Genre: Mystery Fantasy Adventure
Release Date: August 2006
Note: Originally published on 3 October 2006; this is a review of The Shivah Deluxe.
I've just finished the short, independently-produced game The Shivah Deluxe, and I can easily say I recommend it wholeheartedly.
The game itself is devised well and uses the AGS game engine better than most. The sprites can be enhanced using the graphics filters. At their best, they are akin to playing “Beneath a Steel Sky” through DOSBox or ScummVM with filters turned on. The enhanced version has pop-up portraits during conversation scenes. These are more detailed and added to my enjoyment of this game. Hovering the mouse over items brings up a subtitled description, making items to interact with easy to find. Using the left and right mouse buttons, the player can “look” or “interact”. There is a limited inventory and a similar pop-up idea occurs when examining individual items including documents. The game is mouse-driven, point and click, and as easy for a newbie to learn as it would be for an experienced player to play.
In “The Shivah” players take control of Rabbi Stone, a good man struggling to deal with the decline in interest in his synagogue and the waning effect on his faith. Just as he is about to throw in the towel, he discovers someone from his past has been murdered and has left Rabbi Stone enough money to get the synagogue up and running again. There is a significant backstory associated with this man and Rabbi Stone feels an obligation to discover what happened to him. There is the inclusion of some authentic words from Hebrew, which also added to my learning. And, whatever you do, don't miss the Jewish jokes on Rabbi Stone's computer!
The game is not excessively hard, and most experienced gamers will figure out passwords provided from within the game. There are few puzzles as such, but everything is logical and well-integrated into the game world. Certain areas are not accessible until other required tasks have been completed. One of the novelties that this game has is something I had not seen before: the information that the main character discovers is stored in an inventory. These inventory itemscan be combined to create “eureka” moments where the links between two things are discovered. This then changes the conversation choices available to the player and the game proceeds. Almost all of the game is driven by conversation and the outcomes of conversation choices. In most cases, the different conversation choices have little impact on the game's outcome, but later, they are very important. It should be mentioned that the climax of “The Shivah” may challenge players. Certain choices result in death and there is no save option during this final confrontation. If the player dies, unfortunately he/she must play through a few minutes of conversations he/she had already viewed. I imagine this will be frustrating for players who do not readily discover the solution. However, the concept of “rabbinical fighting,” as Dave calls it, is one of the most interesting concepts I have seen in recent games.
The acting is excellent throughout although one of the characters, a thug, sounds as though it has been recorded differently, with excess hiss; it is a little harder to listen to as it is grating on the ear. All dialog is subtitled. The characters are fascinatingly different. The player controls a rabbi! There is a Jew married to an Indian (as in subcontinent). Although I am not an accent expert, the accents sounded very good and I was genuinely surprised to find that the actors were not actually of the ethnic group they were portraying. Which leads me to another extra on the deluxe version of the game: acting outtakes! Twenty-one (count 'em!) voiceover bloopers, many genuinely hilarious, all worth a listen. These can be accessed in-game as well by pressing Ctrl-B. The music is appropriately somber, very fitting given the settings: in a synagogue, in a grieving widow's apartment. The music change for the climax is fitting and well-suited to the game.
For another treat, turn on “kibbitz mode,” which results in commentary voiceover by Dave Gilbert about the making of the game at relevant scenes. Just like the commentary found on many DVDs, he is informative, interesting, and passionate about his game. It ought to be recommended viewing for up and coming, would-be game makers.
The Shivah is a nifty little independent game, one I had a lot of fun playing. It is strong in its design and has excellent voice acting, especially considering this is no big-budget title. The game is short and the puzzles are on the easy side, but these are things easily forgiven when you have interesting characters and an unfolding storyline. I expect big things are in store from Dave Gilbert. I can't wait!
Final Grade: A-
Editor's Note -- Trivia (courtesy of MobyGames): On 1st April 2007, Wadjet Eye Games announced a new game, The Shiva, starring Shiva the Destroyer. The following day, it was announced this was just a joke to mock the reviewers and forum posters who neglected the "H" at the end of the title, wreaking havoc with the Google searches.