Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper Review for Xbox 360

Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper Review for Xbox 360

Elementary Dear Watson

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.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper screenshot

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.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper screenshot

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.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper screenshot

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.

The only downside to Holmes is that the game is a little buggy and looks a tad dated. It’s not a terribly big deal, but watching the strange alignments that Holmes’ and Watson’s character models go through while in survival horror-esque third-person mode (you can switch to first-person at any time for a better view-and easier navigation-of the world around you) is bizarre to watch, like something you’d expect to see in a late nineties PC game that doesn’t have all its kinks ironed out.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper screenshot

The game also looks a little basic on the 360, and while the graphics are sharp and clear, the overly-fast and floaty first-person mode hearkens back to PC games like Thief or Unreal-when early 3D engines didn’t quite have a feel for realistic weight yet. Other than being a little strange, this isn’t much of a problem, though, and it certainly doesn’t hurt the gameplay.

The only other thing that strikes me as odd is how the ESRB let this game get away with a Teen rating. Jack the Ripper’s horrific violence against his victims is never seen directly (although I would argue that the truly disgusting gore sound effects in the first scene of the game should almost net a Mature rating on their own), but that doesn’t mean this game is for kids. It’s unlikely they would be very interested in the cerebral style of gameplay anyway, but the narrative, as was true to life, is filled with all kinds of adult subject matter and sexual themes.

First and foremost, this is a game about a man who killed prostitutes, but even aside from that, there’s a lot of frank talk and plenty of implication about the game’s murders (and moreover the gruesome violence Jack the Ripper inflicts on his victims), the sex trade, venereal disease, and other seedy things. Hell, I didn’t even know it was possible to say “vagina” in a video game and still get a Teen rating. I’m glad this stuff is in here, because it would be a disservice to the historical events if it weren’t, and furthermore, Holmes’ adult subject matter is laid out in pretty clinical terms most of the time. But if you’re a parent with a teenager that has some interest in criminal psychology or forensics (or is a fan of Conan Doyle’s books), just be prepared to explain some of the game’s more mature elements.

That said, though, this is a surprisingly good, fun game, and with any luck, will help introduce the world of Sherlock Holmes-in print-to a larger audience.

Holmes’ visuals are basic, but they get the point across. 4.0 Control
Controls are pretty easy to use-it’s more or less a standard survival horror control scheme, minus the tank controls, with a couple of weird layout choices for navigating stored clues and items. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Holmes has a minimal soundtrack, and some sound effects repeat. The voicework is generally superb, particularly Holmes and Watson. 4.0 Play Value
Using logic and brainpower to deduce the facts is great fun, and the game is surprisingly entertaining. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Follow the string of real-life murders committed by Jack the Ripper as the world’s preeminent literary detective.
  • Alternate between Sherlock Holmes and Watson throughout the investigation.
  • Play in first- or third-person.

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