I started my last review by pointing out that some games just shouldn’t be imported. Maybe it’s the best-selling game of all time in Equatorial Guinea, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good, or that it can compete with new releases from major development houses. Blade & Sword, an import from China, would have been a bad game five years ago, and now I have Jack the Ripper, the latest adventure from French developer Galilea. Galilea is the developer behind the Cameron Files adventures, and while neither of those games really impressed me, at least they had puzzles and a coherent story. Jack the Ripper, meanwhile, has nada. There is almost nothing good about the game, and, in fact, it’s one of the rare games I’ve played where I actually got mad at the ending. So if you notice some extra venom in this review, it’s because I’m writing it right after finishing the game.
In Jack the Ripper, the year is 1901. You play an eager young newspaper reporter named Jimmy Olsen -- er, Palmer -- and when prostitutes start getting carved up in New York City’s back alleys, your newspaper puts you on the case. Soon it becomes clear that the new murders are being committed by Jack the Ripper, who was last seen in London in 1888. Moreover, Jack becomes a fan of your articles about him, and he starts sending you letters and “presents.” So in the game you need to track down the killer (the police, despite being led by a man named Carter, are hopeless) and put an end to the killings once and for all.
That’s an intriguing premise, and Galilea even did a nice job of ladling out possible suspects for you to investigate, and giving them real motives for the killings. Heck, since your character seems to fall unconscious every night rather than going to sleep, I pondered for a while how he might be Jack the Ripper. But, alas, the story does not end well. After figuring out how a bunch of people didn’t do the crimes, you finally run into the real Jack, only to have him (I think) turn into a raven and fly away. Huh? That’s Galilea’s Jack the Ripper theory? The raven did it? When I got to the ending sequence I thought there must be some puzzle I was messing up, and that’s why I was getting the crappy ending. But nope. Despite having a gun and being right next to Jack, he gets away. I shudder to think Galilea ended the game that way so they could make a sequel.
Of course, even a bad story can be rescued by solid puzzles, but apparently all of Galilea’s creative juices dried up after thinking up the premise. There are almost no puzzles in the game, and what few you find are bizarrely easy. Consider this mindbender. You’re given a list of addresses, a map, and some pushpins. The “puzzle” is to put the pushpins in the map at the locations of the addresses. Man, I agonized over that one for hours! Later you get to send a telegram (of sorts) using real morse code! I know complaining about easy puzzles in this game (and Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon) is going to come back to haunt me when I finally get around to Mysterious Journey II, but come on. If you can’t think up halfway decent puzzles, then don’t make adventure games. Please.
Since puzzles are rare in the game, what you mostly do is follow links in a chain. That is, you talk to somebody, which opens up a location, where you find an object, which gives you a reason to talk to somebody else, which gives you a new topic with the first person, et cetera and so forth. This isn’t the most exciting form of gameplay to start with, but in Jack the Ripper it’s even worse because there are very few places to explore. And so when you get stuck (which will happen often because the game isn’t especially good about hinting what you should do next), you have a choice: do you search a location for the fiftieth time hoping something new will pop up, or do you go track down the nearest walkthrough? I tried to be strong, but eventually the game got so tedious I started using a walkthrough.
About the only good thing in Jack the Ripper is that you get to meet a singer while investigating the murders, and the game includes three of her songs. She can sing pretty well, and it was nice to visit the pub where she works and listen to her perform. But other than that, forget it. The other voice actors are merely passable, the graphics are mediocre to bad, and Galilea didn’t even bother to research what New York was like in 1901. (Among other things, you get to use the “Pinkerten” detective agency, and one puzzle involves a co-worker going to the World Series, even though it’s late November and even though the championship series that turned into the World Series didn’t start until 1903.)
And so, obviously, Jack the Ripper is a game to stay away from. Galilea pretty much botched every aspect of the game -- they didn’t even bother to present a theory about Jack the Ripper -- and while I did like the singer, she wasn’t so good that I’d recommend anybody waste ten hours of their life playing the game. So steer clear and play just about anything else instead.