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The Shivah Review: A Rabbi Walks Into a Bar…

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Title: The Shivah
Price: $4.99
System(s): PC
Release Date: November 21, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Wadjet Eye Games (Wadjet Eye Games)
ESRB Rating: Unrated

There was a time, seemingly not so long ago, where the now classic point-and-click adventure genre ruled the dominion of PC gaming, sparking many loyal fans and shaping many of today’s biggest developers. However, as the years crept on and the console market swelled, genres such as platformers and first-person shooters took hold of a new generation of gamers. In time the genre of “adventure” became a hollow term applied to nearly every title that stocked store shelves, but even as the pages of the calendar flip at an ever increasing rate, there will always be a subset of gamers who still yearn for the experiences of their youth: experiences such as Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. And while their still remains companies like Daedalic Entertainment and Amanita Design that cater to the needs of these fans, they’re still a hungry bunch; which is why it’s understandable that they’d latch on to a title as unique as The Shivah.

The Shivah comes to us from indie dev Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games. Originally made in Adventure Game studio, this new version of the game, the aptly titled Kosher Edition, is somewhat like a remake but features enough new material, such as voice acting, that I think it’s more appropriate to call the original Shivah the alpha version. Semantics aside, Gilbert’s point-and-click interactive experience about a “radical rabbi” has gained quite the cult following thanks in part to Let’s Players and indie game news outlets, and while I certainly see the appeal of The Shivah, I can’t help but feel that much of its praise is unwarranted.

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A Rabbi in Crisis

As previously touched upon, The Shivah follows the story of Rabbi Russell Stone, an older man who’s been down on his luck for years. Rabbi Stone operates a small synagogue in Manhattan that is on the brink of financial ruin due to a lack of patrons and Stone’s ever increasing debt. Because of the extended length of these troubled times Rabbi Stone has grown bitter and angry with the world, seeing little good remaining in it. This has caused him to doubt his religion and his god altogether and has led to his sermons becoming increasingly depressing and negative which has further lowered the attendance of his sermon.

One night, while lecturing about the nature of evil and how god could allow such atrocities to occur in the world, Rabbi Stone finally gives up, sending the few in attendance home. As he retreats into the small apartment off the side of the synagogue, a police officer shows up and wishes to ask him a few questions. The officer tells Stone that a man who attended his sermons eight years ago has been murdered. Furthermore, the dead man has left Rabbi Stone a sum of ten thousand dollars in his will: more than enough to pay all of Stone’s debts and then some. The police officer leaves the synagogue but says he’ll be back if he has more questions. Knowing full well that he is the prime suspect, Rabbi Stone decides to look into the matter himself, partly out of a need to clear his name but mostly out of sheer curiosity.

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On the right track

Forgive me if my earlier comment made it sound as though I disliked The Shivah, because that’s certainly not the case: in fact, I rather like it. That said, I do think there are a few glaring issues that prevent the game from being more than just a mild amusement. Part of the problem I see with it is that it wants to seem bigger than it actually is; this isn’t always a problem and can work really well when done right: The Shivah, unfortunately, doesn’t get this right. Throughout the game there are several instances where the plot seems to be setting up something more, something bigger, but these never really amount to anything more than a few lose threads that get roughly snipped with the conclusion of the story in a very sloppy manner. Clues that you find during your investigation seem to point to much larger—and frankly, more interesting—plot devices but these are quickly swept under the rug with the unfortunate catch-all ending that is far too predictable.

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Mechanically, The Shivah doesn’t get much better. The method of control is, of course, by pointing and clicking on various objects and people to progress, but the game just doesn’t have that much to interact with that is of any use; it falls into the same trap as games like L.A. Noire where by it makes the majority of interactive objects completely irrelevant to the gameplay or story and exist merely to make the game world seem bigger or more “alive.” Nearly every room you enter has only one relevant thing with which to interact, while everything else is just there to misdirect your attention and slow you down.

The dialogue is pretty decent, albeit a little ridged, but I think this works in the game’s favor as it gives it a sort of new-aged noir feel or something out of a Clint Eastwood movie. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the voice actors who deliver lines in stiff, often monotonous tone that takes the aforementioned rigidity of the dialogue from the realm of stylization, to that of a disinteresting and dull lecture. This isn’t to say that the voice actors are bad per se, just that they are clearly not professionals, which, given that this is an indie game, is understandable.

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However, seeing as voices are one of the biggest changes between the original Shivah and the new Kosher Edition, you’d think Wadjet Eye Games would have gone to greater lengths to ensure the quality of this new feature. While you can turn the voices off entirely if you so choose—which I’d recommend seeing as all the dialogue is transcribed on the screen with a character portrait anyhow—it makes me wonder why Wadjet Eye went to the trouble of voicing the game anyhow when they could have made better use of their time and resources shoring up other aspects of the game.

There are some interesting ideas present in The Shivah which, admittedly, give it a unique charm and prevent it from being just a throw-away title. My favorite of these is probably the way in which you utilize computers to gain information from or discover new suspects. You can logon to Rabbi Stone’s computer and check his email, search for terms and people in a search engine, and even decipher the usernames and passwords of other people to snoop through the information on their computers and email boxes. One mechanic I’ve heard a lot about is the twist on Monkey Island’s insult sword fighting; during these scenes you choose from a multitude of dialogue options to try and talk your way out of a threatening situation or distract your opponent with your words. It’s a neat idea that certainly has potential, but unfortunately The Shivah’s attempt falls flat as there seems to be little correlation to what dialogue choice you make and what actually occurs in the game.

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A Brief Amusement

The Shivah may have a lot of flaws but it isn’t something to be ignored as it has some good ideas that warrant further exploration, but ultimately it probably won’t be something you ever come back too or mention in a conversation about adventure titles. Most of what The Shivah gets wrong are things that could be fixed with relative ease if another revision of the game ever sees the light of day, but as it stands, the game is more akin to the beta version of something good. It’s somewhat dull, but has a lot of charm, and sometimes that’s enough to warrant a playthrough.

Site [The Shivah]

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