Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: May 26, 2009
Sherlock Holmes' bizarre quirks and incredible literary adventures have effectively made him the perfect character for video games since the dawn of the rendered pixel. Much to my amazement, there seems to have been several missteps in creating an enjoyable Sherlock Holmes game through the years. When I was younger, I played several Holmes titles that weren't the least bit enjoyable, but a few years ago, I played Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, which I was able to enjoy because it combined two things that I love into one incredible game: Holmes and Cthulhu. A couple of years later, Frogwares has created another game that successfully combines two incredible things into a largely entertaining reimagining with Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. What would have happened if Sherlock Holmes had been around to investigate the brutal murders committed by Jack the Ripper in the late 19th century? The game is fun but suffers from a few flaws that keep it from really shining.
Frogwares has been dabbling in Sherlock Holmes games for a while, seemingly content to churn out several adventures that sound rather dull. (Mystery of the Persian Carpet? Really?) They finally seem to have hit the sweet spot with crossovers into other stories and pitting Holmes against those antagonists. Jack the Ripper is probably the best idea Frogwares has come up with so far, as he's probably the single most recognizable name in murder history. When you think of Jack the Ripper, most people are going to think of the most brutal, unsolved serial killing spree in history. With this game, Frogwares has done a good service to both Jack and Holmes, twisting their tales into a fascinating story that appeals to a reasonably wide audience.
Sherlock Homes vs. Jack the Ripper opens in the Legendary Baker Street home of Watson and Holmes, and it's quickly established that there was a brutal killing the night before. Holmes (and the public in general) has virtually zero faith in the police forces to catch the murderer, so after a quick crash course on how to play a point-and-click adventure game, you're let loose to investigate. As you play, you'll frequently switch between controlling Holmes and Watson. The game quickly informs you of how it differs from the usual point-and-click fare, and I definitely appreciate the improvements.
The first option will strike most gamers as not that big of a deal, but it's something that I almost never see in the point-and-click adventure genre these days, which is the option to go into the first-person perspective and take full control of the character. Just like an FPS, movement depends on the WASD keys, and the game shifts from a point-and-click adventure to simply being a first-person adventure game. While the game is fully playable from both the classic fixed camera view and the first-person view, the latter gets the player significantly more involved in the game. It makes me feel like I have more control over the game rather than feeling like I'm simply controlling a movie, which is how I feel about the fixed camera view. Having this option makes the game infinitely more playable, in my opinion.
The second aspect opens up the game to a wider audience than the "pixel-hunting" crowd. Too often in this type of game, progress is contingent upon finding a small item somewhere on the screen that requires a ridiculously precise click to activate, and many gamers will sit around becoming increasingly frustrated at their inability to find this magic pixel to continue the game. Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper solves this the same way the last few Sherlock titles have, and that's by giving the player a "hint" button, which highlights all of the on-screen hot spots for about five seconds. This is perfect, as it allows the casual gamer to progress without extreme frustration, and it allows others to ignore the feature and go along on their merry pixel-hunting adventures.
While you'll have plenty of moments where you'll really feel like you just made a genius deduction as Holmes, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper is mostly on the easy side, in no small part due to the amount of help the game is willing to hand you at a moment's notice. Watson and Holmes will usually tell you where to go next, and once you're there, they'll tell you what you need to do to proceed. The process of investigating the crime isn't really left up to the imagination, but it falls to you to follow the guides and pick up the details on your own.
With an adventure game that's willing to hold your hand as much as this title does, it's somewhat shocking that it starts off in just about the worst way imaginable. While I suppose it was done to ease the players into the game, the first hour of gameplay consists of a lengthy chain of fetch quests that completely fail to grab the player's interest. By the end of the wild goose chase, even Holmes seems to be aggravated by the chain of fetch quests.
Thankfully, the game picks up from there and becomes a much more interesting experience that closely follows the actual murders that are connected to Jack the Ripper. Victims in the game share the same names, injuries and manners of death that they experienced in real life, and with several murders that take place over the course of the game, you'll spend plenty of time investigating crime scenes and drawing conclusions based on your observations. (This is easily the most fun part of the game.) Obviously, you need to observe and Holmes and Watson will sometimes even try to re-create how the crime happened so that you can draw as many conclusions as you can. There are all kinds of stuff to look at with each crime, possible motivations of the killer, figuring out any features of the killer based on the injuries the victim has sustained, etc. It's handled brilliantly.
The rest of Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper holds up reasonably well, but it just isn't as strong. Most of the puzzles are very straightforward, the challenge isn't really there, and some of the quests are so tear-inducing that you just zone out while waiting for the next objective to pop up.
Luckily, a reasonable amount of detail has been given to London in the game. The environments look detailed and give off a feeling of despair, as you'll spend much of your time wallowing in the lower class areas of London. Even the characters have a surprisingly large amount of variety to them, and it all helps to generate the look that the game is going for. Unfortunately, the cheap way out was taken on much of the animation, which often looks a little jerky. The game suffers from a lot of "swiveling," where a character will stop moving and swivel around to face you.
Holmes and Watson's voice actors, while they've been around for several games, could either stand to be recast or get some better writing. The writing is pretty good in the game, and the two actors manage to do a reasonable job most of the way through, but they falter in several places due largely to bad writing. Hearing Holmes try to stay "classy" when he's dressed up as a beggar simply doesn't make sense and completely ruins the entire game segment. Most of the supporting cast does an excellent job with their voice work, with the only exceptions being the street urchins who Holmes is ever so fond of. The soundtrack completely fails to set the mood, only serving as background sound and is completely forgotten by the time you exit out the game.
Up until the finale, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is a compelling adventure game that largely does things right to appeal to both fans and non-fans of point-and-click games. However, things come to a very unsatisfying conclusion that will leave almost everyone scratching their heads and asking, "Really, that's my reward?" Coupled with occasional game-crippling bugs (one investigation had hot spots that were activating the wrong hot spot, forcing me to restart the game) and subpar audio, it becomes a little difficult to recommend the game as a purchase. If you've ever had any interest in the Jack the Ripper killings, though, you'll probably find this game to be a thoroughly entertaining r-telling of some of the most famous murders of all time.
More articles about Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper