Fans of adventure gaming, Sherlock Holmes, or real-life killer Jack the Ripper can find something to like here.
Sarkakit wrote this review on .
Though this is the latest in a series of Holmes games from Frogwares, it did not seem to have any connection to the others besides the titular character, and so can be picked up regardless of your experience with the series. As one would expect, the tale the game tells is that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary detective trying to solve the real-life murder spree committed by the serial killer known as "Jack the Ripper." Jack brutally killed and mutilated at least five prostitutes in the late months of 1888, and though the police had a slew of suspects, he was never definitively identified. The mystery remains unsolved today, but obviously that won't stop Holmes from trying.
The game begins just after the first murder, that of Penny Nicholls, and Holmes and Dr. Watson get on the case straightaway. Traipsing around the filthy streets of 1888's Whitechapel district in London, as it turns out, required a lot of side questing. Playing alternately as Holmes and Watson, you must jump through numerous hoops for the supporting cast before getting access to the meat of the case. This kind of gameplay makes up the bulk of the game, in fact, because admittedly the game would be even shorter than it already is if it focused solely on the murders at hand. This is not all bad, since sometimes the side quests and characters involved can be entertaining and charming, and they are rarely dull fetch quests, instead requiring assorted puzzles to be solved, and many of these puzzles are fairly fresh for the game. What exactly your goal is at the time is also a factor, since sometimes you know that you are on the verge of discovering an exciting, critical fact, while others you are simply trying to get access to an area or something similarly uninspiring. While it's not all bad, these frequent odd jobs can sometimes be groan-inducing when you want to just get to tracking down Saucy Jack.
That, of course, is where the game's strength really lies. Frogwares has made sure to get their facts straight, and the sordid details of the case are pleasingly authentic, and augmented with newspaper clippings and the like. There are some unfortunate exceptions to the game's primary sources, like the absence of the "From Hell" letter (which is mentioned but never seen by the player, unlike the "Dear Boss" letter) and, on the more gruesome and creepifying side, the famous photograph of Mary Kelley's body. This can mean that players who know the history of the Jack the Ripper case will see basically every plot twist coming a mile away, but neophytes or enthusiasts should be able to find equally pleasing aspects to the formula. The gameplay of the investigation is also the game's most compelling portions in general, as you gather clues from the crimes scenes and then arrange them on a "deduction screen" to draw (mostly) logical conclusions. This is made slightly less interesting by the fact that such conclusions are selected from sets of three and can thus be eventually determined by trial and error, these segments are still enjoyable. There are also times when Holmes and Watson look over what they know of the case back at good old 221B Baker Street, and similar puzzle segments, involving such things as motive, lend intrigue and authenticity to both the Holmes pedigree and the murder mystery chops of the game.
If there's any real problem with the gameplay, it's that the interface can be tremendously unclear. Numerous puzzles are unique in the game, and often have little real explanation as to how they work. Solving the puzzles is often straightforward, if challenging; figuring out how to use the pieces can be frustrating, however, and lead to times when you know the solution to a puzzle (or how to get there), but you just aren't quite sure how to make the game understand that you know. Even familiar inventory-based puzzles can be difficult because, when you try to use an item or part of the environment which needs to be used with something in your inventory, Holmes or Watson simply says, "I need something." This tells you that you have to use some item that you have or can pick up, but neither of our intrepid heroes are very helpful in getting us to make the same leaps of engineering logic they are in these situations.
The game looks and sounds good enough for what it is, and while I experienced a fair number of graphical bugs, they were little more than an irritation and never hindered my enjoyment of the game. The voice acting is variable, but fortunately the most common characters in the game - namely Holmes and Watson - are very well done. The script is also pretty decent, and even has some very nice nods to actual Holmes stories if you know where to look - though from a company that's been making Holmes games for years now, that probably shouldn't come as a surprise.
Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper can keep adventure gamers entertained and, especially when actually investigating the morbid case of Jack's murders, appropriately compelled. Despite some hitches in presentation, the game still manages to convey, when appropriate, the chillingly horrific nature of these real life crimes, and should leave players wondering in the aftermath what really drove these events to occur. The game won't please everyone, but if any of this makes it sound compelling to you, you're probably right.