Jack the Ripper hands-on archived preview
I was more than a little underwhelmed with what was offered at E3 from The Adventure Company last year. TAC is always good for at least ten adventure games a year; the question is whether even half of those will be interesting and worth playing. Between Chameleon, Crystal Key 2, and Forever Worlds, I was hitting the Nodoze hard.
Something about Jack the Ripper struck me as different, though. Sure, it was a first-person adventure published by TAC -- normally not an exhilirating combination -- but there seemed to be quite a bit of depth and intrigue to the game, with a focus on storytelling that is rare these days in adventures. I've been excited about this game for quite some time, and now that I've had it in my hands for a couple days, here are my thoughts.
First things first: having played through the first couple of game days, I can tell you two things you won't be doing a whole lot of: solving puzzles and exploring the environment. I have yet to encounter a single puzzle of any substance. As an example, there's a brothel that you must enter to speak with someone; a knock on the door proves fruitless as you are told to go away. Now, having played through the entire Broken Sword trilogy within the past six months, I was looking for a drainpipe to climb or a crate to push or some sort of obscure way to fool the guard. The solution? Just knock a second time. Persistence?! Where's the fun in that? Couldn't there be some sort of strange lock code? I'm half-kidding, I suppose; you will certainly know whether the situation I've just described appeals to you.
As I said, the environments are very much devoid of interactions. The game opens in the busy newsroom of the New York Daily, with you as intrepid reporter James Palmer. The newsroom, which is viewable in 360-degree Post Mortem-style panning, is full of objects and people that serve no purpose other than enhancing the background. There are reporters you can't talk to, notes you can't read, and objects on the floor that you can't pick up. Optimists will be quick to point out that it's not nearly as hard to figure out the next step when only one or two interactions are possible; still, one must long for the days of Sierra and LucasArts when so much interaction was possible, and even necessary to establish the personality of the character. At this point I'd have to say I don't know much, nor do I care much, about James Palmer.
I am, however, much more intrigued with the rest of the story than I've been at this point in a first-person adventure game in quite some time. Thirteen years after the infamous "Jack the Ripper" murders took place in London, a competing newspaper is reporting that Jack is now striking in New York. You're the unlucky reporter ordered to keep turning in fresh angles of the story, and as the days continue, the killer becomes a bigger part of your life than you'd certainly hope for. Your quest will involve interacting with quite a few different characters in many different parts of the New York slums, some who are more substantial and interesting than others. What's wonderful is that there really is a substantial, interesting mystery beneath the surface.
Technically, the game is reasonably sound. The prerendered environments are acceptable and the characters look very good. The music is subtle enough to not remind me of the audio torture that was Post Mortem (which is the most obvious comparison to this game). Galilea succeeded technically with the Cameron Files adventures and appear to have done the same here.
Certainly my job here is not to fully review this game; that will come in a few weeks. So far, I've found nothing to strongly dislike about this game. It suffers from the same maladies that many first-person games do: lack of environment interactions and difficult, often jumpy navigation. However, it seems to have secured victories in areas that so many of TAC's recent lineup have self-destructed in: character interaction and well-paced story progression without the emphasis on ridiculous puzzles.
You shouldn't expect the next Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes here -- the dialogue is not nearly as plentiful, or clever. But if you like a good murder mystery, and it's definitely a sub-genre of adventures that is lacking, you will find a fairly interesting story here that won't strangle you with puzzles. I haven't finished the game yet, and the eventual satisfactory resolution of the story will have to be a factor in my overall grade, but at this point I'm definitely leaning towards a thumbs-up for Jack the Ripper. If nothing else, it's certainly a step in the right direction for first-person adventures -- and after enduring countless variations of Schizm and Atlantis, a very welcome one.