There have been a lot of games released recently with the claim of being "Interactive Movies", many have included a very large amount of Full-Motion-Video and precious little interactive gameplay. There have also been those that come with an immense amount of propaganda and advertising of flashy features which almost always fail to impress. Then along comes a game which seems like any other, flashy, hints of gore -- predictions ripe for the no-gameplay, time-waster category -- which surprises you and holds you like a vice until you finish it. Maybe this is too strong, but that's the feeling I have after finishing Ripper, this latest adventure from GameTek.
Ripper starts with a the death of a young woman as she runs from half-seen shadows in the alleyway and makes her way home. A shadow moves in the window, she screams and the die is cast for a suspense filled adventure into an amazing cyberpunk world. The world is inspired by William Gibson's Neuromancer novel and follows on from the world of BloodNet, a previous Take-2 production. Ripper is everything that BloodNet should have been. Even if you weren't impressed with BloodNet, you'll stand a good chance of enjoying Ripper.
One of the most notable things about Ripper, being as it is a dangerous and darkly forbidding tale of a dim futuristic world, is the relative lack of explicit violence. But take note, this game is about violent death, it is no Agatha Christie mystery. Though the designers have not snatched at every chance to show terrified victims meeting their equally terrifying deaths there are still some bloody scenes and plenty of menace to set your teeth on edge. The whole atmosphere is almost Gothic in style with oodles of suspense and drama, but still allowing you to use some of your own imagination.
You play the part of Jake Quinlan, a hotdog reporter from the Virtual Herald, chasing the story of the Ripper. The Ripper, the most unpleasant criminal since Jack himself, sends you personal messages on your portable computer. While these make for great news stories you are understandably less than impressed when the fiend singles out your girlfriend as the next target. You arrive at her apartment -- too late -- and so starts Act I of a three part (6 CD) saga that will see you visit everybody from eccentric inventors to hardened police officers before you arrive at one of the 3 or 4 possible endings.
Your investigation progresses on two fronts, the real world and the virtual universe of CyberSpace. The concept of Virtual Reality has been used before, and Ripper finally seems to have made a step forward from the flashy-graphics-with-no-continuity approach. CyberSpace is a place, a universe, a real experience.
Quite a large amount of your game is spent wandering the electric lands of this new universe. You'll find a variety of Wells -- web sites -- all protected by ICE (Intruder Countermeasure Electronic). ICE is designed to prevent you entering spaces you shouldn't, and takes the form of reflex-shooting sequences and real mind-bending puzzles.
My favourite would have to be a choice between the virtual chess game with twisted rules and the strategic decryption of Well addresses by placement of specific logical access codes, but there are many other challenging puzzles to keep you well and truly occupied. As for the reflex-shooting components, 4 in number as I recall, they are not too harrowing on the lowest difficulty setting, but they take a bit of practise. If you detest arcade sequences in adventure games you'll just have to grin and bear these ones. If you don't mind them, then crank up the difficulty level and go for it. Both the combat and the puzzle difficulty can be adjusted in this game, there are three settings for each.
This leads me onto the gameplay itself. The number and variety of puzzles in Ripper is remarkable, a real challenge awaits the logic puzzle fan, while use of objects and choosing conversational paths and following the story awaits the adventure fan. Care must be taken when questioning characters, some have a very nasty temper. Your inventory is a little limited, I never found myself carrying more than four items, and you can't combine them. However, you do have a portable computer in which you carry DATA segments and necessary clues which you can combine and manipulate.
Your portable computer forms a large part of your interface with the game, most of the information you gain may be recorded here at your choice, in fact the use of this item is necessary for completion of the game. Found a broken mug? Scan the pieces and reassemble them on your computer screen, you may gain a clue. You can also use the notebook function to record as many notes as you like, but you might also find pen and paper will come in handy for some puzzles.
You can be guaranteed of fast playback and high quality graphics during both the cinematic sequences and moving around the game world itself. Along with full-motion video the game consists of a number of computer generated scenes in which you can move, each with a series of positions and an animated journey between viewing angles which, strangely, still gives the illusion of free movement. Travel between locations is facilitated by a central map screen. Throughout the game, the graphics never fail to impress, and in these days when graphic excellence is for some players a requirement rather than a bonus, Ripper holds its head well above water.
The background music is of my favourite type, faint, subtle and appropriate to the scene and mood. The music will vary as you progress through the time-line of the game, changing to a more dramatic tempo when it approaches a peak of some kind. The voice acting -- in fact all the acting -- is above average, with adept performances from a number of well known Hollywood celebrities including Christopher Walken, Karen Allen and Burgess Meredith, as well as some new faces who seem more than suitable for the characters they play.
A warning, the language may not impress some of you and is definitely not suitable for children. This is a tough and gritty game world, fleshed out with some hardened street-wise characters. You might even want to brush up on your knowledge of 'street-language' and 'cyberspeak' although there is some help in the manual in the form of a short glossary to point you in the right direction in this last respect. Unfortunately the game does not have a text option so it is off-limits to anyone with hearing difficulties as it would be impossible to follow the story.
Progress in a game like this can be difficult to make, sometimes you can be stuck with no clear idea of what you must do but, rest assured, the game will not let you speak to people out of turn. No more the confusing situation where you suddenly know about an event which hasn't happened yet!
On the topic of progress, Ripper uses a couple of nice features when it comes to game saving. Primarily the number of save games. There are fifteen save game slots which you fill with a picture of your location and a description, and saving is quick and simple. The second feature is the automatic save. In case of an emergency Ripper will save your game in a separate "quick-save" slot with no description. However, you cannot manually restore from this location, it acts merely as a bookmark. The bonus of this feature is that it allows you to automatically recover from a crashed game. My computer closed down unexpectedly while playing and when I restarted Ripper prompted me to recover the previous game, and I immediately returned to my place just before the unexpected power outage. Lucky for me as I hadn't saved for quite a time!
All these bonuses have come together into a game that has yet to earn a black mark in my book. Could this be because I could not find a single gripe? (What, not even all the disk swapping? - Eds.) Could it be? No, I'm sure if I hunted I could find something. But why? I don't want to ruin my recollection of the game, and I don't want to give you an excuse not to try it!
Ripper is one of the best interactive movies around. An absolute must for Cyberpunk fans ... but will you ever venture into CyberSpace again?
Copyright © Adrian Carmody 1996.
All rights reserved.
(recommended) 486DX/50, 6.5MB RAM, 2xCD ROM, 10 MB hard drive space, DOS 5.0, Win 95m mouse.