Ripper is a frustrating game because it has so many terrific qualities alongside so many bad ones.
This game is from Take Two Studios, the same company that produced another much loved AND hated game: Black Dahlia.
Ripper is a cleverly conceived game that transports Jack the Ripper from Victorian London and drops him in the middle of mid-21st Century Manhattan. The game takes place in 2040, to be exact, and our hero is a hunky reporter named Jake Quinlan. A mysterious stalker has been killing women in New York, and the murders are done in a particularly savage Jack-the-Ripper style. There are of course no witnesses or suspects. Jake’s hook to the story is that, for some reason, the Ripper contacts him right before every murder.
Ripper, which is loaded on six CDs, is in the format of an interactive movie (though unlike a more famous interactive movie – Phantasmagoria – Ripper is a real game). It’s done with live actors, which brings us to the first of this game’s problems. Unlike many games with bad acting, the bad acting in Ripper is done by a largely familiar cast of actors: Christopher Walken, Karen Allen, Ossie Davis, Burgess Meredith, John Rhys-Davies, David Patrick Kelly, Jimmie Walker, Paul Giamatti and David Thornton. Many of these actors are quite talented, but unfortunately you’d never know it from this game. Walken, particularly, in a plum role as an unhinged cop, gives a performance such baffling awfulness that I was staring stupidly at my screen, asking, "What was he thinking?!" I guess he doesn’t feel acting in a CD game "counts." Wrong, Chris! We’re paying our hard-earned dough just like the moviegoers – in fact, we’re paying a lot more!
Fortunately, Scott Cohen, the actor playing Virtual Herald reporter Jake Quinlan, does a professional job. I think the game would have been unendurable if this wasn’t so.
The graphics in the game are smooth and slick, with intriguing and imaginative environments to explore. The movement is FMV, and it’s quite elegantly done. Movement through this futuristic Manhattan is accomplished with a handy database of available locations.
One of the most intriguing components of Ripper is the cyberspace element. In this future society, cyberspace is – no big surprise here – a large part of daily life. A fairly significant percentage of the game is actually played in this virtual environment: the library, the newspaper, and various sites created by characters and organizations in the story.
Included in this portion of the game are several arcade sequences. Now, I know many of us adventure fans resent ANY incursion of "action" elements into our games. However, I must say that for me, Ripper got away with them for two reasons. First, they are used in a believable context (as "security" for private cyberspace locations) and second, the game allows you to change difficulty settings for these sequences. With them set on easy, even I could get through them with no problem. This "security" premise also provided the game’s creators to include a variety of entertaining puzzles of the slider and chessboard ilk. Again, in the context they seemed justified and I enjoyed them.
Ripper is not a game for timid puzzle solvers. The puzzles are many and they are NOT easy. Some I found entertainingly difficult, such as following a cryptic set of instructions to install a set of circuits on a computer. Others I found simply obscure, like figuring out the correct array of crystals on a board or adjusting the electrodes attached to an experimental monkey’s brain.
The plot of Ripper, not surprisingly, gets pretty darned complicated pretty darned quickly. Our hero’s girlfriend is attacked by the Ripper but survives in a coma. She is being taken care of by brilliant research doctor Karen Allen (very bad casting indeed). In one of the more interesting aspects of the game, Jake has to actually enter cyberspace and help re-assimilate his stricken girlfriend’s personality by feeding her information about the Ripper case.
I had a really good time winding my way through the complicated plot of Ripper, with its good-looking environments, challenging puzzles and intriguing gameplay. The badness of some of the acting was a constant distraction, however.
Unfortunately, the bad acting is not the game’s worst feature.
I hear a lot of complaints about the lack of "replayability" of adventure games. Frankly, I find this criticism baffling. I think a good adventure game should be framed around a strong plot that has a logical beginning, middle and end, and when I’ve finished it – it’s over! I rarely have a desire to play a game more than once.
The creators of Ripper, in an attempt to please these "no-replay" whiners, have come upon a (supposedly) brilliant gimmick: Ripper actually has four different endings, with each with a different character turning out to be the killer. When you finish the game, it’s automatically reset so that you’ll have a different killer the next time.
Sounds great, right? Wrong. Big time wrong. Why? Well, four different possible killers would be fine if the game could actually support the story lines of four different killers. But it can’t. That would have taken more like 20 disks.
The result is that through three-fourths of the game, ALL major characters seem just as likely to be guilty. Now, red herrings are fine, but in any good mystery, all red herrings must be explained and justified by the end of the story. In other words, even though there are false leads and suspicious characters that seem to be guilty at first, when the truth is finally known all threads of the story must make sense. In Ripper this isn’t possible, because the plot has to be built so that FOUR people are actually guilty. Pretending that it’s just one of them at the end of the game doesn’t make up for the illogic of the story.
Despite this game’s problems, I really did enjoy myself playing this game, and would recommend it to any adventure gamer wanting a real challenge.
This is slick, sophisticated entertainment with difficult puzzles and a rich, complicated story set in an intriguing gameworld.