|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Frogwares / Spiders||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Focus Home Interactive||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 29, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
I know, I know... with a name like Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, you're probably not exactly filled with confidence over the quality of this game. Pitting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictitious detective against one of the most vicious serial killers in modern history seems, at least in the world of video games, like a recipe for a crappy, cheesy action title that offers little substance or fun-even in spite of the titular detective's penchant for cerebral deliberation over, say, fisticuffs.
This was my initial impression of the game upon hearing its name anyway. However, I am happy to say that it was very much an erroneous one. Despite its silly title, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is an honest and more than competent point-and-click adventure (albeit one that is streamlined to just play more like an adventure game). The game follows a loose iteration of Jack the Ripper's Whitechapel murders, with Holmes and Watson on the case to catch the killer, but not in an especially official capacity. The game is, I feel, particularly surprising, especially since most people will probably see it on store shelves and make a snap judgment of it without even realizing what the game is.
The developers probably could have come up with a better, less off-putting name, but it also goes to show that you really can't (and shouldn't) judge a book by its cover. In fact, from the moment I started playing, I was hooked; in a first-person introduction, Holmes stands looking out the window of his home at 221 Baker Street, smoking and waxing philosophic to Watson over the criminal nature of man. It's an unassuming beginning, to be sure (but then again, this is the game's style) but between Holmes' cynical intellectualism and the brilliant performance delivered by his voice actor, I was instantly intrigued.
In fact, it's the game's script that often carries it, even when the gameplay can sag slightly. Typically, your time will be spent, as in the case with most point-and-clicks, talking to people to advance the plot while solving tasks that crop up along the way. Where Holmes differs from a lot of point-and-clicks is that you're not assaulted by a thousand different things to look at or examine; what you need to do in terms of environmental action is generally laid out clearly. Thus, instead of a very hands-on experience with all manner of 'everyday' puzzles (as in the kind of point-and-click where nearly every obstacle you come across needs to be solved with some sort of puzzle, item exchange or interaction, like in Telltale's Sam & Max series) the bulk of the obstacles come in verbal exchanges with various characters in the game, shady or otherwise. Throughout your investigations you'll run into all sorts of different sorts, which is where the typical transaction of information brokering for services rendered comes into play.
You know the type-NPC A will assist you with X if you do, give them, or help them with Y. Sometimes the game feels a little fetch-quest-like because of this, but it never becomes overbearing. Also, the game's well-written script, expertly delivered by a diverse British (or very British-sounding) cast, makes even the most mundane conversations engaging enough to pull you into the world of Victorian London. I could listen to Holmes dryly comment on the police force or how to avoid them in his stiff upper lip all day. Regardless, however, this only accounts for some of the gameplay-aside from some more standard item-based puzzles, there are, of course, the murders themselves, and it's with these that the game really shines.
After Jack the Ripper has struck again, Watson and Holmes quickly away to the scene of the crime, where a detailed analysis of what has occurred takes place. After Watson does his preliminary examination of the corpse, establishing estimated time of death and various physical details, you get to observe the various clues of the crime scene; the position of the corpse, the presence of any lacerations on the body, objects lying near the body, signs of a struggle, bruises, the appearance of blood anywhere around the corpse, missing organs, et cetera. All of these clues are then compiled in Watson's deduction book, at which point you must match them all up to come up with several facts that can lead to your discovery how exactly the murderer was able to kill the victim, what kind of weapon he used, what position they died in, what their state of mind was (relative to fear or a relaxed state), and the like. It's basically a giant logic diagram, but it's fun to use your brain and deduce for yourself just what happened.
Similarly, Holmes and Watson go through other various logical tests and charts, establishing things like motive, exact time of death of one of the victims, or other useful information to the investigation. Meanwhile, the game's narrative moves right along, alternating between possible leads and new crimes to investigate. One of the best parts about the game is Holmes' cleverness and his arrogance, as he goes through some rather unorthodox ways of getting the information he needs while staying one step ahead of the police. This classical interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective is not Guy Ritchie's Holmes, but he's still a bona fide badass in his own right.