In Crimes & Punishments: Sherlock Holmes, the player controls the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. The game is set in the late 19th century and, in contrast to the predecessors, tells not one big case but six smaller, independent ones. Three of them are original stories and two (The Fate of Black Peter and The Abbey Grange Affair) are based on Sherlock Holmesstories by Arthur Conan Doyle. The Riddle on the Rails takes the basic premise of Doyle’s story The Lost Train, but the rest of the story is original. All cases involve Holmes investigating a murder.
Solving crimes has four main components. The first part is investigating the environment: here the player controls Holmes either in first or third-person (the point & click interface of the predecessors is no longer available) and navigates him through the scenes, e.g. a garden or a mansion. When Holmes walks near something interesting, a notification pops up and after pressing a button, Holmes will make an observation or interact with the object. In some cases the game switches to first-person detail view of the object, e.g. a shelve, and the player moves a cursor in search for more hot-spots. When a smaller object is viewed in detail mode, it can be rotated. “Finished” hot-spots are marked and detail views are automatically exited when there is no more information to be found. Additionally there are two special viewing modes available which can be turned on when investigating the environment: instinct (allows Holmes to find small details) and imagination (Holmes recreates past events in his mind). Because those viewing modes are mandatory to find certain clues, there is a notification when they should be used.
The second component is interrogating suspects and witnesses. When entering conversation, Holmes has a number of topics to choose from. This results usually in an automatic dialogue between Holmes and the other persons, but in some cases Holmes can cut in when the person is lying. Then he is presented with a number of rebuttals and has to choose the correct one. Those are either previously collected clues or come from Holmes’ deductions about the person: like in the novels, Holmes closely inspects the person’s outside for conclusions about character and history. From a gameplay perspective, it is similar to the object detail view: moving a cursor over the person and clicking on hot-spots.
The third component are mini games which are frequently encountered while processing evidence or searching the environment, e.g. when opening a lock. The gameplay of those mini games have a wide range and can be puzzles, action-based or simply using things in the correct sequence. While most are short, some like creating a time-table of events can be a bit more involved. All mini games can be skipped. Additionally there are some inventory-based puzzles in which Holmes has to collect a few things to (automatically) use with another thing.
This all comes together in the fourth component: deductions. They are performed on a separate screen and lead to the resolution of the case. First there is a cluster of all clues Holmes has found so far and the player has to choose two which belong together and form a deduction, e.g. “the victim was shot” and “the revolver has one bullet missing” may lead to the deduction “the victim was shot with the revolver”. Multiple deductions together lead to another deduction and eventually to the murderer or the next step to take in the investigation, e.g. a recreation of the crime. However, many clues can be interpreted differently and this is the player’s job: choosing between two alternatives based on everything what was learned – different interpretations lead to different results. In the end, the player is free to choose the conclusion and the game does not prevent accusing the wrong suspect. However, after the case the player can optionally view if the choice was correct and jump back to the last decision. There is also always a moral choice to take which boils down to hitting the murderer with the full charge of the law or being lenient.
As the cases are independent, those choices don’t have impact besides a letter or newspaper story which can be picked up during the next case. While most environments are exclusive to the case and are opened up one after another, there are two places which are visited in almost every case: Holmes’ and Watson’s home (used for research, processing evidence and changing Holmes’ appearance) and Scotland Yard (used for interrogating arrested suspects and inspect their belongings, visit the morgue or converse with Inspector Lestrade). The player almost exclusively controls Holmes; other characters like Watson or the sniffer dog Toby are only controlled in a few sequences.