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Sherlock Holmes Vs Jack The Ripper Review

Clever Sleuthing Outshines Underwhelming Gameplay
by Jeff Marchiafava on May 11, 2010 at 10:32 AM
Reviewed on Xbox 360
Publisher Focus Home Interactive
Developer Frogwares
Rating Teen

For fans of adventure games, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is a bittersweet experience that capitalizes on the genre’s strengths without fixing any of its decades-old problems. The outdated visuals and unpolished gameplay won’t win any new fans for the genre either, but beneath the title’s bargain-bin production values and hit-or-miss puzzles lie a solid mystery befitting the moniker of Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes and Dr. Watson are attempting to uncover the identity of Jack the Ripper, the notorious killer terrorizing London’s impoverished Whitechapel district. Players can switch between third- and first-person perspectives on the fly, investigating and using surrounding objects to solve puzzles. The sub-par graphics and early fetch quests disappointed me initially, but the story picks up after a few hours, and the evolving mystery motivated me to continue.

One puzzle involves getting a gang of stray cats to attack a morbidly obese prostitute named Danny

Sherlock Holmes is a master of deduction, so it should come as no surprise that the puzzles you’ll encounter are the most entertaining aspect of the game – though some are duds, too. Expect to see well-worn conventions shoehorned into the gameplay, like solving a Klotski puzzle to fish a key out of a drain. Others are bafflingly difficult, like a suitcase that requires you to know the dates of Civil War battles, matching them to the correct flags and hats of the battles’ victors. To make these situations worse, the complete lack of a hint system means that you’ll be on your own if and when you get stuck.

Making up for these missteps are the unique deduction-based puzzles, which are varied and engrossing. These puzzles focus on the actual killings, requiring you to investigate the crime scenes and scrutinize the victims for clues. One such puzzle requires Sherlock to recreate one of the murders, using Watson as his reluctant victim. Through experimentation the player must deduce what hand the killer held his knife in, what direction he approached the victim, and what position the body was in when the killing blow was struck. Another experiment involves slicing up pig heads with a variety of knives to discover what kind of weapon the killer used. Each logic puzzle is different, and completely unlike the standard adventure game fare – they were so fun I was actually looking forward to news of Jack the Ripper’s next victim.

Although the drawings of the murder victims are simplistic, they're still plenty disturbing

The mature story won’t disappoint adults, and it was a treat to not feel like I had to turn my brain off in order to enjoy a video game story. The pacing isn’t perfect, and some elements will leave you befuddled, but the twisting narrative holds up to the end. The events culminate in using all of the clues you have gathered and all of your deductive reasoning to finally identify and confront the killer, evoking a substantial sense of accomplishment. The climax stays true to its core strengths (don’t expect an action-packed shootout), and while the artistic conclusion suffers from the same low production values as the rest of the game, it felt fitting for the legendary detective. The way Holmes handles the outcome of the case – and his representation in the game as a whole – are true to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle iconic character. He’s antisocial, emotionally detached, and sometimes just a plain jerk. But he’s also a brilliant detective, and when the game is at its best, you’ll feel like one, too.

A Puzzler For Parents
The ESRB has given Sherlock a T rating, which is just plain wrong. There’s no on-screen violence in the game, and the murder victims you will investigate are represented by simple drawings of the corpses. But the game is still loaded with mature content: You’ll investigate the murder and disembowelment of half a dozen prostitutes, including several who have had their genitals mutilated. Holmes goes into grisly detail as he’s trying to deduce facts from the evidence, and the game doesn’t dilute the horrific nature of Jack the Ripper’s crimes. Holmes sums it up best in the game, describing the case as “a complete anthology of what humans, at their most vile, are capable,” and by the end of the tale you’ll be hard-pressed not to agree. Despite being one of the smartest games I’ve played in a long time, it’s not one parents will want their younger teenagers playing.
The old-school adventure game formula with an even more old-school detective
Underwhelming environments, ugly character models, and stilted animation require a forgiving eye
The voice acting is mediocre, and the soundtrack is underutilized
Controlling your character is rough sometimes, but not to the point that it matters
Despite its flaws, the story makes Sherlock a game worth playing for adventure fans
Moderately Low

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Sherlock Holmes Vs Jack The Ripper

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