Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper


Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Frogwares Game Development Studios

Publisher:    Focus Home Interactive, The Adventure Company

Released:  May 2009

PC Requirements:   Windows XP / Vista, 2.0 GHz Processor, 512MB RAM, 128 MB video card


Additional Screenshots




by flotsam


The previous Sherlock outing from Frogwares saw the good Mr. Holmes lock wits with a fellow literary creation from across the channel. A debonair gentleman thief couldnít be more different than the protagonist in this, the fifth Sherlock Holmes adventure from this development house.

The pairing has been seen before. I remember an old British movie called A Study in Terror, in which Holmes becomes interested in a news story about two similar murders in Whitechapel, and canít help but go investigating. More recent (and probably more well-known) was Murder by Decree, in which the royal conspiracy thread was prominent. Wheels within wheels, it was based on a book based on a television series, all based ultimately on some combination of the fact and fiction and myth that surround Jack.

But not being new doesnít make it tired. Sherlock has his own following, and Jack has an allure that is hard to resist. It guarantees an intriguing confrontation.

Ah, The vanity of existence! It is but complaints and smoke; the meagre panache of its sickly soul

The opening scenes are particularly good. We begin within the elegant confines of 221B Baker Street, a bored and almost aloof Holmes pontificating on life and death and cigarettes. We shift to the grimy and dingy surrounds of Whitechapel, sweeping through the streets and laneways that are typical of much of old (and new) London. Shortly and inevitably, we come across the last moments of the life of Polly Nichols, and then the much longer legacy of her death.

Much of what makes this game good is present in these few opening scenes. The characterisation, the story driven nature of the proceedings, the graphical detail, the ability to build and convey a period that was essentially a clash of cultures, albeit only streets apart. So too the cinematic perspective used in the cutscenes and the crafted repartee. They are not all good all of the time, but they come together to provide a strong and sometimes compelling adventure.

The way in which the game deals with the brutality of what Jack did is also unveiled in the opening. Everyone knows the ferocity involved. It is conveyed here, and is not shied away from, but neither is it the centrepiece of the deaths and investigations. Another Ripper movie, From Hell, almost wallowed in it. Here, it happened, and is relevant, but is never allowed to dominate.

This stayed true throughout the game. Bodies that must be examined appear as cartoon style drawings. The discovery of Mary Kelly is almost fleeting, and the subsequent examination done via a little clay model. The sound palette is used to enhance what is often not seen. It creates a very effective Ripper feel.

It is like dipping your biscuit in a pigsí trough

The feel of old London is there as well. The sights and sounds and the goings on of the times are part and parcel of the enfolding events. Prostitution, sickness, poverty, vagrancy, class and the underlying attitudes are all here. At times it provides some comic relief, which may also seem a little out of kilter, but itís a rich world.

Itís a full one too. There are a multitude of people going about their business. I can recall games in which cities which should be teeming with life contain only the three or four characters necessary to progress the proceedings. That is not the case here. Whilst only a small proportion have a necessary role in terms of plot, you can talk (albeit generally briefly) to just about anyone. Their presence alone helps build depth.

Somewhat unfortunately, itís also very linear. There is always only one thing to do at a time, and whilst you can go many places early on, the signposts as to where to go and the constraints that stop you going to some of the unnecessary places (e.g., ďI have no reason to go thereĒ) add to the sense of linearity. It felt almost pedestrian at times.

An upside is that it is not a difficult game, and therefore the story keeps humming along and never gets bogged down. That too is a big plus, as the detail befitting a Sherlock Holmes investigation unfolds much like a novel would.

A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury

Dialogue can be clunky (and a little saucy) at times, and isnít always delivered by top notch thespians, but across the board I thought it was generally well written and acted. Sherlock and the good Dr. Watson are the main characters, and fittingly they stand out. Fittingly as well, you get to play both of them throughout the game, although that control is not yours to decide. Some tasks are done as Watson, some done as Holmes.

The tasks are many, but I found the juxtaposition of the mundane with the Ripper investigation a bit grating. You are often in search of things to achieve little chores for people in order for them to tell you or give you something of importance. It isnít uncommon in adventure games, but I thought it detracted from the Ripper mood. That might have been the point, but this game would for me have been much more powerful if I hadnít had to punctuate the darker side of things by recovering lost canes and mending broken keys. That is not to say they werenít usually integrated into proceedings, just that they took away from the experience for me as opposed to adding to it.

However, the generally easy nature of the game did mean that I was very soon back with the main action. Hotspots can all be indicated by pressing the space bar, so if you want to make sure that finding the parts to fix the cart wheel doesnít take too long, the space bar will be your friend. Most necessary inventory items are found near to where they are needed, so you wonít be hopping all over London looking for the missing piece of rope. You will, however, keep and use a few items in a number of locations.

You can choose to play first or third person, and can switch back and forth at will between the two. I did exactly that, finding that first person helped to navigate through the streets (third person camera angles could at times frustrate locomotion) and helped the sense of involvement, but used third person to explore a scene more carefully. It was a nice touch, and shows the makers clearly had the players in mind.

I donít serve justice, I serve truth

Conundrums are a mix of game-based tasks, straight-out puzzles (safecracking, etc.) and the various investigation tools. The latter might consist of timelines, linking clues on a deduction board, constructing mannequins of suspects, or attributing possible motives. Some you do once, others appear several times. You may have to delve into your growing documents record to pull out the detail you need, and some may have to be completed in stages.

The deductions board worked particularly well. Having examined a scene, clues would then be placed on the board. They would link together, and present you with a number of possible deductions. These would in turn link with others to arrive at conclusions. If correct, they are framed in green; if not, the conclusion is red, meaning you need to revisit some deductions. Elementary dear Watson!

Again, they arenít hard, and can be done fairly readily by trial and error, but that would defeat the point. I thought they were nicely constructed; and done as intended, they helped distil the salient points from the detritus of the many bits and pieces of information that come your way.

The management of that information is excellent. Right click brings up the inventory, within which are your documents, dialogue records, items and a map, as well as links to the deduction boards. When a document or other material is added, a relevant icon will appear at the top right of the game screen. It handles a lot of information efficiently and effectively, making access and revision easy and straightforward.

To use an item, click on it and an image will appear again at the top right of the screen. Clicking the appropriate hotspot will result in its use. Some items can be combined, which is done by dragging within the inventory.

You have different options for getting around. In first person you can use the keyboard, or hold down the left mouse key and steer by moving the mouse. Just be patient; I didn't get an instant response to the left mouse so assumed it didn't work. In third person you can point and click anywhere with the cursor, or click when the footsteps icon appears. Double click and you run. The keyboard probably works too, although I didn't ever try. You can also remap some of the keys at the options screen, and a full range of sound, video and graphic options are available.

Lies, infidelity, venereal disease, murder, mutilation and cannibalism Ė a complete anthology of humans at their most vile

Murder is indeed most horrid, but in the face-off between Sherlock and Jack, it provides the backdrop for a lengthy and well constructed adventure game. Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper could have been brilliant, but some of those things which I found detracted from the final outcome (speaking of which, the end is a tad surreal) may not be such issues for others. I doubt any adventure game fan will be disappointed, and some may well be exceptionally pleased.

Oh, and did I mention the default icon is a bloody knife? Delicious!


I played on:

OS: Win XP Professional SP3

Processor: AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz

Ram: 3.25GB DDR2 400MHz

Gx card: ATI Radeon HD 3850 512Mb

July, 2009

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