Let me start off by saying that Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper is quite different from the action- packed December 2009 film. It is, however, the latest in Frogwares’ series of Sherlock Holmes-inspired adventure games, this one pitting arguably the most famous fictional detective against one of the world’s most famous serial killers.
It is not a new game, either. The PC version was released around June, and by the time you read this the retail version for the Xbox 360 will have been released. Unfortunately, we were only able to play a preview build.
The game takes place with the first of the 1888 Whitechapel murders, with the player alternating between controlling Holmes himself and Dr Watson. It is fairly dialogue-heavy most of the time (in fact, the game forces you to remain still during dialogue or while listening to the description of an examined object), and the voice acting varies between decent, amusing and just plain bad.
The gameplay itself is a combination of more traditional adventure fare (talking to people and examining objects – although this is made far less annoying with a feature that highlights ‘useful’ objects), and a number of mini-games that range from cracking a combination lock to having Holmes and Watson re-enact the murder of Mary Ann Nichols and drawing conclusions from that. The fun is greatly hindered by a lack of help (the game expects you to solve some puzzles without giving you much information about them), and an extremely clumsy journal interface that does not even try to separate useful information from the chaff of most conversations. It's frustrating to say the least, but funny on some levels considering that while many PC games suffer from an interface designed for consoles, Sherlock Holmes suffers from an interface designed for the PC.
Despite that, it does have some neat ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed a part of the game that had the player connect a series of clues from the crime scene to the appropriate conclusion. Sherlock Holmes certainly has some interesting, if occasionally frustrating, gameplay.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing, however, is how difficult it can be to figure out your next destination. As mentioned, the game’s journal system is not terribly helpful (it lists entire conversations with the denizens of London, rather than objectives and useful notes) and I felt that the game was really hindered because of that. However, as mentioned, the puzzles themselves are fairly fun and the game is a love-it-or-hate-it affair regardless of any preview-specific faults.
Visually, the game environments are fairly nice, if a bit dreary (this is 19th century London, after all). It offers two camera modes: third and first person. The third-person mode can only be described as annoying, with the player having no way to control it apart from moving to the next (and sometimes poorly illuminated) area. Playing the game with the first-person camera is a whole lot easier, even if some of the game’s visual faults are more clearly seen up close.
Plotwise, however, the game is a rather decent re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. It’s fairly straightforward and the murder investigation puzzles are actually
quite fun. Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper is the fifth and most recent game in a series, and the first to be ported to the Xbox 360. It's definitely a flawed game, but adventure fans should look into renting it out, and hopefully Frogwares will clear up these issues in its next adventure