One of the great things about Point-and-Click adventure games is the sheer variety of themes, subgenres, and tones which can fit into it. As modern game designers like Quantic Dream attempt to use cutting edge graphics and motion capture technology to tell video game stories set in the real(ish) world, it’s low-fi developers like Wadjet Eye Games that are quietly raising the bar with titles like Resonance, Gemini Rue, and now The Shivah: Kosher Edition.
The Shivah was originally designed back in 2006, and has been restored for a new release. By restored, it means that this version of the game looks better but is by no means a high-tech game in terms of looks. None of that really matters however because Wadjet Eye is all about crafting memorable stories and characters, and this one is no exception.
The Shivah is set in modern Manhattan, and opens with your character, Rabbi Russell Stone, performing a service to a near-empty synagogue. You are visited by a detective and told that someone from your past has been murdered. Partly out of guilt, partly out of obligation, you decide to investigate. The journey takes you on a brief but exciting tour though Jewish culture and language, as well as the seedy underbelly of the city.
Rabbi Stone is easily one of the best video game characters I’ve encountered this year. He is introduced as a holy man wracked with guilt for his blind adherence to the rules of his faith. As you spend time with him his quiet confidence becomes endearing, which makes a couple of his late-game actions startling in their cold decisiveness. Stone is an object lesson to developers that a video game character doesn’t need to be a short-haired brush-cut space marine to convey a sense of genuine toughness and authority.
As point-and-click games go, The Shivah is straightforward to the point of being simplistic; you go to an area, click on items, and trigger something that moves you to the next story point. Unlike many other titles in this genre, there are very few red herring places and items here which keeps the focus squarely on the main story. Overall it’s fine but, considering how set this game is in a specific physical and cultural place, it feels somewhat devoid of environment that conveys a sense of setting. Much of the searching and investigating you do is on a computer; seeking answers using the information you have picked up, and then using what you have learned into conversations with characters.
The best gameplay tool in The Shivah is an unexpectedly fun conversation mechanic. Most interactions you have enable you to choose from three types of responses. One is generally friendly, one is aggressive, and the last one is essentially ‘as a rabbi would do it’. What this means is that you’re basically answering a question with another question. Doing this can lead to interesting responses depending on the situation, and it adds a clever wrinkle to the standard ‘paragon/renegade’ dichotomy.
This isn’t really a criticism per se, but one issue I had with The Shivah is that there is just so little of it as it only is a couple of hours long, albeit with three possible endings. I enjoyed every minute of what I experienced, but felt the game could have developed some of its unexplored threads a little better. Some of the peripheral characters (for example, the detective) appear and set up narrative tension for one scene but then disappear completely, while others (like the woman in the bar) remain nothing more than odd window-dressing. It almost comes across like a pilot for a television show in how it tells a contained story that hints at larger themes and narrative directions.
In keeping with the idea of this as a dry run for something bigger, I really hope The Shivah: Kosher Edition is enough of a hit that it prompts further content because I’d genuinely love to see what kinds of new adventures Wadjet Eye Games can cook up for Rabbi Stone.
The Shivah: Kosher Edition is available on the Wadjet Eye site for $5.
[+Fun little story] [+Outstanding main character] [+Simple, elegant gameplay] [+Unique setting] [-Many loose story threads] [-Sparsely populated game world]