EVIDENCE: The Last Ritual review

The Good:
  • Inventive puzzles
  • Great use of the Internet and email system
  • Intriguing story
  • Convincing acting
  • Chilling atmosphere
The Bad:
  • Very hard puzzles
  • At times unclear as to what you are meant to do
  • Easy to follow the wrong clues
  • Ending doesn't really resolve anything
Our Verdict: Although insanely difficult at times, EVIDENCE is a compelling take on the tracking of a serial killer. You'll need a lot of patience to see it through to the end, though.

Although adventures come in different shapes and sizes with varying themes -- investigation, supernatural, horror, science fiction or fantasy settings -- every now and then a game will come along that tries to break boundaries within the confines of the genre. In Memoriam, otherwise known as MISSING: Since January in North America, was one such game that cast aside conventional gameplay, requiring players to search the Internet for clues and solve a series of standalone puzzles left by "The Phoenix", an infamous serial killer. EVIDENCE: The Last Ritual is the follow-up to that game, featuring even more cryptic puzzles to unravel in order to track down the killer once and for all.

In EVIDENCE, the Phoenix is once again up to his old tricks, committing a series of murders which the local authorities are too baffled to solve due to his skill at covering his tracks. The only clues come in the form of obscure puzzles on a set of CDs sent to the International Committee for the Phoenix's Arrest (ICPA) by the Phoenix himself. Unable to solve the puzzles, the authorities have released the discs to the public to find important clues and analyze the discs' contents, and this is where the player comes in. In order to put an end to the Phoenix's reign of terror, you'll have to solve all the puzzles and locate his hiding place before the killing spree starts again. EVIDENCE stays true to the formula of the previous game, yet as it features a self-contained storyline of its own, it's not essential to have played In Memoriam to progress.

Upon installation, you'll first need to register a user name and email address to which you want all online communication sent. There you will receive a password for logging into the game each time you begin play. After playing through the first few puzzles that serve as something of an introduction to the main course, an unobtrusive tool bar at the side of the screen will become accessible, which features shortcuts to your web browser, email, movie clips and tools unlocked throughout the adventure.

You'll also be able to access the Phoenix Investigators website, a hub for all the players of the game. The website regularly updates with news flashes of how the case is progressing, adding to the authentic feel of a real-life investigation, and it features a searchable database of all the people who have registered so you can communicate with other players and form teams to solve puzzles if you so desire. There are links to other websites going into detail of past murders by the Phoenix, which provides a good background into his behavior. Articles can also be posted and those from other investigators can be read. Other players' progress of their most recently solved puzzle will scroll across the screen so if you happen to be stuck, you can email them for hints. Although it isn't necessary to use the website to solve the game, it definitely adds to the overall experience.

In the game itself, there are eight levels of puzzles in all, and each level contains a series of doors with Egyptian-based names such as ARAT and ZAN. Clearing each door will then reveal a code which must be entered in order to reach the next level. Thankfully, the puzzles on each level can be solved in any order. While eight levels may not sound like much, there are 36 doorways in total, some of those with multiple stages, and their complexity will ensure you'll be playing for at least 20-30 hours.

EVIDENCE uses a first-person perspective, although unlike many first-person titles, each puzzle in this game is confined to a single screen. Each individual screen has a rather abstract style, comprised of a mixture of cut-up photographs, words, maps, crazy illustrations, moving diagrams, symbols and paintings. Although not gory, some of the images are potentially disturbing. Pictures of women held hostage, blood stained doodles, and eyes scratched out of faces, to name just a few, reflect the disturbed nature of the Phoenix's mind and emphasizes the fact that this game isn't for those who are slightly squeamish.

With the exception of some background imagery, many of the visual, audio and interactive elements on the page are clues to solving the puzzle, which may require you to type in such things as a place name, the name of a templar Grand Master or enter specific dates. How you reach the solution depends on the type of puzzle involved, which can range from sound-based challenges, looking up map co-ordinates, searching for keywords on the Internet, researching historical pictures, piecing together photographs, or a culmination of different types of activities. Sound puzzles usually involve stringing together clips to echo a name or play a melody heard on the radio. Although you repeat several of the same actions throughout the game, the variety of clues, presentation and ways to reach the solution ensures that it never really feels like the same puzzle on loop, although Internet searching can become repetitive.

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