If a game developer is seeking a
riveting mystery scenario, real life supplies some of the best. And
without a doubt, one of the greatest historical who-done-its of all
times, would be the macabre case of Jack the Ripper. This elusive killer
has been the focal point of innumerable books, articles, and web sites -
that dig deep into “Ripper theory”. There have also been at least two
prior adventure games crafted around the Ripper mystique and story. The
newest Jack the Ripper game poses an intriguing question. Did “Jack” ply
his evil trade in London only? What if the murders ceased in London,
merely because he fled to another place, another shore?
Be very afraid,
Jack is back or … is he?
The game opens with a silent film. The
sound of an old projector echoes in the background, as the skyline of
NYC flickers on your screen. The image shifts to a brief montage of
images that hints of darker things to come. Then with a harsh cry and a
mad flutter of wings, a Raven appears against this backdrop of flashing
images. We appear at the menu screen and soon find ourselves at the
bustling offices of the New York Today. Our alter ego is a reporter at
this daily newspaper.
Palmer’s the name and news is his
game. Palmer has a brand new editor, Bur, whose sole ambition is to beat
the competition for the hot stories of the day. Palmer’s job is to get
the story and get it first. Fortunately for Palmer, he is about to get
the story of a lifetime. A brutal murder occurs in an area of NYC,
referred to as the “Low Side”. As if the news business wasn’t hectic
enough, subsequent killings create a rapidly growing body count. It
seems a serial killer is on the prowl. Soon, the facts add a more
disturbing possibility. The evidence appears to link these killings to
those that shocked London
in the fall of 1888. The victims in both cases are ladies of the night,
poor immigrant girls with no place else to turn. Their mangled bodies
are hideously mutilated, but with cold surgical precision. Items
are missing from their shattered forms. It has to be Jack the Ripper,
but as Carter, the NYC chief of police notes, “ Why would a murderer,
considered still at large by Scotland Yard travel from London to New
York City 13 years later and start his shenanigans again”.
Good question! And one of the many,
you will try to answer as you play through this game. Is it Jack? If not
– then who and if so then why here, why now?
East Side, West
I thought that the game captured the
essence of the late 19th century NYC. The writers scored
points in getting the dialect and dialogue right for that time period.
The voice talent was very well chosen. You had the softly lilting tones
of an Irish songbird, the street savvy accent of a native Low-Sider, the
brogue of an Irish cop, the hard boiled cadences of Burr, your editor
and so on. Your friend and colleague Paul, among other characters was
exceptionally well done. There are wagons rumbling by, a constant murmur
of people in the streets and the ever present shriek and clatter of the
elevated trains. All served the mood of things as the game progressed.
The musical overlay was even better. The pieces associated with specific
locales were well matched.
Along with the orchestrated music,
there were a variety of songs performed by Abi, the Irish songbird. You
can hear her most nights at the Red Chapel, a popular cabaret in the Low
Side district. During her nightly performances, you could walk around,
talk with people and she finished out her song for the evening. Instead
of a looping video, when she was done, she would gracefully exit the
stage. I liked to go there and just stand at the bar or center stage and
listen to her. Felt so real to me at that point
Jack the Ripper had a great cast of
characters. Some were attractive, while others were definitely unsavory.
One of the strongest aspects of this game, was the variety and mix of
well-developed characters. Add in the strength of the voice talent, the
dialogue and well rendered facial animations and you have the heart of a
very good game. I do wish that some of the potential Ripper suspects had
been interacted with more, as some were truly fascinating from the brief
look into their character that I got. But, you can’t have everything.
All around the town
The graphics were excellent. Adding to
the shifting moods was the ambiance created by the range of settings,
sounds, musical overlays and moments of isolation. I did note the empty
streets and counter intuitive lack of crowds you would expect in NYC.
But, I also think the game would not have achieved the desired level of
unease and suspense with them. At night, the sounds of the city were
notably absent. The silence accompanied by intensified music and
shadows, was the most compelling part of the game for me. There were a
few spots, I actively avoided and reluctantly returned to them only when
I had to. Try playing this game late at night with your headphones on,
I dare you.
I think that if the crowds of people
had been populating the game, this level of edginess would not have been
achieved. It was easy enough to believe that there there was an evil
entity so fearsome, that even the hardened residents of Low side kept to
well lit places and huddled inside their meager dwellings. The fact that
public houses, like the Red Chapel and the Blue Velvet were fairly well
populated, supported this sense of your surroundings. Would I have liked
to see more hustle and bustle during the day? Probably, but I felt
watched and haunted even then due to this unexpected isolation – so it
fit in with my mood while playing.
I will comment briefly on one notable
omission or perhaps design choice. Something about this game nagged at
me. While I was playing, I was engaged with the story, the various
supporting characters and the scent of the chase. But when I stopped
playing, I didn’t feel any real sense of the game. I felt oddly
detached. Since I couldn’t quite figure out what the cause of this was,
it bugged me. Finally, while I was playing a preview copy of another
game, it dawned on me what the root of this odd engaged, yet not engaged
feeling came from.
There are no cut scenes. Jack the
Ripper is a story and character driven game. It has admirable graphics
and ambiance. To me what pulls you back to a game is a sense of having
to see what happens or to resolve a game challenge. To be grabbed this
way, you have to feel invested. The use of cut-scenes to supplement the
plot and enhance character development has become a mainstay of most
games, even hybrids, in recent years. In this case, they were oddly
missing. I suppose it betrays how susceptible I am as a gamer to such
devices, but there it is. I like them. It is the story payoff for
advancing the game and uncovering more of the mystery. More importantly,
it enhances identification with my character, as I see them in a small
bit of interaction with another character or their environment. There
are periodic in game flash points. Where your character has a sort of
jumbled vision of images perhaps from within the mind of the killer, but
they were too brief for me to really focus on. This design choice,
alienated me from my core persona and prevented me from engaging fully
in a way that I would prefer. Perhaps if I had interacted with a home
base or apartment, something personal to the main character – this would
have created more self identification, but it wasn’t there. Is this a
poor design choice? A bit. It prevented me from attaching any identity
to my own character and left me only caring about the other people in
The story unfolds in a manner familiar
to those who have played the Cameron Files series. Grounded in the
practical challenges, you are a reporter and act as one. You find
sources, question them, discover evidence and sleuth out leads. There
may be keys to obtain, telegrams to code, documents to examine and
compare and so on. Which brings us to the puzzling or challenge aspect
of this game. In short – those who love hands on traditional puzzles,
the more the better and consider their inclusion essential to game
enjoyment, will be disappointed. I enjoy such games – but like others, I
also like a story driven game, with integrated challenges, as well. If
you agree, you will find the game play easy to get absorbed in and few
opportunities to get deeply stuck. Not that these challenges are all
simplistic, you just won’t need calculations and hours of thinking to
get past them. Is this a critical omission? No, not really. It’s merely
a design choice for this game. You either like it or you don’t.
I do find fault with a challenge that
had a slight ‘timing” factor to it. This also happens to be a more
cumbersome challenge, featuring tasks to be performed. You have to
access your inventory, move about the area and carry items to and fro.
One of the tasks involves accessing a room through a weighted door. The
door rises up and then starts a slow progression down. Now granted – you
should notice the door closing and think perhaps you best be on the
other side, if you haven’t figured out the full solution as to how to
exit the scene. But it might not occur to you that you could get a
games-over, if you stayed too long in that back room. Up until this
point, nothing in the game indicated such moments were possible or even
likely. Seasoned gamers might have saved before entering the room as it
did look a bit dicey. But, casual gamers would not be conditioned to do
this. Gameplay can go fast in some parts of the game, so you could end
up having to re-tread a lot of ground when reverting to a prior save.
There did appear to be a built in cheat, as your cursor picks up an exit
arrow way on top of the door. This too had a buggy aspect. If you did
not re-open the door from the outside, which appears to re-set the room,
then you would find yourself unable to access other in-game materials
needed to complete the challenge and escape. Many gamers might work
their way through this, but others would probably just get increasingly
stuck and frustrated.
If your intent is to create a story
intensive game, with accessible puzzles, then it is inconsistent to have
a games-over moment without an automatic re-start or perhaps a clue of
the danger. Even a sign saying “door can not be opened from this side”
or a character comment would have sufficed. It is a very creepy game, so
heed your instincts. Save when it looks potentially hazardous, until you
scope out the situation and you will be fine. Didn’t ruin my enjoyment,
but it is an annoying quirk, that could have been avoided.
On the down side..
There have been varied accounts of
various performance problems by reviewers. Some have had few if any,
others have railed about them. I myself got the early review copy and
did encountered several. However, I contacted the publisher and noted
the problems I was having. They responded that a bad in-house burn had
occurred and sent me a new master copy overnight. I will say that it
made all the difference. I pushed and prodded the game after that. I
decided to do a full replay to see if any of the glitches, I had run
into, were still there. Most were not. There is one puzzle though that
has a bug. In it you have to note the dates of the
and NYC murders on a calendar. You have two colored pencils for this
purpose. If you back out of the puzzle to re-check the dates, when you
return you cannot seem to lay down one pencil and pick up the other.
There may be a work around for this and Gallilea has a solid history of
working with gamers on their products. So perhaps it has already been
addressed. But it is worth noting. This, coupled with a few other
aspects of the game took the game down a small notch for me.
So who was the
You really expected me to answer that?
OK perhaps the developers gave
themselves a difficult goal, when they decided to try their hand at the
Ripper mystery. But, I think they did it justice. The interface and
gameplay was awkward in places, it could have used a round of testing to
iron out all the kinks and I wish the main character had been as
detailed and real as the supporting cast. Ripper experts may have issues
with the plot, but it was riveting and historically detailed enough for
my pleasure. They managed to evoke particularly gruesome crimes without
lavishing the blood splatters around and made the game suitable for
family play as well as adults. Not an easy task with such a story line.
This is a good game for the casual
gamer, but even veterans such as myself, will find much to enjoy in the
dark alleyways and horse trodden streets of New York. The atmosphere,
great songs, believable characters, excellent voice work and engrossing
story make Jack the Ripper well worth playing.
And make sure you play it after dark,
with the headphones on and the lights turned out… Come on.. I dare you.
Final Grade: B
played this game on the following system: