Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper

8.0 Overall Score

Written by on May 28, 2010 in

Sometimes I play so many shooters and other action-y type games that I get burned out.  It’s times like those that I need a palate cleanser.  For me, a palate cleanser is a game that’s different from the string of games that burned me out in the first place.  They may represent a change in pacing or genre or even the console I play games on.

This time around, I’ve been playing Splinter Cell: Conviction, Iron Man 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2 with a smattering of Left 4 Dead 2 in a useless attempt to keep things interesting.  My respite from these high tension affairs is, of all things, the investigation of a murder.  Five, in fact.  Five of the most famous murders in criminal justice history: The Whitechapel Murders, better known for the alleged assailant, Jack The Ripper.

The game: Sherlock Holmes Versus Jack The Ripper from Frogwares and their publisher, Ubisoft.

What do you get when you pit a legendary detective against the uncaught perpetrator of the most famous murders in London?

Before I answer, let’s get first impressions out of the way.

Right off the bat, the graphics seem a bit dated. First impressions can be important.  With Splinter Cell: Conviction as my most recent point of reference, this did not bode well.  Character models lacked detail and the animation reminded of animatronic characters at amusement parks. When exploring London, the allegedly crowded streets were barren except for a few repeated character models. You would think London was a bustling, crowded metropolis, especially in the poorer sections like Whitechapel where the killings took place.  Luckily, being able to quick travel to key locations alleviated the need to wander the unimpressive and sparse cityscape. Voice acting was generally good, if not for occasionally melodramatic dialogue.

Despite the dated visuals , Sherlock Holmes versus Jack The Ripper really shined when the player was allowed to investigate the actual murders. Investigating, and in one case recreating, crime scenes was fascinating. There were no 3D rendered bodies to be seen for the sake of keeping the Teen ESRB rating. Instead, bodies took the form of cartoon-like drawings that had just enough detail to visually call out crucial bits of evidence.

Once observations were made and testimony gathered, it was time to put it all together. To that end, a wall-hung cork board acted as a “deduction board”, with bits of paper as your data and red string to form logical connections between them. Here, multiple choice deductions, although simplistic, made for a rewarding experience when the correct answer showed up. Equally rewarding was gaining insight into the cultural climate of the London neighborhood where the homicides occurred.  The game accomplished this in a way that fleshed out the setting and, more importantly, became relevant to the case.

What bogged this adventure game down were decade old genre clichés. Holmes and Watson did more than their fair share of fetch quests for characters wanting a favor before they gave up any critical information. Logic puzzles were generously strewn about the whole adventure, and while generally easy, some involved combining items that seemed totally unrelated.  Homage to the Sierra and LucasArts adventures of yore?  Or use of an old mechanic for lack of any better ways to manage inventory?  Either interpretation was hardly a deal-breaker, but it felt very been-there-done-that.

When it came to narrative, the game kept the experience from wandering into the realm of fantasy or science fiction. Depending on what you’re looking for in a game, this can be a blessing or a curse. Jack wasn’t a sneering, hand wringing devil. Sherlock Holmes was less Robert Downy, Jr. and more Basil Rathbone. Sorry, you won’t find any sword fights, fist fights or nail-biting chase scenes. Luckily, the reality of the subject matter alone injected enough drama to push the player from one clue to another.

In terms of historical accuracy, I found that the game represented only one of many Jack the Ripper theories. Although a couple names were tweaked and the list of suspects shortened, the details surrounding the murders themselves were loosely accurate. In fact, I was able to corroborate much of the game’s testimony, evidence and chronology with those covered by real-life researchers and amateur investigators. Of course, Sherlock Holmes versus Jack The Ripper wasn’t an exhaustive examination of the incident. However, the game sparked a personal interest in the Jack The Ripper case that endured well after I earned 1000 of 1000 achievement points.

What do you get when you pit a legendary detective against the uncaught perpetrator of the most famous murders in London?

You get an engrossing story that makes it easy to overlook the dated presentation.  Part of the magic is in knowing that it’s based in historical fact which the game doesn’t stray too far from.  The fictional Sherlock Holmes and his trusted friend Watson served as a narrative tool that effectively led the player through the intrigue that is Jack The Ripper.

When the killer was revealed at the end, I came away satisfied and refreshed.  It was a world of difference compared to the bullet-laden action I’m used to playing.  Consoles need more games like Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper, but not for the visuals you’d expect from the latest cutting-edge shooters.  Not for twitch reflexes that would help you pwn n00bs.  It stimulated a logical part of my brain that shooters rarely touch.  For that reason, it made for a change of pace that I was in desperate need of.

Palate status: cleansed.


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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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