Sherlock Holmes Delves Into The Supernatural

There’s not a whole lot of information available on Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter yet, but I can’t deny the trailer has seriously piqued my interest as it looks like a bit of a  mystical and supernatural story.

After the delight Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments was, I really am excited to see where Frogwares Studio takes things. Sadly Kerry Shale, who was the voice of Sherlock in Crimes & Punishments, will not be reprising the role. As sad as I am about this, it also makes a bit of sense because this will be a wholly different incarnation of Sherlock than what we have had previously. Changing the voice actor up will help to keep the distinction between Sherlocks more firmly in mind.

I’ve also heard the world will be more openly explorable which is a big improvement as the random invisible walls were one of the few things which bothered me with the previous game. I constantly found myself wanting to wander off and see what else was around, but the player was really given a limited amount of area to explore.

Also in Crimes & Punishments there was a background story going on at the same time the player is working on other cases. There were little bits of info dropped throughout the game about this side story, but everything didn’t come together until the last case was done, at which point the side story came to the foreground. I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar was done in this game, but maybe the smaller cases will be more directly pieces of the larger whole?

I also very much hope this new installment will also let the players get things wrong and show consequences of these things. The ability to be wrong, and to have it affect the game directly was one of the best aspects of Crimes & Punishments.

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter will be released on May 27th for PS4, XB1, and PC.

Runic Games’ Hob Is A Thoroughly Enchanting Adventure

Originally posted on Gamebreaker.

Runic Games — known for their Action RPG games Torchlight and Torchlight II — are going in a completely different direction and tackling the adventure genre with a game called Hob.

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During PAX Prime I got the chance to get a hands on with the Hob demo and discussed the game with Runic Games CEO Max Schaefer.

According to Schaefer, the team has been inspired by games like the Zelda series and Journey. It’s easy to see the mark of both of those without ever feeling as if Hob is trying to copy them. For example; the story in Hob is told entirely without dialogue or text. Additionally, when in need of health the player character can cut down grass to find what looks like strawberries to regen health. But the differences are also abundant, even in the short demo I played.

The player is meant to navigate their way through the various levels of Hob in order to discover what is causing the world they reside in to be sick and find a way to fix the issue. There are little sprites throughout the levels who serve as sort of guideposts and help the player know where to go. However, exploring off the obvious path is also very worthwhile and offers the player a glimpse of some of the game’s beautiful vistas.

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The world map changes and reforms itself as the player solves various puzzles to move forward. Different areas will rise up while others fall away, sometimes platforms will even rotate to form bridges to new areas. The sweeping vistas, aside from being beautiful, also give clues about where you’ll be heading or what is coming up soon. Some puzzles will require the player to make use of multiple abilities in order to solve them.

The demo at PAX Prime took place in one of the levels still fairly close to the beginning of the game. In the full game players will have to find the sword and giant glove on their own, but for the demo I had these items to start with.

At first the glove mostly just helped me climb around, but after I found an upgrade station I was able to use it more like a grappling hook which worked with magnets and electricity instead of a rope and hook. The upgrade also allowed me to pull far away items to me, and allowed for a new dynamic in solving puzzles.

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There was one boss fight in the demo and I personally felt like it had some high stakes because the first thing the boss did when he appeared is he picked up a sprite and bit its head off. Hurting cute animals is pretty much a guarantee I’ll have a vested interest in beating a mob.

Dodging seemed like a pretty big part of fight mechanics and I was able to avoid taking any damage while in combat with the boss. The magnetic ability of the glove was also super handy because I was able to strip the boss of his metal boots right in the beginning, which severely weakened him.

Sadly the demo ended soon after this point, I would have quite happily played for many hours longer. Everything felt very polished and looked as if it could be in a live game right now.

The current plan is for Hob to be available on both PC and consoles as making it available to players as widely as possible is definitely a goal. Hob is still pretty early in the development so sadly we won’t be able to play the full game anytime soon but I’ll be eagerly waiting for the next chance to play!

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments Review

Originally posted on Gamebreaker on Sept. 30, 2014.

As a long time fan of most adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, I was quite excited to play the newest game, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments, by Ukrainian developer Frogware Games. They took inspiration from various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes and combined them all into one interesting package. Furthermore in this game the player doesn’t merely follow along as Sherlock solves the cases, rather the player is the driving force and makes all the investigative choices.

Gathering Information

The main goal in Crimes and Punishments to solve a series of six cases through investigation, deduction and the careful application of deduction; anything else really couldn’t be considered a Sherlock Holmes game. In most games things start off easy and get more difficult and complex, but Crimes and Punishments didn’t follow the formula. The first case is definitely not the simplest case, I’d actually place it about middle of the road in complexity. However, it did do a great job of introducing many of the mechanics involved in gathering information and coming to conclusions. Thinking back, it was nice to have a fairly complex case right upfront and getting the more simple cases later were a nice break after intense cases.

Interviews are one of the primary ways of gaining clues and finding insight into the cases. For every character who is interviewed Sherlock also builds a “Character Profile” in his Casebook. The player is given a slice of time slowed down to look over the interviewee and make observations. There is a blurred list at the start so it’s easy to know when all the clues have been found. To find these clues it’s a simple matter of mousing over the character, though as simple as it is there were a few times where I knew I had just one more clue to find but it took me a bit to find it.

Sometimes while questioning a subject there will be follow up questions, for instance when we know someone is lying. When this happens an extra option pops up, on PC it was press “Q”, then a list of clues to choose from appears. Often the correct clue is something gathered during the character profile, so doing those first is always a good idea. I was a bit disappointed to discover if the wrong clue is selected I was just told to try again. In most other aspects I was able to make wrong choices and deal with their consequences.

For the most part there is very little hand holding in this game. There are prompts to explain how a skill works or what might be useful, but how you work through the case is up to the player. Additionally there are many puzzles throughout the game to solve; from picking locks to mixing the correct solutions to testing something. Sadly, it is possible to just skip any of the puzzles or challenges and the game acts as if you had solved it. Which is good if a player were to really get stuck… but being able to skip all of that stuff really makes a large part of the gameplay pointless.

xbox news main playstation news main pc 2 features 2 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments ReviewSolving Cases

It is quite possible to interpret the clues in a case and come to almost any conclusion, which truly let me feel like I had a really important role in how everything played out. For example in the first case Peter Carey is run through with a harpoon. Sherlock and Watson set-up an experiment to see how difficult it would be to harpoon someone into a wall. The result shows, quite obviously, it’s a fairly difficult task to accomplish. On the deductions page the two ways to interpret this information is either it was done by someone with strength and skill or someone got very lucky. Either way will change how all the evidence fits to conclude different people are innocent or guilty.

However, I was not able to come to illogical conclusions which makes sense for a game about Sherlock Holmes. Any deductions which conflict will be highlighted in red and won’t be used in forming a conclusion until the conflict is resolved. Additionally once a deduction is made it isn’t set in stone. I often went through and made every possible combination of deductions just to see what the different possibilities are. I found this particularly helpful for the hardest cases because it often boiled down to what scenario seemed the most likely to me.

After each case is solved the “punishments” part comes in and the player has to make a moral choice about the crime. Was it cold blooded murder or was extenuating circumstances? Does the murder deserve to hang or is some other arrangement possible? Not only did I get to pick which option I thought fit the crime best, but I got to see the outcomes of my choices and their consequences. This added another layer to the game which also opens areas for personal introspection. When it comes to making moral judgements many games would take the opportunity to preach about what the “right” choice was; Frogwares happily decided to avoid trying to push particular value system.

xbox news main playstation news main pc 2 features 2 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments ReviewSide Theme

Concurrent with the main storyline there is a bit of a side story which comes to the fore near the end of the game. The side story deals with the concept of if people have a right, or even an obligation, to rebel against people in power if they perceive the people in power to be corrupt. I was not expecting the storyline to go there, but after I reached the end and thought back over the whole game I realized the hints had been there the whole time.

This is another area where Frogwares could have used Crimes and Punishments to push a certain agenda, but again there is no preaching. When the time comes the player is completely able to make whichever choice they want and live with the consequences. There is a ton of room for personal introspection into real issues which are actually relevant in the today’s world. Not many video games seem to be able to successfully delve into those areas, and this one manages it brilliantly because anyone not interested in that sort of experience wouldn’t be forced into it.

xbox news main playstation news main pc 2 features 2 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments ReviewTechnical Aspects

The most impressive technical aspect of Crimes and Punishments was the quality of voice overs and animations during dialogue. Each character who was directly interacted with (about 4-5 per case) had a different voice with a bit of a different accent. Even Sherlock would have different accents when he disguised himself as someone else. It was really impressive, and all the conversations felt fluid and natural. The dialogue animation wasn’t perfect, corners of lips and eyebrow movement were often a bit off, but it was still very well done. Even on the close ups the characters skin looked like there was actual depth to it.

One downside to the flow of the game was that there are a lot of loading screens. Most aren’t very long, but some of them certainly didn’t feel necessary. There were, however, two nice consolations for the loading screens when moving between locations. The first is the loading screen is actually an animation of Sherlock (and anyone else traveling with him) in a carriage. Particularly entertaining about this, aside from it just feeling real to the story, Sherlock would often be reading either the Casebook or a copy of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. The second nice thing about the traveling loading screen is during them the casebook and deductions page are both available to be used, so the waiting doesn’t have to be empty time.

There is a lot of area in the game which is fully explorable, but there are also a great many invisible walls which diminish enjoyment just a bit. Most of the invisible walls make sense and are clearly there because this isn’t a fully open and explorable world. Others seem pretty random and pointless. For example in one area there is a little pond in the middle of a garden. I thought it seemed logical to be able to just walk across it, but sadly there was an invisible wall blocking the pond off. I could walk all the way around it, but I just couldn’t stick a single toe in.

I played the PC version through Steam and I didn’t have any real issues with graphics or sound. There was one minor glitch the first time I went to Scotland Yard, but it cleared up quickly and never happened again. Additionally, the music and environmental sounds worked really well together to set the mood and FPS was consistently smooth.

xbox news main playstation news main pc 2 features 2 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments ReviewConclusions

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a very strong and intriguing game with a lot to offer. It does have some minor drawbacks such as the load screens and invisible walls, but those inconveniences are really minor when compared to the strong storytelling and the important role of player choice. This game works well for someone just looking for a fun game of solving crimes and equally well for someone who is looking for more of an intellectual challenge and perhaps to delve into their own moral code a bit.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments will be available on September 30th on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.