Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is the sixth Sherlock Holmes adventure from the Frogwares Game Development Studio, which in recent years has also brought us Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (2007) and Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis (2008). This installment in the franchise deals with the famous Jack the Ripper murders, which occurred in and around the Whitechapel district in London in 1888. The murders were never officially solved, and historians can’t even agree on which murders were committed by Jack the Ripper, and so the entire episode quickly became fodder for fictionalized accounts, including now this one.
The adventure starts out in August of 1888 with the murder of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, who is generally considered to be Jack the Ripper’s first victim. Holmes and Watson leap at the chance to investigate an interesting case, but at the request of the police (who don’t look particularly good at this point in history and who don’t want to appear to need help), they keep to the sidelines. This means that Holmes and Watson get to go places and talk to people unavailable to the police, but it also means that they don’t get to see the crime scenes until long after the fact, and so they have to spend a certain amount of time re-enacting the murders and making sense of second-hand testimonials. It also means that you don’t get to see any of the victims, which might be good or bad depending on your view on gore.
The best part of the game concerns the investigation of the crime scenes. Unlike some investigative adventures where you assist the detective and then the detective figures everything out, in Sherlock Homes vs. Jack the Ripper, you’re an integral part of the process. You find clues and then make deductions about them (such as determining that Jack the Ripper is right-handed), you read witness accounts of the crimes and then put together timelines about when the murders actually took place, and you re-enact events to determine how Jack the Ripper could have killed the people he killed while still remaining undetected. Sometimes the deductions are a little bit silly (like when Holmes figures out which district Jack the Ripper lives in), but most of the time the investigation flows smoothly and it feels like you’re really getting somewhere. Plus, so far as I can tell, all of the information provided in the game is historically accurate, and so the investigation is also a fun way to learn about the Jack the Ripper murders and also about turn-of-the-century England.
Unfortunately, the puzzles in the game aren’t nearly as good as the investigative sequences. Some of the puzzles are silly (like fixing a gas leak and rescuing a kitten), some of the puzzles are old standbys (like putting together a ripped up note), but all of the puzzles are easy. With one or two exceptions, the puzzles can be solved in less than five minutes, even if you have to resort to trial and error. For example, at one point you have to open a trunk with a special five-clasp lock. In most adventures, nothing will happen unless you get the settings right for all five clasps, but in Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, you can open one clasp at a time, and so there are orders of magnitude fewer combinations to worry about. I only checked a walkthrough a couple of times as I played my way through the adventure, and in each case it was simply to see what the rules were to a puzzle that I managed to solve without knowing what I was doing.
On the plus side, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is the third game in the franchise to use essentially the same engine, and in each case the interface has gotten a little bit better. The game includes a map that you can use to instantly travel to a place you’ve already visited, so you don’t have to do a lot of boring walking. If you press the spacebar, then you’ll see all of the nearby hotspots, and so you don’t have to worry about pixel-hunting unless you really want to. And you can even switch between a first-person and third-person perspective, and the game works just as well either way. The latter improvement is something I really appreciated, because first-person perspective games sometimes make me motion sick, and I had trouble at times playing the earlier Sherlock Holmes games. But now it’s no longer a problem.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is a nice enough adventure if you’re interested in the Jack the Ripper murders. The game stays true to the facts (even introducing real suspects like John Pizer and Francis Tumblety), it makes the investigation fun and believable, and it even presents a reasonable theory about what happened and why nobody was ever arrested. But if you play adventures for the puzzles, and you don’t really care what links them together, then this might not be the game for you. But for me, the positives outweigh the negatives, and Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is a worthwhile purchase.