Cut and Dry
Recent past sleuthing exploits in the video game realm have found the famed fictional detective Sherlock Holmes facing some downright peculiar characters in his quest for clues and the ultimate solution of the most elusive plots imaginable. After going toe-to-toe with an evil, Chthulhu-worshipping cult in The Awakened and matching wits with the gentleman cat burglar Arséne Lupin in Nemesis, Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson have their work “cut out” for them in their latest mystery-solving jaunt. It’s a grisly one to be sure.
Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is an unusual entry in the already bizarre game series that riffs off the classic Holmes detective novels. Walking the line between historical facts and “what if” fiction, the game places the crime uncovering heroes at the grim scene of a series of violent and gory murders in London’s East End perpetrated by none other than the infamously savage slayer of painted ladies himself. Though the murderer was never actually identified or caught, the game follows the details and reports of the slayings quite closely, fills in the blanks with some solid Holmes-oriented storytelling, and it affords you an opportunity to catch the twisted culprit.
With the local constables ineffectively scratching their heads trying to catch the mysterious killer who’s leaving the bodies of prostitutes with their throats slashed and their entrails missing, Holmes and Watson take up the chase on the sly. By scouring murder scenes, examining bodies, following clues, and keeping a low profile, you’ll gradually wind your way through the bloody trail left in the Ripper’s wake. Then there’s the obligatory task of wading through a hodgepodge of miscellaneous errands and bouts of puzzle solving in-between to contend with – dually part of the typical blend of fun and frustration found in adventure game designs. The game ushers in some pleasant improvements over past entries but also falls prey to a few familiar pitfalls.
As with past Sherlock Holmes PC games, you alternate between playing as Holmes and Watson at different points in the adventure. The latter tends to get stuck with all the errand boy drudgery, while Holmes basks in the glory of the exciting moments, but that’s all part of the classic interaction between the two. This time around you’re not stuck slowly meandering around in the first-person perspective. In a nod to its adventure puzzle game roots, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper lets you easily switch from first to third-person at any point. Both provide unique views of the gritty London slums, brothels, back alleys, and other charming locales you’ll scour through, and the option is one many long-time followers will appreciate. Each perspective offers a very different way to experience the game. However, the newly added point-and-click setup leaves much to be desired due to its awkwardly jarring camera angle transition and movement response that could be a lot smoother overall.
A far cry from the sparsely populated locations in past games, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is teeming with humanity at its worst. The night life along the streets of London’s East Side is populated with the type of folks you’d want to run into in a dark alley, and you’ll be wandering through many shady spots filled with drunken hoodlums, homeless bums, prostitutes in search of clients, and other unsavory characters. The noticeably increased number of people milling about at all hours is a welcome addition, and characters look and sound as good as ever. Dark and depressing environments mixed with gritty characters greatly enhance the ominous tone of the adventure.
Gaining access to fresh crime scenes where the Ripper has left his latest victims introduces one of the game’s more intriguing new elements. Using your natural detective instincts and a magnifying glass, you’ll direct Holmes and Watson as they scour the body and the surrounding area for physical clues left behind and observances that can be used to shed some light onto how the murder went down. After examining each scene and paying attention to the verbal cues given by the characters, you have to lay out bits of information and select the right deductions from a series of connected drop down menus. Other peripheral puzzles are often tied into these investigations as well, and in some cases both gumshoes will return to a scene and re-enact the murder. These unsettling crime scene investigations punctuate the grizzly nature of your adversary and lead you closer to tracking him down. They also nicely change up the pace at regular intervals and play well into the overall horror-tinged atmosphere.
In contrast, the rest of the puzzles sprinkled liberally throughout Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper are pretty standard for adventure games. There are combination locks to crack, torn notes to piece back together, slide puzzle locks to solve, and codes to decipher, along with more obscure obstacles to tackle. As stalwart adventure gamers might expect, these puzzles range from reasonably difficult to downright inane. Whether you’ll enjoy the challenges set forth depends largely on personal taste and the level of experience with the genre. Though mostly familiar in design, the numerous puzzles are well integrated into the adventure. The more annoying element comes in the form of lots of fetch quests that are irritatingly woven into the space in-between the more enjoyable murder scene, puzzle, and dialogue interactions. As Watson, you’re often directed to hunt down some obscure item from someone else before the person you need to obtain something crucial from will cough it up. Multiple layers of fetchery stacked upon one another further convolute the matter.
A strong joining of fictional Holmes flair with the Ripper’s horrific, real-life murder spree makes for some good storytelling and detective-driven adventuring. Some of the other additions help deepen the experience, while others would have best been left on the cutting room floor. Without being mind-blowing or particularly amazing in any regard, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is a generally good entry in the series. It doesn’t advance the adventure genre very far beyond tradition, but hunting a vicious murderer and solving puzzles along the way is mostly satisfying.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Seedy locations and gritty characters are a visual treat. 3.2 Control
First-person adventuring is solid, but the third-person point-and-click controls aren’t quite as good. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music, environmental sounds, and dialogue is generally quite good. 3.7 Play Value
Tedious side quests are balanced out by compelling murder investigations and a gripping plot.E 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.