Even a century after his brutal crimes, Jack the Ripper is such an immense figure in popular culture that you expect big things from any game bearing his name. Toss in the world's most legendary fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, and you up the ante even further. Given all that, it's perhaps a little disappointing that Frogwares' newest addition to its long-running adventure series starring everybody's favorite detective feels sort of generic. Although Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is mesmerizing in spots due to a fantastic blending of the serial killer's crime scenes with Holmes' rigorous investigating, too many stock adventure quests interfere with your eerie wanderings around Whitechapel. It's hard to get involved in the great story and sleuthing while being constantly interrupted to run mundane errands.
That said, there are some real strengths here. The story is a brilliant retelling of the real Jack the Ripper saga that unfolded in the slums of East London's Whitechapel district in the summer and fall of 1888. Much of the script has been adapted from police and newspaper records. As in real life, Jack murders five prostitutes in grisly fashion, slashing their throats, often butchering their remains, and even taking away organs as trophies before vanishing into the London fog. The only fictional additions are Sherlock Holmes and his trusty companion, Dr. Watson, who decide to get involved after reading about the first murder in the newspaper. From this point on, you control both Holmes and Watson by turns in their endeavors to stop the murders and identify Jack.
Some aspects of your investigations are absolutely riveting. Holmes and Watson show up to inspect each crime scene after the murder takes place, so you get a close-up look at Jack's work. This isn't quite as gruesome as it sounds, because the bodies are replaced with cartoonish dummies that bear just the slightest imprint of the murderer's attentions with his knife. Slashed throats, for instance, look like they could have been drawn on with lipstick. Still, the ability to visually inspect such famous murder scenes as the "Double Event" killings and run a magnifying glass over the bodies of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes is creepy and involving. Each crime scene also lets you reconstruct what happened, taking the pieces of evidence and linking them together until you can form conclusions. For instance, when checking out the body of Anne Chapman, you discover such pertinent clues as blood on a fence, bruises under the right side of the jawbone, and a bloated tongue, which allow you to deduce that the victim was killed while lying down after being choked with a left hand. These deductions are chosen from pulldown lists, though it still feels like you're actually investigating crime scenes as you do all the work of gathering the evidence. In addition, you also take on sleuthing back at Holmes' famous 221B Baker Street flat. You comb through dialogue and documents to establish murder times, and you even work up detailed theories about why the murders are being committed. If the real London police had had Holmes on the case back in 1888, Jack wouldn't have stood a chance.
But too much of Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper has been drawn out with conventional adventure quests. In between murders, Holmes and Watson roam all over gloomy Whitechapel attempting to run down suspects and keep up with the police investigation. Most of these actions are eerie, due to the shadowy alleys and streets of the impoverished London district you patrol. Pleasing character art along with a great script and impressive voice acting that bring to life Holmes, Watson, and a cast of Victorian lowlifes really help to sell the atmosphere as well. Unfortunately, none of these things do much for the quests themselves, which are almost universally routine errands where you do odd jobs for people to gain their help. Most of these tasks are linked through a few characters in Whitechapel, which makes them seem artificial, in complete contrast to the nitty-gritty of the actual murder investigations. When you need the help of a cop to get a look at official police reports, for instance, he asks you to first regain a lost folder of documents. Then, when you track down the folder, the person who assists you asks for something in return. And so on. You spend far more time playing Good Samaritan in Whitechapel than you do hunting Jack the Ripper. Puzzles are also typical for a traditional adventure. You piece together torn-up notes, assemble objects, and take on sliding-block challenges. Most are reasonably tough and entertaining, though again, they don't quite fit with the much more interesting murder-scene investigations.
Some bugs also interfere with Sherlock's sleuthing. The game doesn't seem to handle PhysX properly on installation, causing crashes on startup until you manually install these drivers. We had to download the PhysX drivers from Nvidia before we could get past the opening menu screens. A couple of crashes to the desktop took place after that, both when trying to save the game after finishing particularly lengthy puzzles. And the gas-fitting puzzle where you weld pipes to stop a gas leak took forever to register as complete, even though all of the correct steps were taken. Loading an old save was the only way to get the game to register that the problem was solved.
Your enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper likely depends on how much you appreciate story over substance. Anyone who has read about the serial killer's gruesome crimes will find it just about impossible to put down the retelling of this dark era of London's history. At times, it really feels like you've stepped into the Jack the Ripper investigation. But anyone who favors innovative adventure gaming might find that the quests and puzzles are a little too orthodox.