Dave Gilbert has recently become one of my favorite game-designers. Not all he does is perfect, but he really knows how to tell a story and puts his heart’s in it. I am always intrigued to take a look at on one of his projects. Known for Blackwell, Shardlight and plenty of other Point and Click games, his first commercial game is the topic for today. With support from Wadjet Eye Games, The Shivah came to be.
A small philosopher
We meet rabbi Stone, a man questioning himself and what his belief has become. No one seems to honor the traditions or be in need of a man like him. While he is upset and questioning his life, a policeman visits him. The officer tells him that one of the former members of his synagog, Jack Lauder, has been murdered and bequeathed him 10.000 dollars. Rabbi Stone has no idea why since there was a feud between them. Afraid that the police will take him in for being the number 1 suspect, he sets out to get some answers
The Shivah is a very personal story. We control rabbi Stone, and as such, we get to hear his thoughts on the people around him, his struggles with his religion and morality, and as many rabbis have: his questions about everything. His sorrows are well told, making him a character that is easily relatable. There are only few other characters in this story, and while they are believable, they don’t get much screentime. The story is incredibly short and there is only one plot twist. This makes it a bit uneven unfortunately, due to having one quite interesting character, but a plot that is too short to get very engaging. It is well told, but since we won’t get to interact much with the environment and only with a few, select of people, the world feels disconnected without it being in tone with rabbi Stone’s depression. It is a good tale, but over too soon.
Story Score: 6/10
The mouse-pointer will be your best friend in this game. You can look at environmental items, and talk to people by clicking on them, and holding right-click will let you see what objects you can interact with. This is a good idea on paper, but there were only two objects I could interact with, not counting the many doors. While the other, non mandatory objects give some thoughts from our rabbi, these tend to always state the obvious.
The most interaction you will get is by talking to people and giving answers that may or may not be in your favor. These can be enjoyable or change up the game slightly, with the final part of the game using your choice of dialogue in an interesting way. There is only one item to collect throughout the game and three in total, making the item-bar almost pointless. They provide some smart clues, but not much more. Speaking of which, there is another bar at the top of the screen that will have different words and clues that can be used for figuring out puzzles, asking people for information or combine them to find some answers. This is also a very good idea, but like the dialogue, it is not expanded upon. Most of these issues seem to exist because the game ends so early, within less than an hour in fact. There are clearly good ideas that show potential, but it feels like a bit more than the first chapter of a book. It is almost weird to even have a save-features despite some puzzles being very clever.
Gameplay Score: 5/10
Paying a decent homage
We are met with pixelart reminiscent of old point and click-games and it is well done. Every character is well animated and designed, and each environment looks believable. The most important characters are also represented by portraits, with emotions reflecting their moods.That being said, there aren’t many areas we visit and with the modern-urban environment, many places feel a bit barren and not very personal. It can be seen as a reflection on Stone’s misplacement in the society, but no areas stay for long enough for this to be effective.
The voice-acting is very good, with each character being believable and representing their roles well. There are even some outtakes in the menu that are a treat, showcasing their respect for the project, but also that they were having fun with it. The soundtrack is mostly in tone with Jewish traditional music, such as Klezmer and Sephardic, with instruments appropriate to the music. A lot is more solace, and while not memorable, sets the tone well.
Presentation Score: 7.5/10
Some support for the short length
There are some enjoyable achievements that force you play the game differently and multiple endings which helps somewhat. But again: being just an hour long, it should not take much more until you have seen everything.
Extra Score: 4/10
This is a huge shame, since it seems like the game did not get enough time to expand upon either the story or gameplay, because of its short length. I would recommend giving it some attention, since Stone’s struggles are well presented and there are some brilliant ideas, but it definitely could have gone much further. I admire the game, but it feels like just the beginning of something greater.