Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is a classic, exploration-based mystery title. When you think about it, that in and of itself should be what steers you away; there's a reason this genre started its sad and sharp demise over the past decade. If you've played one, that doesn't mean you've played them all... but very likely, it means you've played a better one than this.
[image1]You take on the dual role of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in a batch of grisly, gruesome murders that begin in the slums of London. Because of the title, we know they're the work of Jack the Ripper (sorry, if I've ruined the magic for everyone), but the trick here is to discover who Jack the Ripper really is. As Holmes and Watson - the story branches off to let a player take the reins of both men - you slog through the soiled streets filled with dirty child workers, wandering drunks, homeless drunks, and the occasional (and by “occasional”, I mean “the streets are filled with them”) “ladies of the evening”. Also known, to you and me, as hookers.
Which actually brings me to the first notable problem with this game... too many hookers. (I never knew it could be a problem.) Seriously, they're everywhere, and they're just so... creepy. I've never seen a prostitute in a game (or in real life, for that matter) who struck me as something out of a zombie movie, but here they're all filthy and give the impression of walking death. When you get in close, they're all covered in sores and what I hope is mud. The lady in charge of the brothel (yup, the head-honcho of the brigade) even talks to Watson about how some of her girls are infected with syphilis. It's so gross that I sped through the dialog to hear about how the murders took place.
Morbid = interesting, prostitutes with VD = disgusting and unnecessary *shudder*.
Back to the ruthless killings: Your task as the detective is to look over all of the evidence given to the “unstumpable” Holmes to piece together what happened to the poor women killed throughout the murdering spree. New evidence will turn up from time to time, and with it, another trip to the deduction board. This game prides itself on logic, and while occasionally the most basic of logic will help you to navigate the various puzzles – for example, moving around a magnet to pull a hook from under a glass table without touching the sides a-la the board game Operation – there will be a spot where yanking out a hair or two would be just as productive.
[image2]And yet, the actual deductions are, by comparison, cake. When the logic doesn't seem to be making much sense, just start punching in different combinations until you find the right one... and it'll tell you when it's right, because the final conclusion turns green. There aren't that many combinations, as there are only a few options as to what a piece of info might mean. Trial and error stumps stupidity.
Visually, it's on the level of an original Xbox game like Indigo Prophecy. Even though it came out on the PC first a while ago, that doesn't excuse the fact that it looks downright outdated. The towns look fine enough and filled with what looks like authentic detail, but the people all kind of remind me of the G-Man from Half-Life... and that includes the prostitutes (ooohhhh, those prostitutes).
Of the people just meandering around the city, there are only a handful of different faces to see, and when you decide to speak to them you'll only hear a handful of different expressions. It gives the impression that the developers just didn't finish. Colors might be sometimes different from person to person, but it's disheartening to see so many sets of twins walking around. Sometimes they're even right next to each other, in the same clothes, with the same spots and dirt smeared on them.
The dialog and conversations between characters is bland and awkward, complete with some bad overacting and funky-fake British accents (think “worse than Mr. Wick from The Drew Carey Show” bad). If it had any real humor in it, it could almost work. But the only part that's “funny” in this serious story is that you have to swarm a fat lady with cats. Still, even that is just ho-hum to watch... just a fat lady squirming with some stationary kitties draped around her.
[image3]The conversations and exploration are what this whole shebang is based on, so it's a big letdown at how utterly boring the speech is. Even Watson and Holmes are as basic as can be. When your most interesting character, the first name on the box, only has the “I know everything and everyone else is there to be manipulated/outsmarted/an idiot” attitude (even to Watson), it's hard for a player to care about whatever it is he's doing.
Wow... I must sound like a real jerk to anyone who loves this genre at all (the few of you left). If you want a detective story that's told in an interesting and thoughtful fashion, there's always Phoenix Wright and Sam & Max. The folks on Baker Street just ain't what it used to be.