Actual Crimes: Jack the Ripper
Review by Kwing
"A Blatant Lie"
Introduction - This game looks pretty sick on the Playstation Store. 85 MB of data, which is dangerously close to the PSP Mini's limitation of 100 MB or less, 3D graphics, puzzle solving, and actual information on Jack the Ripper's case. I mean, every description on the PSN is meant to sound appealing, but this one really stood out for me and my cousin, who share the same PSN account and decided to purchase this mini together. And perhaps it really would have been, if it had lived up to its description a little bit better.
Gameplay - The majority of AC: JtR is spent playing an Eye Spy type of game where you have a list of objects to find in a landscape and have to pick them out. To do this, you can use the analog stick or d-pad to move the cursor, and you can press X to select an object you have found. You can zoom in and out with O, or ask for a hint with triangle, but your hints have to 'charge' up from a bar on the bottom corner. This concept isn't so bad in and of itself; I was actually expecting something fairly similar to this when I bought it. The problem is that the graphics are not 3D as advertised; they're still images, sometimes with the occasional bird animation in the sky, or lights flickering. But there is no 3D modeling at all, so you're panning the camera back and forth rather than rotating it. Even then, you can still use foregrounds and backgrounds of 2D images to create the illusion of a 3D environment, but no, this game is flat as a pancake. And what really bothered me is just how much fun you could have with a 3D Eye Spy game. Even if the graphics were as bad as a game from the 90s, I wouldn't have minded if it added a new dimension to the whole finding and exploring concept.
Anyway, another quirk about finding objects is that they aren't necessarily logical in shape or size, and most aren't even relevant to the plot. With each level, you're given between one and four objects to find which relate to the plotline (pieces of evidence, these bring up a dialogue window when you find them), and a bunch of other random stuff. For instance, you may have a giant transparent bone superimposed over a support pillar of a building, camouflaged in. Or you might have to find mundane things like bottles or crows. It's obnoxious doing something that isn't really related to the plot, but I will admit that a nice thing about this is that you revisit a lot of locations but have to find different items. In fact, even if you play the game again, you'll have to find different things in the same landscapes. When you begin a level, you have to find plot-related things every time, but anything that isn't related to the plot is chosen from a random assortment of things hidden around the scene. That means that the levels are effectively random with each playthrough.
Let me also say that if you play this game on Rookie difficult, you have no time limits and can just spam X while panning around randomly to find everything in a few seconds. So if you do get this game, play it on Detective difficulty. Pressing X incorrectly penalizes time, and makes you actually play the game. Although it's still way too easy and I only ever ran out of time once. I think that pressing X incorrectly should have still incurred a penalty on Rookie mode, though, such as making the hint bar deplete or something.
Another thing to note is that every so often you may have to solve a different kind of puzzle. These range from jigsaw puzzles to 15 puzzles (which are slightly more difficult due to being made out of images instead of numbers) to matching puzzles to spot-the-difference puzzles to a few puzzles where you just guess combinations and figure things out through trial and error. They're all really simple and nothing that you haven't done out of a cardboard box when you were six years old, but they at least break up the gameplay.
At the end of all of this, you get to put together evidence from five different suspects, compare and contrast them, and then decide who you think is the most likely to be Jack the Ripper. When you decide, the game tells you how likely it is that you're correct, and gives a quick summary of all of the information you've already collected throughout the game. And this is where the game REALLY falls apart and becomes next to useless. Throughout ALL of the puzzles, you can press square to open up your notebook and look at all of the information you have on all of the suspects, but when you have to choose who you think the murderer is, you aren't allowed to. WHY?! The entire point of an investigation is that you have notes, evidence, and information which help you draw a conclusion. Just giving the player five suspects and asking them to pick one with nondescript, indecipherable icons of evidence below them is not going to help someone think or reason their way to a conclusion.
Story - You're a detective working alongside two others trying to figure out who Jack the Ripper was. There is some dialogue with the other detectives, but it's poorly written and worst of all very repetitive. It's also annoying that just to make the game longer, an entire level may be composed of one detective saying, "Hold on, I need to find my microscope." Not to mention you still have to find another dozen items after you DO find the microscope.
But the worst part about the story is that all of the gore is glossed over. Don't get me wrong; I'm not the type of person that just likes gory or dark stuff for the sake of it, but for a game that's so relaxed and laid back, where you're just finding things or solving simple puzzles very quietly, without incidence, without peril... When you're investigating MURDERS... Something about that makes the game really obnoxious. Even when you read the records, it may say something like, "So-and-so was the fifth and final victim of Jack the Ripper, and was mutilated beyond recognition." I would have liked to see some photos or drawings, or just a simple description of how she was mutilated. The reason this game is boring is because it goes out of its way to avoid action!
Graphics/Sound - The graphics are very pretty, despite being two-dimensional and unremarkable. The sound effects are politely minimalistic, but the soundtrack really shines. It's quiet, but every so often you can hear dramatic pieces burst out of the speakers and slowly taper down. I have no idea what's sucking up 85 MB of memory, especially when the scenes are raster graphics rather than vectors, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's the soundtrack. And while the graphics are rather boring, they're still quite relaxing.
Play Time/Replayability - Fairly long for a mini. I've never played it all in one sitting, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's well over an hour or even two. Replayability is also interestingly high due to the levels being randomized; it's very hard to memorize this game. However, it does get tedious and boring to the point where you wouldn't want to play this game more than three or four times. Then again, if you took a break from it you might like coming back to it.
Final Recommendation - I would say no, don't buy this. If you really want an Eye Spy game on your PSP, then take an Eye Spy book, scan it into your computer, and put the JPG on your PSP. It'll save you a few bucks and 85 MB of memory that you would much rather spend on a really kickass game.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 06/25/12
Game Release: Actual Crimes: Jack the Ripper (US, 10/05/10)
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