Jack the Ripper Review

Jack the Ripper was one of the world's most horrific serial killers. Horribly violent, grinningly sadistic, and utterly unrepentant, he engrossed the world for far longer than the few years he actually spent slaughtering prostitutes in London in the late 1880's. His name is a byword for mindless, remorseless terror, even 120 years after he disappeared into the mist, uncaught and still grinning.

With that in mind, it's really strange that Jack the Ripper, the latest game from The Adventure Company, is so innocuous. There's no blood here, folks. There's no bodies. There's no violence. There's no terror. There's no chills. There's no suspense. There's not even rudeness.

Your character in the game is James Palmer, a reporter in New York in 1901. Two murders have been committed with an MO that is starting to look very familiar. The Ripper's London murders were 13 years ago in Whitechapel; could this be the same killer? You start out simply reporting the crimes, but soon you're entangled in the case, following leads that will lead you tantalizingly close to catching the infamous Jack the Ripper.

Doesn't it sound thrilling? It sure does. Why isn't it, then? Well, for one thing, because the action is achingly linear. In order to progress to the next section of the game, you must do A, and then B, and then C. Day over! Time for the next section. I'm reminded of the liquor in one of the Firesign Theater routines that was sold in individually packaged swallows. A, then B, then C. Not B, C, A, mind you. And forget that A is listening to a pretty but irrelevant song, and C is looking at the dang moon. It's A, B, C, and home to bed, young whippersnapper.

Puzzles are minimal at best, with most being solved by doing the only possible thing and shrugging once or twice. Only one has a time element to it. There's only one place in the game where you can die, and except for that place, there's no element of menace or threat in the game at all. Even that death is from freezing to death, not exactly a whirlwind of activity. So if you really get off on an adrenaline rush, the only way you'll get it from this game is if you play in while skydiving. And even then I wouldn't bet on it.

The graphics are lovely, with some excellent work having been done in the research of the times. The artists really have a feel for the seedier parts of turn-of-the-century New York, with its noisy stinking trains, bare floors, tinny phonographs, and posted bills. The only flaw in the research that I caught was a reference to the World Series, when in fact it didn't start till 1903. Game play is smooth and free of obvious glitches, and it plays on a single CD, which makes a nice change from games like Stupid Invaders where you're switching disks every five minutes. There are only 12 savegame spots, which isn't really enough in a game with 12 days and nights to get through before the end.

The acting is first rate for a computer game, with good voice actors well cast, and the dialogue is well written and well translated. (Good to see DreamCatcher has finally decided to pay for first-rate translators.) The plot as a whole is fairly well conceived for the most part, though the ending is frustrating and doesn't have nearly a big enough payoff for all the time you've just spent chasing after red herrings.

As a last note of puzzlement, let me note that the package is almost perversely misleading. The caption "Numerous interesting characters to interact with" is put with a screenshot of a scene populated by people you can't interact with. "Challenging puzzles to solve" headlines a shot of a gambling machine that pays off every time and won't allow you to lose. "Many interesting objects to search for, collect, and use" goes with a shot of a table full of intriguing items that you can't take, touch, or manipulate in any way. And "undercurrents of danger"? Yes, as long as you realize they stay under the current and never come to the surface in any fashion.

On the whole, this is an inoffensive, enjoyable little game that will occupy an afternoon in a more or less pleasant manner. The gore is only visible in typed autopsy reports, and the menace is only mentioned in passing, not experienced. If it weren't for the general subject matter, it would almost be suitable for you to play with your children on a rainy Saturday. But they'd probably rather be playing Silent Hill 3.

-- Lynn Hendricks