Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper Review
Written : Monday, January 04, 2010
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
If you saw the title and were expecting a grand, Street Fighter style dust up between the world's greatest detective and one of the world's most infamous criminals, then you sir/madam are in for a major disappointment. If you can pick yourself up from the humbling letdown, then you can instead expect an investigative adventure that may well surprise you. You take on the role of the titular detective and his able sidekick Dr Watson in a bid to crack the case that has puzzled people for years. Considering the dearth of old school adventure titles on the 360 this game fills a void quite nicely.
The game is afoot, Watson.
This game plays out as a point and click adventure in all but name, and although you direct your character manually rather than clicking on set destinations, the puzzles and game mechanics are what you would expect from other games in the genre. As the game was originally developed by Frogwares for the PC it has been around for a while already, and that does show in some of the graphics and voice work. However, do not let the looks put you off, as beneath the rather plain exterior beats an intriguing game with a more than solid story. It is also the first game to use the word jackanape as a piece of dialogue – so all those who have ever questioned my gamertag can finally find the answers they seek (which would be a weight off my mind).
Strangely for an adventure game of this nature you can switch from a third person viewpoint - full of tension building fixed camera angles - to a helpful first person view for snagging critical clues. The system works well but is confounded by the fact things take a major graphical hit while in first person mode. While the cobbled streets of London, and Jack the Ripper's stomping ground of Whitechapel in particular, look sombre and brooding from a third person view, the same cannot be said when you take a closer look. The first person angle makes textures seem extremely poor and characters look decidedly one dimensional. Thankfully you only really need first person when snooping for specific objects, but it does detract from the overall feel somewhat.
If the game fails to look its best at least the story can come to its rescue as the plot is genuinely interesting. Holmes is exactly as you would expect, full of confidence even arrogance at times and acting strangely detached from the world around him. Watson acts as the perfect foil, full of emotion and humanity, while also grumbling about the late hours and time away from his wife. While it may sound like the beginning of a comedy double act, the interplay between them is spot on and exactly how you would expect them to be. A lot of credit should go to the voice actors who do a great job of bringing them to life. However, it has to be said that one lovable Cockney urchin sounds a little too American for the sake of realism, though at least he is good for a couple of unintentional laughs. Still, the tale of Jack the Ripper and Holmes' dogged pursuit of his foe is one to relish.
This woman is a prostitute... No!... SERIOUSLY.
The story twists and turns as our heroes follow leads that all too often lead to dead ends. However, each false turn also adds information to the greater puzzle and you never feel like time is wasted just to drag the game out. It is also nice to see a great deal of variety in the tasks you will have to carry out and no two tasks are ever alike, be it carefully balancing a gas leak until you can access a stash of loot, to setting up a crime scene or even experimenting on pig's heads. The variety is what keeps you hooked, along with the feeling that every step is inching you closer to the truth. It does not hurt that a lot of information in the game is based on the actual case which just makes things all that more fascinating. The real standouts come when you are required to use Holmes' renowned deductive abilities to piece together events and investigate the scene of the crime. It does requires a bit of thinking on your own part and careful examination of the evidence in order to come to the right conclusions.
If there was one problem with the game, it would be that sometimes the puzzles may well be a bit too abstract or even reliant on knowledge that is not in the game at all. Personally I do not know the names, dates and military symbols of the winners and losers during the US Civil War – which made one puzzles a twenty minute case of trial and error. Thankfully such issues are few and far between, but it is still frustrating. At least you have a help button that can highlight objects of interest and you can always consult your notes for where to head next. Travel is also sped up via the map which is a godsend considering neither of our leads apparently knows how to run.
Piecing the puzzle together – elementary.
There is really not much to do in the way of achievements with a game like this, but it is nice to see a solid list that rewards your progression and the successful solving of key puzzles. There are also a number of tasks that can be missed, so you should be sure to check everything and everywhere in order to snag them. It is nice to see that the achievement descriptions offer little clues as to how they can be solved though, with a different description popping up once they are unlocked – a neat touch and one that is all too rarely used. You should snag everything in one thorough playthrough with no problems though.
This game will certainly not appeal to everyone, as it is more about a solid story and cast of interesting characters than out-and-out action. The only similar titles on the 360 are comedy titles like Monkey Island or Sam and Max, though I suppose you could count the appalling CSI as a contender too. Where this game stands above those is in a subtle blend of facts and fiction to make a compelling plot, along with some superb logic puzzles. It may not have great graphics or a sense of humour, but as a Holmes game this is superb and well worth a punt if you are after a gritty slice of investigation leading up to a well thought-out, and slightly disturbing finale.
Holmes and Watson are spot on, and their banter at times is excellent. Some of the supporting cast are less so – specifically the Cockney/American urchin that has the most bizarre accent of all time.
Not the greatest, especially when in first person mode, as characters and textures can look flat and dull. The third person perspective does a better job of highlighting the grim London streets, although it does make hunting for clues a tad unwieldy .
The puzzles, deductive elements and case notes are top notch. However, there is a lot of back and forth wandering between the same areas and some of the puzzles require a bit too much real world knowledge so can get frustrating.
A superb representation of Sherlock Holmes and one of the few puzzle/detective games on the 360 that is worth playing; the atmosphere and story are spot on.
A decent list but one that is pretty much restricted by the genre of the game itself. A number of optional tasks are present, but nothing that requires you to go too far out of your way. This should be a very easy thousand points for the dedicated detective.
Some people would dismiss this as a dull, slow paced historical game – but they would be missing the point. This is a perfect representation of the Holmes world, mixed in with one of the greatest unsolved cases of our time. The puzzles are spot on and never feel unfair, and the story drags you in and makes you feel like you are personally tracking down the Ripper. However, it is safe to say that the style and content of the game is never going to win over any new converts to this particular genre.