickness if one doesn’t minimize either mouse or controller sensitivity. However, this results in some very slow movement of the cursor during close-up inspections of objects and can even lead to failure in a few QTEs, especially the ones where the points of interactions aren’t clear and the time frame to react is very small.

The evolution of the detective genre
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment is a welcome change of direction for the point-and-clicker franchise, as the individual cases work much better than previous stories that were usually a bit too complicated or convoluted. The investigation part works particularly well and rarely leaves the player wandering around without a clue. While the decision-making doesn’t have as much an impact on the general outcome of the plot or Holmes and Watson’s personalities, it gives the player the power of deduction and evokes a real sense of living with the consequences, which is refreshing for the detective genre.

The game is far from perfect, though, which mostly has to do with some filler puzzles, but also with the lack of some important evidence pieces to really figure out who did the crimes. Presentation-wise, it’s another great step forward, as both music and character animations are less repetitive and often quite impressive. All in all, it’s the best of the Holmes games so far, inviting players to replay it to find out its various endings to each case by making different decisions. With the individual stories taking between 1-3 hours to finish, the game clocks around 15 hours and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Score: 8/10

Buy the digital version for PC on

Buy the digital version for PS4/PS5 on
the PSN store

Buy the digital version for Xbox One/Xbox Series X/S on
the Xbox store

Buy the retail version on
Amazon Germany (PC)
Amazon Germany (Xbox 360)
Amazon Germany (PS3)
Amazon Germany (Xbox One)
Amazon Germany (PS4)

Amazon UK (Xbox 360)
Amazon UK (PS3)
Amazon UK (Xbox One)
Amazon UK (PS4)

Amazon USA (PC)
Amazon USA (Xbox 360)
Amazon USA (PS3)
Amazon USA (Xbox One)
Amazon USA (PS4)

Official Website

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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2 Responses to Crime Stories: “Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments” (PC)

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