London, August 31st, 1888. The Whitechapel district is filled with misery, poverty and disease. Due to the industrial revolution, the capital of England does not go through its best days, being overcrowded by drunks, prostitutes and beggars. Most women earn their living on the streets, selling their bodies to any man willing to throw away some coins for a few moments of pleasure.
But on this particular night, one of the prostitutes, Mary Ann Nichols, is less fortunate, being murdered and abandoned on the streets. This is the beginning of "Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper", the newest title from Frogware Studios’ famous Sherlock Holmes series, which follows in the steps set by Mystery of the Mummy, Secret Silver Earring, The Awakened and Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsene Lupin.
Despite the fact that the real Jack the Ripper was never caught, you have the chance to play the role of the famous detective who, along with his good friend, Dr. Watson, must unravel the mystery of the serial killer. From the very beginning we can observe a not so common feature for the adventure genre – the possibility to control the character from two perspectives, 1st and 3rd person. However, neither seemed very effective to me, so I often changed between the two views whenever I felt like I did not have the best perspective on the actions which necessary in a particular room.
Due to the fact that the interface is reduced to a minimum, we get increased visibility, but this comes with a cost, as the use of inventory items is at least bizarre. For example, if you are standing in front of a lock and the inventory contains four keys, the system requires you to enter the inventory menu, take a key, exit the menu and test it. These are the steps which have to be taken for each key and such a process becomes tiring after a while.
Since we are dealing with a true point-and-click game, the characters’ movement is comanded with a simple mouse click, while double-clicking will make characters run to that destination. Also, with a press of the C key we open the city map, which is used to ease the navigation within the already visited areas. Also, any visited shop, house or warehouse will be noted on the map.
The story is completely linear and even beginners will encounter no major difficulties in discovering what to do when they arrive to a certain place. It’s thanks to a very helpful and dynamic "guidance" system. By pressing the Space key, you’ll see a magnifying glass next to all objects in the room with which you can interact. Obviously, I recommend using this feature only in crisis situations, so you won’t miss out on the adventure spirit and be closer to the famous Indiana Jones and Monkey Island series.
Moreover, the two main characters will alternately specify the next step or the next place you should visit in the attempt to discover the killer. So it’s very simple to determine where you should head off to if Dr. Watson says that’s imperative to go to the hospital for some medicine. Also, if you want to leave a room before you finish all the quests, you will discover that your departure is not permitted.
To the chagrin of gamers expecting a mysterious and difficult to solve storyline, the producers sprinkled the narrative part with some simplistic quests. You are usually told to speak with a certain character or ask him for a favor; as a result, said character will need a service in exchange for his help. That way, you get to speak to four or five characters, each wanting something, but when one of them is happy, all other problems are solved as well, like a domino. It’s true that I liked the quests’ logics; therefore I never found something out of place with the demands thrown at me.
Besides the above mentioned puzzles, there are many others that are quite intelligent and imaginative. Although these will seriously test your mind in an interesting and challenging way, I often had the impression that some of them are extremely difficult and that you need to also be very lucky, not only smart and agile.
The novelty comes from specific elements of criminal investigations: deductions, conclusions and the time scale. Thus, after having discovered and investigated a crime, Sherlock Holmes collects information that can be used in the Deduction Menu where, with a help of an tree-like system, he will reach one or more suppositions related to the ripper.
The player has several options at his disposal and if you select the appropriate ones, the final deduction will be correct and it will turn into a conclusion. The time scale is just an imaginary ruler on which our investigators rebuild the crime scene events, depending on time of day in which they happened. I must admit that I liked these elements which made me feel like a real detective.
Visually speaking, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is not a masterpiece, not that a good adventure game needs to be. For the most demanding of you I recommend using 3rd person camera for a more natural feeling. The 1st person is not bad either, but those who also play shooters will be slightly disappointed by the engine.
One element that honors the game is the sound. The heavy, powerful music reflects the atmosphere quite well, you can hear the people begging on the streets and the characters have a genuine British accent, which is very interesting. Compared to other titles, the NPCs do not have long conversations and furthermore, most of them prefer to shun you, with no desire to continue the discussion. But in comparison with the NPC and Watson’s voices, Sherlock Holmes’s is absolutely horrible.
And I am not talking about an accent problem or a lack of intonation, but about the fact that the actor gives the impression that he is just trying too hard. Throughout the adventure I felt that someone is making desperate efforts not to miss the sentences. Therefore, I was not able to associate in any way the character on screen with the voice coming out of the speakers.
Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper comes to fill an increasing void which adventure fans had been feeling lately. I cannot classify this as an exceptional title in any aspect, but neither can I find it excessively mundane. The story is interesting, the quests are logical and the puzzles, while sometimes frustrating, are full of imagination.
But although the game’s qualities are indisputable, I wasn’t really impressed. Maybe because I was too pissed off over some puzzles, maybe because Holmes’ voice seemed unbearable or perhaps I am expecting with too much enthusiasm a new surprise from Lucas Arts. But for the rest of you adventure fans or for those who have ever dreamt themselves detectives, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper should not be missed.