Don't be misled by the title of Real Crimes: Jack the Ripper. Neither the notorious serial killer nor crime solving itself really serve as anything more than a framework for I Spy -esque seek-and-find puzzles. Nevertheless, once you realise what this game's all about, you might end up having a lot of fun while learning some morbidly interesting history along the way, too.
The story begins after the titular ripper's crimewave has ceased and two members of Scotland Yard, the very British Sir Melville Macnaughten and Prof. Sir Francis Galton, set out to search for clues that police previously overlooked (as well as files in their own offices that they've misplaced.) They've got some groundbreaking scientific developments in fingerprinting and blood analysis on their side as well, though these rarely come into play. Each scene that you enter asks you to search for a number of objects, the amount changing from about four or five in the beginning to ten or more as you progress further. There's usually just one or two that are relevant to the crimes, but you still have to find all of them. Most seem arbitrarily chosen, making for a bit of humour when one of the protagonists says, "maybe we'll find some clues here," and then asks you to search for cauliflower.
These items are just about evenly split between those placed in realistic spots and those found in such bizarre locations as hidden behind the clouds or enlarged and adorned on a carriage. This gives the whole thing a feeling more akin to a hidden picture book than an actual crime scene. There are also a few diversions along the way – sometimes you'll solve a simple puzzle, say a sliding picture or memory game, but you are allowed to skip these if you so desire. There's also a lot of reading, the two protagonists puzzling out each clue and researching the murders, and while it's interesting and the history is informative, it can drag on a bit, even with the occasional sequence of illustrations. Luckily they're easy to skip, and none have much of a bearing on the gameplay itself until the very end, when you're asked to accuse a suspect. There are three save files, so you can always stop and pick up where you left off later.
Difficulty within each level varies from object to object. Some will jump right out at you while others will remain hidden after relentless searching. Most stages contain an item or two that are seemingly impossible to find – a tiny white rectangle barely contrasted against its background may turn out to be a candle, for example, and whether that's unfair of the developers or simply more challenging is up to the player to decide. Our only complaint is that every once in awhile, two objects will be extremely similar – a "book" versus a "records book," for example, but this rarely gets in the way.
Also included are two difficulty settings, rookie and detective, the only difference between the two being the inclusion of a timer on the latter setting. If you click the wrong spot, the game deducts ten seconds, and after finding a few of the objects it adds fifteen. It's arguable which is actually more challenging, though, as once the timer runs out, you are able to restart the same puzzle with a new set of objects to uncover. This means that if you couldn't find something before, you might not have to find it anymore. It also makes for a ton of replay value, as returning to the same place may not mean searching for the same things all over again. There's also a "hint" button, pressing which reveals an object's exact location. That's pretty obvious for a hint, but once you press the button, the game activates a timer that you'll have to wait for before you click it again.
The presentation is charmingly dark, each scene as dank and dirty as it ought to be and the music classically foreboding. There are only a few tracks, but they're decent, and the creepy, sinister soundtrack certainly matches the locations you'll visit, but it suggests an atmosphere somewhat incongruous with the gameplay itself. Listening to the score, one might think that Jack himself stalks in the shadows of each scene, not that they're just looking for objects on a static picture, thus creating a kind of disconnect. It still feels like a lot of fun, but in a haunted house sort of way: you're looking at something "scary," but in no way do you feel that you're supposed to be scared.
One way in which the graphics are a bit of a letdown is the fact that while some objects blend in seamlessly, others jag out like a badly cropped Photoshop job. It is so obvious that it feels deliberate, but in the end it shouldn't really damage the experience.
For those who enjoy the hidden object genre, Jack's a darkly fun experience with lots of replay value and a good amount of difficulty variation. While it doesn't innovate in any way, it's simple and very entertaining. It may be a bit too pricey for some, but those willing to give it a shot might find themselves quite entertained by this spooky searching experience.