The Shivah

The Shivah
The Shivah Cover
Platforms Windows
Genre Rabbinical law and order
Score 6  Clock score of 6

Have there been any mainstream Jewish video games? Outside of Bible Adventures, I can’t think of a single religious game that even a small percentage of gamers might recognize. It’s interesting: there are quite a few popular religious films such as The Ten Commandments, and religious music and television has certainly found its niche, but there has never been a video game or developer that religious groups have rallied behind.

I could personally rattle off a dozen reasons why this might be the case, but it raises the question: does religion have a place in video games outside of being the caricatured bad guy in a game like Final Fantasy Tactics? Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games thought the answer was “yes” with his first paid point and click adventure game, The Shivah.

The Shivah stars Rabbi Stone in his short quest to uncover the truth about a recently deceased friend. It takes place inside synagogues and features a decent dose of Hebrew and Jewish themes. It isn’t heavy-handed in anything it does, this is simply the character and settings Wadjet Eye Games wanted to tell. Here’s my review of The Shivah, built in Adventure Games Studio.

I’ll attempt to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but considering The Shivah is about a fifth of the length of Resonance with significantly less characters and action, we won’t have a lot to talk about otherwise.

Russell Stone is a man of God, but a rabbi without a people. His synagogue is empty save for one sleeping old woman, and he’s deeply in debt. He ends his sermon early and retires to his office, only to have a detective visit (Detective Sam Durkin, from Blackwell Unbound and Deception!) with information that a former member of his synagogue was murdered and gifted Rabbi Stone with $10,000 in his will. This immediately makes our rabbi suspect number one, but without even asking where Stone was on the night of his death, proceed to leave and never turn up again.

Rabbi Stone then decides to take the investigation into his own hands, and begins questioning people in the dead man’s life, including his wife and current rabbi. There’s some ugly history between Stone and the deceased, and is teased out slowly throughout the game. It turns out to be a rather straightforward reveal, but makes sense with what we know about Rabbi Stone’s values and beliefs.

Almost all of Stone’s detective work is done through long conversations and email “hacking”, the former makes sense for a rabbi, but the latter is a bit suspicious. Before the beginning of the game, Rabbi Stone had never even used email before, and all of a sudden the game is hinging on you breaking into email accounts and doing searches for answers. The later Blackwell games required some heavy in-game internet use, but at least there it was believable that Rosangela knew what she was doing.

The conversations usually offer three different responses, typically serious and humorous options, and then the “rabbinical response”, where Rabbi Stone answers a question with a question of his own. This is apparently a standard practice for rabbis, and so its inclusion in the game is welcome. Interestingly enough, you can actually lose the game if you pick the wrong topics during conversations, so saving often is advised. I suppose since speaking is The Shivah’s replacement for action, it makes some sense, but still a bit annoying.

the Shivah Rabbi Russell Stone

Due to the Law of Economy of Characters, the murdered man’s killer isn’t that difficult to figure out, and becomes almost a chore to make Rabbi Stone put the pieces together at the end. There’s a decently fun conversation “action” set-piece in the game’s final minutes, but outside of that, there really isn’t much challenge to The Shivah. As long as you can guess a password from the information at hand and click from point A to point B, you’ll be golden.

Russell Stone is voiced by Abe Goldfarb of Blackwell’s Joey Mallone fame, and pull off a great gruff-sounding rabbi. The soundtrack is essentially one long violin solo and is beautifully played, and at times the star of the game. The graphics are fairly dated, even for Wadjet Eye Games in 2006, the locations are incredibly simple with very little detail, and the characters not much better.

Overall: 6

If it weren’t for the Jewish theme, setting, and characters, this score would have likely been lower. While The Shivah breaks new ground starring a devout rabbi and his quest for truth, the gameplay leans far too heavy on basic dialogue choices to really grab you.