This is one of those ‘themed’ reviews, at least nominally. The cynics among you may accuse me of merely picking The Shivah one of the new Steam releases due to lack of funds and trying to justify it with a coinciding holiday. But I say to those cynics – Where’s your pride in the Jewish heritage which contributes to the social patchwork we enjoy today? Here’s a Hanukkah themed review.
It would be stretching the truth a little to call The Shivah a new release. It actually came out as an Adventure Game Studio title back in 2006, but the Steam release has enough changes to call Kosher Edition a proper remastering rather than a simple port. The simplistic sprite work of the original incarnation has been replaced with lush low-resolution environments and characters, of a caliber to rival the golden age of LucasArts. The music, appropriately dark and in keeping with the Jewish themes running through the game, is polished and enjoyable. But the technical aspects take a back seat to the story.
Rabbi Russell Stone has a problem. His New York synagogue is run-down and ill-attended, and Russell struggles to pay the bills. All this changes one day when a long-gone former member of his flock is murdered, and bequeaths the beleaguered Rabbi a large sum of money. But Russell isn’t satisfied with what’s happened – why was the money sent to him? Why was Jack Lauder murdered? How far does this go? In true Rabbinical style, he sets about questioning everything.
Over the course of a rather short but well-designed story, the player visits a number of locations across the island of Manhattan, working towards one of three endings. There’s a conspiracy at work, it seems, and only a true ubermensch can figure it out. There are a number of puzzles to solve, not one of which falls into the point-and-click adventure game trap of impenetrable item logic. Most of the work is done the way a real amateur detective would do it – thinking through various combinations of clues and searching on the internet. The in-game Jewish network Ravnet provides access to the inner workings of the New York Jewish community and adds flavour with rather pleasing additions like the surprisingly well-stocked Jewish Jokes button. Its more serious use is finding information on the various shady characters Rabbi Stone runs across.
It’s a silly addition to your game library, and The Shivah is never going to feature alongside Maniac Mansion and Grim Fandango on any list of the greatest adventure games ever made. But it’s clever, challenging without being punishing and, who knows, may teach you something. It’s well worth its low Steam price, and earns a healthy 80%. Happy Hanukkah everyone!