Frogwares' series of Sherlock Holmes adventures are highly enjoyable experiences, particularly for those who are fans of Conan Doyle's classic detective hero. And one of the best things about the series is how it's never been afraid to experiment.
Over the course of all the games, we've seen Holmes take on everyone from Jack the Ripper to the Cthulhu mythos. In the upcoming new game, known as Crimes and Punishments, the element Frogwares has been experimenting with is the question of morality.
Video game morality is often a black-and-white (or, indeed, red-and-blue) affair, in which you're presented with ways of resolving a situation that are obviously "good" or "evil." To make things even more obvious, these black-and-white morality systems are often accompanied by a meter or two depicting your overall levels of "good" or "evil" (or various synonyms thereof) over the course of the game. It's a rare game indeed that forces you to consider shades of gray, and a series of options where there is no obviously "correct" answer that has a 100 per cent desirable outcome -- up until now, CD Projekt Red's The Witcher series has been celebrated as one of the best examples of this more nuanced approach to morality.
If Frogwares plays its cards right, though, Crimes and Punishments could be held up as a similarly mature example of how gaming can approach moral dilemmas. Each of the cases Holmes and Watson takes on over the course of the game's complete narrative will present you with ten possible suspects, and it's only through careful investigation and deduction that you'll be able to come to an appropriate conclusion. But once you've found a suspect, you'll also have to consider whether or not to follow the letter of the law, or do something different that might be more "morally" correct. And, of course, your decisions will have consequences further down the road.
This is firmly in keeping with how Holmes was depicted in the original stories; although he was a talented detective who often worked alongside or with the police, he often came to arrangements with the "villains" that were outside the law. Conan Doyle had strong feelings about the judicial system at the time he was writing, so much as Holmes had a darker side, the villains of the various stories were often sympathetic individuals who had their own reasons for committing their crimes.
The example in the trailer above -- a woman committing murder in self-defense -- is a fairly obvious example, but there's potential for the game to ponder some truly intriguing moral quandaries over the course of its narrative. Let's hope it lives up to its promising potential.
Crimes and Punishments will be available on PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in the second quarter of next year.