Review: Actual Crimes: Jack the Ripper (Sony PSP)

Actual Crimes: Jack the Ripper
Publisher: Gamers Digital
Developer: Virtual Playground
Genre: Hidden Object Game
Release Date: 10/05/2010

Here I am again with another PSP Mini review! How exciting.

Jack the Ripper is easily the most famous and well known serial killer in the history of the world. I can’t help but admit to being one of those who’ve gotten lost in the mystery of it all on occasion. He’s been used in countless media, from books and movies to several video games. One of the more recent titles was for the PC and DSIware by the name of Real Crimes: Jack the Ripper. The “real” has been dropped for “actual” and here we find the game ported as a Mini.

Of all the things to make a hidden object game for, Jack the Ripper has to take the prize for one of the strangest ever. Poring around a dead woman’s room looking for a squid is perhaps the weirdest thing I’ve ever been asked to do in a game. I’m just putting that out there.

In either case, does this Mini have what it takes to stand out on the PSP, or is this one port that should have stayed where it belonged?

Story

The game takes place about half a year after the killings stopped. A new detective is sent to investigate the case, and he brings along his pal with forensic expertise. The game follows their trek from murder scene to murder scene, picking up clues and talking to potential suspects. There are no real revelations. Rather, they find a different suspect for each murder, and at the end, the game asks you to pick the most likely candidate. Characterization and plot aren’t the name of the game here. Rather, the setting is just meant to add some background to the proceedings.

You can perhaps play through the game again to pick a different suspect, but seeing as the final auto save is as you pick, you can merely load the game and chose again, although you’ll have to watch the ending movie again. Mostly because no one really knows who the Ripper was, the game has no closure, which can be a drag. I rather wish the game had taken a stand, one way or the other, but I can see why they didn’t.

Beyond that, there aren’t any other modes to play around with. You can choose whether to play the game with or without a timer. If you’re someone who has a interest in the Ripper case, you might find the story to be interesting at least. At least this is one hidden object game that attempts a story.

Graphics

Given the kind of game this is, there isn’t so much graphically to speak of.

There are a multitude of levels in the game, all with an old English feel. You’ll visit churches, bars, and the odd gentlemen’s club. (They just smoke cigars and talk politics there. No hanky panky.) As static backgrounds, they look pretty good, although the strange things you find in each level clutter the scenery and make it harder to enjoy it.

There are some effects, actually. In some levels, there are moths flying around lanterns and rain pouring in the foreground. It gives the game a more realistic feel and strengthens the overall visual package. Not everything moves, and characters are nothing more than static portraits later on. Perhaps the oddest part is when you’re investigating a public street and the horses are perfectly still.

For a Mini, the game looks good, but since it mostly deals with a still photograph, that probably wasn’t hard to accomplish.

Audio

There are two things to talk about in this game. You have the sound effects and the music.

The sound effects for gameplay are small and insignificant. You have basic bells and whistles for finding objects, using hints, etc. However, several levels also include appropriate background noise that is really nice. The pub is full of lively chatter and the jingles of glass, while the alley provides you with the distant sounds of hooves hitting cobblestone. It isn’t something that needed to be included, but it works and fits the game nicely. I should mention, however, that these effects only make the lack of humans and movement more striking.

The music is a flop. There are a couple of foreboding tunes that are OK, but they loop and are short to boot. Some songs are so quiet that they are drowned out by the sound effects. In fact, I can only recall a couple of songs without turning the game on because all I can think of is the background chatter. When the music is audible, it often feels inappropriate. Yes, the Ripper cases are horrific, but investigating an empty room shouldn’t be accompanied by music that usually signifies a chase scene. It just felt off.

If you like the sound effects enough, you’ll keep the audio on, but after a while, you can safely play this game without the sound and get the full effect.

Gameplay

As this is a hidden object game, the controls are incredibly simple and straightforward. Each level, you are given a list of objects that you need to find. They are hidden in the picture you’re given. There are usually one or two story objects that are actual clues, and a whole bunch of junk. You move the cursor around the screen and tap X to select an item when you find it. If you’re using a timer, and incorrect selection will take ten seconds off of the clock. You can zoom out to view the whole picture at once or zoom in for a closer look. You can also press triangle for a hint which circles the area around a random item left on your list. The hint system works on a charge meter. You need to wait for it to fill before you can use a hint, and after each use as well.

The controls aren’t perfect. These kinds of games really require either mouse or stylus input to be precise. (I tried using a USB mouse when playing the game on the PS3, but it was no go.) It isn’t too bad, but there will be occasions where you click the wrong spot because of the stiffness.

Between ever couple of levels, the game gives you a puzzle that doesn’t require you to find hidden objects. There are jigsaw puzzles, a couple sliding puzzles, and a couple more where you need to input keys or numbers in the correct order. These can be skipped with no penalty, but can provide a break for those who want to rest their eyes. (Unless you get one of the spot the difference puzzles.) These also match really well with the tone of the game, so it is a nice aesthetic touch if nothing else.

That’s all there is to talk about here really. The controls are not meant for the analog nub, but the game is perfectly playable anyways. It is a simple style game, but it works.

Replayability

You have two different options for play. You can either play with or without the timer.

The timer does affect how you play. Without it, you’ll find yourself clicking at random things just inc case. For instance, I didn’t immediately recall what a truncheon was, so I started trying a few things I couldn’t necessarily identify. If you pull that kind of trick with the timer and get it wrong, you’ll end up losing time. It makes you think twice if nothing else.

Playing through the game only takes a couple of hours at most. If you start a second game, you’ll probably just skip the puzzles and breeze through the levels, so it will take even less time. Without leaderboards or anything of the like, you’re not likely to replay the game for a faster time, so you’ll only get about five hours out of the game tops.

Balance

The game is easy, but it is supposed to be. I mean, all you’re doing is finding hidden objects. If you get stuck, you can always use the hint with not penalty and get back on track.

With the timer, you need to be a little bit more careful, but there is plenty of time on the clock at the start to allow for several mistakes. Plus, you can again use the hint if you’re in a jam. I never ran out of time except for when I failed on purpose to see what the failure screen looked like. It wasn’t much.

If you’re expecting a challenge, you’re playing the wrong genre.

Originality

Admittedly, I don’t have much experience with these kinds of games, but I do know enough to realize this game doesn’t exactly offer anything new to the genre. More to the point, it is a port of a game that is already out for other systems, so it has that going against it here.

I do appreciate that there are puzzles in the game that don’t require combing over every object with a fine tooth comb, but that is hardly original either.

People don’t play these games for their originality anyways.

Addictiveness

I will say there is something instinctively fun about searching each nook and cranny for that last bottle or trying to figure out if the “razor” they’re looking for is referring to a blade or a barber’s razor. I was more than happy to play the game for long sessions, though it worked for a couple minutes at a time as well.

If you’re into these kinds of games, you’ll find something to keep you playing to the end. Otherwise, you’ll probably just play for a few minutes at a time.

Appeal Factor

This is a game about the most famous serial killer of all time. There are legions of people who’ve spent countless hours poring over the Ripper cases, putting forth hypothesis about who the killer might have been, whether there was a royal conspiracy involved, and whether the mutilations were because of Masonic rituals. A game that shares that interest might be just the ticket.

Still, the game can be found for cheap for the PC, and since that is preferred platform for this kind of game, I can’t see this holding too much appeal for the usual crowd. Unless you want to play this game on the PSP, there’s no reason to grab this version over any other.

Miscellaneous

I really would have preferred it if the game went out on a limb and called out someone as the Ripper. Instead, the game is anticlimactic, To the right person, it might inspire an interest in the case, but since the real murders are unsolved, there isn’t likely to be any closure. That’s the risk you run with these things I suppose.

There aren’t any extras to speak of. You can view basic character profiles during the game, but there aren’t any nifty things like newspaper clippings are detailed profiles that you can read. Something like that would have been extremely simple to throw in and would have given the game a bit more value. As it is, the book I already have is far more interesting to read.

The Scores

Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Good
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Actual Crimes: Jack the Ripper is your typical hidden object game with the hook of digging through one of history’s biggest mysteries. Still, the stiff control scheme makes it a hard to sell to people who can get the game for the PC or even for the DSI. If you’re just looking for an amusing way to kill time, this game will fit the bill. Otherwise, you can safely pass it by. If you really want to learn about Jack the Ripper, just read a book or watch a documentary.

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