Jack the Ripper
|a game by||Galiléa|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 2 votes|
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In an industry where wars are seen only as the ideal advertisement for the next flight simulation, it's perhaps unsurprising that atrocious murders by serial killers are seen as a good starting point for detective games. Presumably this is considered a safe thing to do because of the distancing effect of the time that has elapsed since the events took place. If this is the case, I wonder at what point in the future it will become acceptable to have games based on the crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper?
As I was loading the game, someone walked past and was openly critical to see a game based on Jack the Ripper, and I felt somewhat embarrassed and disinclined to stick up for it. The game's designers claim that they have avoided sensationalising or glorifying the crimes but the title screen, with its blood dripping down from the lettering, somewhat puts the lie to that claim. Would a game based on the tracking down of a Nazi concentration camp guard be seen as acceptable if it was called 'Ivan The Terrible' and had trails of smoke rising from the lettering?
Anyway, thrusting my sad. old. trendy, lefty, guilty conscience hat type thing back into the cupboard and whipping out my amoral gamesplayer hat, let's get onto the game itself. It's played by utilising a primitive windowing system. Typically, a background graphic of the scene of the crime is superimposed with a description of your location and a list of the characters who are currently at the scene. A small box at the top (which can be toggled on and off) shows your current location and the date and time; the idea being that your investigations are taking place within a real game-time, which ticks by as you pursue the criminal. More of that later. The basis of the game involves you questioning each character, taking notes as you see fit, searching the area and moving on to whatever other location seems appropriate to your investigation.
There's a map of the East End of London with several locations to visit; each location will take a certain amount of time to reach (which you can ascertain in advance), and which is visited by double clicking on its name. Once you feel you've gathered some significant evidence you can dash back to your study, dress up as Sherlock Holmes and work on solving the case by comparing statements and evidence to telling effect.
East End characters
That's the theory; in practice the game has a rather high crap quotient and is let down in several areas. For example, you 'interrogate' characters by moving a slider bar down the window in which their pictures are contained, then reading the text of the information they divulge in another window. There's really no interaction whatsoever. No matter how many times you meet the character on your travels, you only ever get the same information. Characters are initially in alphabetical order, but as others come and go they can become mixed up making things unnecessarily confusing.
You 'take notes' by shift clicking on the relevant text which is then automatically entered into your notebook under a name of your own devising. It's not a very good system. You can only take one sentence at a time and can't click on whole chunks of evidence to save entries, so you end up with hundreds of notes. Each has to have a separate name, and the space for naming the text isn't that long (despite the fact that the window displaying the names is twice their width), calling for much inventiveness in your naming conventions.
It doesn't help that when you come to view these notes in the comfort of your study, you can only view their names two at a time. There's no real way of organising them or filing them according to different murders - just an endless list presented in twos. Since the game revolves around building evidence by examining these facts in pairs on your blackboard, much time is wasted scrolling through them, one at a time, to find the two you want.
On the hardest level of difficulty you can click on most (but not all) information presented to you. but on the easy or normal settings it's impossible to click on text that the computer knows isn't relevant. This narrows down your margin for error and makes you feel 'steered' towards a conclusion. Admittedly it's nothing like Return Of The Phantom in this respect, but the easier settings do have that feel.
For a game which needs atmosphere to be effective, ega (or glorious cga) graphics are hardly ideal. The game's designers claim they didn't want the pictures of the bodies to be too shocking. Admirable selfcensorship, but why have the bodies at all? Their presence serves no real purpose other than to titillate the kind of people who buy True Horrific Murder books to look at the pictures.
Without bodies, the still pictures that comprise the game could then be rendered more effectively - if this really is the reason for the ega, of course. It boasts in the manual that 'you do not need any fancy monitors'. Are they merely trying to keep all their angles covered to disguise the fact that they usually make wargames and thus thought ega was state of the art? This detective stuff is catching. And another thing: considering the markedly unsophisticated nature of the game's graphics, it takes an awfully long time to move to and load background scenes, to summon portraits of the characters and to call up windows with different information.
The sound is equally poor. It doesn't even have the sampled street noises of The Patrician, another game based on still pictures, and the music is very poor. Every time you make a note of something, you're treated to a quick 'duh-duh duuuuuuhhhh' on a synth from Calculators-R-Us, which you'll switch off after you've heard it twice, thus missing out on the only in-game music to have been composed by Mike Batt at the age of three.
The windows system isn't implemented as well as it might be, and has problems with constant use. The most irritating aspect of the game by far, however, is its pretensions to having events taking place in 'real time'. In fact, it's so annoying I've given it a box all to itself. The easily-tetched might care to avoid it completely.
Basically, then, far from being a detective game, it is in fact a game of comparisons and list-making. You make lists of statements. You make lists of evidence and build a case comprised of these lists of evidence. And if you persevere, you catch someone who didn't do it. It doesn't say: 'Planting incriminating evidence in order to frame a suspect.' at the beginning of the game for nothing. If that isn't an exercise in futility. I don't know what is. It's extensively researched, and no doubt exhaustively accurate, but I expect a game to be entertaining before I cough up money for it, and this isn't.
Real-Time Thrills And Spills
Although time is ol the essence and all that, Jack The Ripper doesn't really have a sense of time passing; graphics don't change and day runs into night without anything to punctuate it. It's not that inventive either: it always takes 176 minutes to search a location, whether it's a small backyard, a slaughterhouse or an entire street.
Your detection work is set within this constantly advancing 'game-time,' which means that characters come and go as you stand dithering at a location. The problem is that 'interrogation' also happens in real-time so you can still be reading through the statement given to you by the person, only to find that they leave the scene before you can finish reading it. Naturally, their information disappears with them. Since each arrival or departure is noted by another message box on-screen, you're often prevented from tagging a section of text you want. This makes a subject's disappearance all the more irritating.
If you're not quick, the body can even be removed before you can examine it. It doesn't help that the characters can only be 'interrogated' via moving the slider bar, and that you can't just pick the one you want. There's a delay while each picture is summoned from memory, but time ticks on. It's annoying to see a character leave the scene while you're trying to scroll down, or while the large but not exactly highly-detailed picture of the body is being drawn on-screen. And no, you can't just whiz the slider to the point you want, since the number of people present is always changing, and the distance down the bar alters accordingly.