Reviewed: December 18, 2006
Released: October 17, 2006
Any good video game should be an immersive experience. The worlds and characters in an RPG should be vivid and interesting, the action in an action game should be intense, and horror games should at least give you the chills. However, games such as EVIDENCE: The Last Ritual, take immersive gaming experiences to a whole new level.
With interactive e-mails and websites, videos and pictures of real people, and wild goose chases to obscure websites with crucial information to solving intricate puzzles, Evidence is a fun and chilling puzzle/adventure game that draws its players into a convincing world of crime investigation and a trip into the mind games of a particularly cunning serial killer.
EVIDENCE: The Last Ritual is a puzzle game that treats its players like crime investigators who must play the game in order to solve the crimes of a serial killer called The Phoenix, and close in on catching him before he strikes again. The game of EVIDENCE itself is presented as a DVD-ROM made by the narcissistic and elaborate Phoenix himself and sent to the police in a taunting game of “catch me if you can.”
It’s even packaged to appear as close to a real, sealed bag of evidence, sent from the FBI in Washington, D.C. to you, as it possibly can. From the first moment you pick Evidence up, before you even stick it into your computer, the game attempts to create a realistic gaming experience where the player can easily suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to be drawn in--and it does a pretty damn good job of it, too.
The story of Evidence leaves off after Dreamcatcher’s last game, Missing. It revolves around an immensely disturbed and freakishly intelligent serial killer called the Phoenix. Remember John Doe from Se7en? Yeah, the Phoenix is loony on that level, as the game will quickly show you.
Evidence is filled with twisted puzzle after twisted puzzle that present a real challenge that requires some online research, careful attention to detail and occasionally collaborating with other “investigators” (i.e., other players) on forums to solve the Phoenix’s game.
Shortly after beginning Evidence, e-mails will be sent directly to your real life e-mail address. Some come from senior investigators with the ICPA (International Committee for the Phoenix’s Arrest, that is), dropping clues that they came across to help you solve the puzzles. Other e-mails come, disturbingly enough, from the Phoenix himself, which are sent to intimidate and taunt the player. After the first several hours had passed from me playing Evidence, I checked my e-mail, to see plea from another “investigator” to not give up so soon. Another e-mail, this one from the Phoenix read; “What’s the matter, little friend? Tired already, are we? You don’t even hear us knocking at your door...” How cool/creepy/fun is that?
Aside from some interactive e-mails, there are websites to visit as well that give the history, psychological profile, and individual cases of the Phoenix’s crimes. This research may sound a little off-putting at first, but it really is quite a bit of fun to do, if you don’t mind a lot of reading and detail hunting. The puzzles even require you to go online and use Google to search for obscure subjects and pictures. While it may seem intimidating at first, especially for those of us who are not as familiar with puzzle games, it’s easy to catch on, and the game sort of trains you to find the answer to the next puzzle.
Though there are only a handful of the Phoenix’s puzzles to sift through, each puzzle has several stages. When you finally figure out what the guy was trying to get you to figure out, you’re immediately faced with yet another challenge from him, this one even more difficult. It really feels as though some sort of twisted genius is behind the game, and it has a chilling sense of cohesion and interconnectedness between all of its various puzzles, as though there is some grand, underlying truth just waiting to be discovered (which of course there is).
With such a labyrinth of mind-bending, research-intensive puzzles to find your way through, and with the seamless and extensive integration of internet search tools and websites (both authentic and specially crafted for the game itself), Evidence does a fine job of making you feel as though you’re the lead investigator in the real life case of a brilliant mind gone horribly wrong.
The graphics in Evidence are by and large videos of real people acting out scenes in a truly realistic way. Videos of investigators apparently working around the clock with the pieces of evidence they have managed to come across feel like a documentary. The acting is believable--actors never address the camera or even have specific lines. Instead, a narrator voices over the scene, and the actors simply go about the business of making their criminal investigation appear completely real and natural.
Videos of the Phoenix stalking his victims feel truly voyeuristic and looking through the lens of his twisted point of view is surreal. Some of the puzzles near the beginning of the game starkly feature a quietly distressed woman in a hospital gown against a black background staring out of the screen at you with a truly desperate expression on her face. All of these elements are very effective in making The Last Ritual feel real and creepy. I really can’t imagine pixilated characters having this same effect, even with the very best graphics possible.
There are some horror movie effects in certain scenes that make the Last Ritual really feel like it was made by the twisted mind of a sociopath. The effects are subtle, such as a grainy wash over the film, making it look faded and deteriorated, and they give the impression that just beneath the service, something is very off.
The puzzles themselves have the same subtly disturbing appearance--scenes are not horrific in that they are not displayed with blood splattered all over the screen with body parts lying about. Instead, the puzzles contain imagery that alone are not particularly disturbing, but put together, create truly creepy effects.
In one puzzle, a dark and grainy background sets the stage for the faint image of an old man sitting in a chair and leaning down as if to grab at something, repeating quietly over and over again like a broken and forgotten record. A headstone type statue of a pale and mournful looking angel looms ominously above him. Nothing about the visuals seem cheesy or contrived. Rather, the graphics are almost too real for comfort, and they make The Last Ritual feel all the more immersive.
When it comes to the sound I’ve probably used this term one too many times in this review, but I’ll say it again anyway: creepy...very creepy. As I sat at my computer puzzling over the next crucial step to take in the Phoenix’s game, my living room was silent--no television, no stereo playing. It’s important to many of the puzzles to listen for clues in the ambient sounds of The Last Ritual--and this can be a little unnerving. Static fuzz, twisted music box notes, deep, inhuman voices, whispers, hollow disembodied cries and other difficult to describe sounds pepper the game’s dark atmosphere in a quiet and foreboding way.
There isn’t really any music to speak of in The Last Ritual, but it works better that way. It would be a shame to break the eerie mood that this game has worked so hard to make.
Evidence has plenty of puzzles to pore over that actually require some real thought and research to decipher. Even if you are a wizard at puzzles, the deeper you go into the game, the more challenging they become. While the first few may seem overly simplistic, don’t be fooled. You will have plenty of challenges before too long.
If any particular puzzle is too difficult for you and you simply do not know what The Phoenix is trying to say to you, forums of other “investigators” are available online via the game that allow you to collaborate with others who are working on it. You should be able to spend a considerable amount of time on this game, and have a lot of fun doing it too.
EVIDENCE: The Last Ritual is a blast to play, especially for fans of puzzles, crime stories, psychology, and/or horror. If you want a fun and creepy experience that is creative and stands alone from other games, and you can appreciate a game that does a great job of drawing you in, then pick this game up. Just don’t play it with the lights off.