|Horror, not horrible|
by Cindy Yans
h yes, in this corner it's our heavyweight challenger - another huge interactive movie has hit the streets. It's Take 2 Interactive's Ripper weighing in at six CD's with expenses skyrocketing into the multi-millions. And in the other corner...it is I, heaving a huge sigh of resignation and grimly sitting down to what I anticipate will be wading through hour after hour of slick video clips and wandering down path after path of dialog trees. After all, there is a large cast of mostly veteran actors and over 2 hours of video sequences...this should provide the old click, sit back, watch, then click again, then fall asleep experience that never fails to entice me. And the topic? Yet another treatment of the ol' Jack the Ripper story? Sure. Riveting entertainment. But guess what? Ignore my dripping sarcasm. I am wrong.
The year is 2040 and you are Jake Quinlan, veteran crime reporter for the New York Virtual Herald. A mysterious serial killer who calls himself Ripper is stalking the streets of New York, murdering in the same fashion as the legendary Jack the Ripper. The only one with whom the fiend is in touch is you. It is up to you to weave your way through a complex story in four acts doing...guess what again? Well, the SOS of which adventure games are made, of course.
So what's riveting? Well, just about everything. Setting the story in the future opens up many plot-device possibilities. What was Old World London becomes the groundwork for extended elements of science fiction. The writing is outstanding and plot development is continually expository at a fast enough pace to keep us hooked. Who is the Ripper? The player is treated throughout to clues which point the accusing finger in several different directions. Since there exists a possibility that any one of several characters might be the Ripper, there are four feasible endings to the game.
Possibly the best element we see here, topping even the writing, is puzzle design. Warning. Warning. This is not a toy. This is for puzzle.
"What is this chess puzzle doing in my murder investigation?" "The backstroke."
In Ripper, the designers have cleverly incorporated the virtual world of Cyberspace in which quite a bit of the "formal" puzzle solving and arcade sequences take place. Here in Cyberspace puzzles are not out of place. We accept them somehow as devices which are preventing us from obtaining crucial information and treat them accordingly. They really do serve as glue for the plot threads - not an easy thing to have pulled off.
"What arcade sequences?" you cry with horror. Yes, it's true - even arcade sequences live in this game. There is a bit of everything imaginable, the only thing missing being "The Maze." Thank goodness for small favors.
On a lesser note, I have a hard time accepting the "multiple endings" feature. Take 2's argument is that this element enhances replayability. Do I want to play this game again? Not on your life.
In the first place, since the puzzles are hard, I don't necessarily want to tackle them a second time, and of course didn't record actual solutions to them the first time. Even the possibility of a few new puzzles doesn't help. Secondly, the navigation interface is dreadfully cumbersome, and one has to go through machinations in 40 directions before being able to complete what can be simply described as "a turn to the left." Getting from place to place becomes very annoying after a while. And finally, the plot is so linear that replay would entail a rehash of almost every conversation from the first go-around. That is pretty scary since I know I couldn't sit through another performance by Christopher Walken as Detective Vince Magnotta. I'm usually a fan of Walken's work, but I don't know what went wrong here...wooden delivery and mugging straight out of grade D melodrama. I often wonder how many takes are done per scene? I mean, one take and you get what you get, but more than one..."Oh, Director...hello?"
Happily, most of the rest of the acting is way above average for this medium. Scott Cohen as Jake Quinlan gives a seemingly effortless and sensitive performance and is the highlight of the cast. Karen Allen overcomes miscasting and delivers an evenly consistent if a bit dull Dr. Clare Burton. As Hamilton and Covington Wofford, Burgess Meredith overacts and over-emotes from start to finish...but with a stretch of the imagination, we can accept that his characters are supposed to be eccentric and bordering on psychotic. He has, after all, risen from the dead after Rocky III and must claim some respect. We also see pleasing and polished work from Ossie Davis, Tahnee Welch, Jimmy Walker, Steven Randazzo and Kira Arne, to mention only a few.
David Patrick Kelly as Joey Falconetti gives an erratic performance, but is mostly convincing as the genius Cyberspace decker, sparks flying from his eyes almost as fast as profanity flies from his lips. The script is heavily peppered with profanity, and yet I never felt that it was gratuitous. It almost always belonged and almost always worked.
So is it replayable? I don't think so. But is Ripper worth playing? For serious adventurers, absolutely. Way above and beyond the annoyances cited above, rises a game that tries to give us everything, and for the most part, succeeds. For those of us who don't necessarily want everything on one plate choose Easy Mode for combat and enjoy the rest. But for those who can happily ladle Chinese food over Belgian waffles, pick up a copy today. Lace up your gloves, make sure your mouthpiece is in place and go to your respective corners. Then, get ready to rumble!
|©1996 Strategy Plus, Inc.|