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The Last Ritual
Developer:Lexis Numerique
Publisher:The Adventure Company
Release Date:October 2006
Article Posted:December 2006
System Requirements

It was 1999 when her brother disappeared without a trace. Adrian Moses did not leave a note or a letter to explain where he was going. His family did not know whether he was kidnapped, murdered, or just seeking independence. Searches conducted by the authorities did not yield any results. As the years went by, Jessica almost completely gave up hope of finding her brother. But a simple phone call changed everything.

A policeman in Vermont had found some clues that might lead to Adrian's whereabouts. Jessica knew this might be only chance left for finding her lost brother. She arranged with her boss to take off several days and look for her brother. Her friend Sharon agreed to help with the search. They did not know where Adrian had been for the past several years. They had no idea where he might be. Clues were sparse and cryptic at best. But Jessica knew she at least had to try.

Across the Atlantic, journalist Jack Lorski was working on a documentary about European police forces. He had joined Officer Manuela Ortiz during one of her investigations. Manuela was looking into a series of particularly gruesome murders. Two men had been found stabbed to death after being tortured. Each of them was missing a limb, and both had strange scrolls stuffed in their mouths. On Jack's very first day with Manuela, another body would be found. The journalist did not yet realize it, but the investigation was about to take an even darker turn. Old demons had a way of returning.

The search for a missing brother and an investigation into a series of murders... Are these seemingly unrelated events somehow connected? A number of months have passed since Jessica and Jack began their journeys. Many of the details are obscure, but one thing is certain. The journalist is no longer alive.

There is reason to believe the criminal known as the Phoenix might be responsible for Jack's death. Lorski had first crossed Phoenix's path while he was researching a different murder with his friend Karen Gijman. Individuals dedicated to finding and capturing Jack's killer have joined together, forming the International Committee for the Phoenix's Arrest (ICPA).

The Phoenix is responsible for a number of deaths, and he must be stopped. Unfortunately, locating the murderer is not a simple task. The criminal is highly skilled at avoiding the authorities and covering his tracks. The only clue to his whereabouts is a set of CDs the Phoenix himself has sent to the authorities.

This is not the first time the Phoenix has tried to get his name out by sending in a cryptic collection of puzzles and video clips. When he kidnapped Jack and Karen some time ago, the Phoenix sent a black disc to SKL Network, the company that employed Jack. What is the madman trying to accomplish this time? Is this just a vain attempt at to prove he is more intelligent than everybody else? Can we even be certain that the same person actually created the new discs?

Regardless of the Phoenix's motives, once again, the individuals who received the discs are unable to unlock all of its puzzles. After much deliberation, the CDs are made available to the public. Perhaps a larger group of people will be able to collaborate and find all of the answers.

As they were allegedly sent by the Phoenix himself, the discs are not about to openly disclose the criminal's exact location. But maybe somewhere within its contents there are important clues that might help the authorities. An analysis of the discs' contents might reveal details about Jack's death and provide leads that might ultimately lead to the murderer's capture. Joining the group of individuals working on cracking the discs, it will be up to you to solve all the puzzles and uncover the hidden secrets.

With Evidence: The Last Ritual, the development studio Lexis Numerique brings us a sequel to their successful alternate reality adventure game Missing: Since January. Just like its predecessor, Evidence has been designed to make players feel as though they are part of a real investigation. While Evidence features a new storyline, different puzzles, and an updated interface, it still stays true to the original game's core formula. The game does have some issues that hurt the overall experience, but it still brings plenty of original content presented in a distinct style that can easily appeal to adventure gamers looking for something different.

This time around, the story starts out with two separate branches. By solving the various puzzles featured in the game, you will unlock a series of video clips. It is through these videos that Evidence tells much of its underlying story. The first branch deals with Jessica's search for her missing brother Adrian. Accompanied by her friend Sharon, Jessica travels to a number of different locations across North America in hopes of locating her brother. The second branch features the journalist Jack Lorski, one of the first game's main characters. Jack is working on a documentary when he gets caught up in investigating a series of murders.

As you go through the game and solve a number of puzzles, the story starts to get more interesting. A number of plot twists will have you questioning various facts and wondering where the two investigations will eventually lead. It may not feature the best-crafted storyline you will ever find in an adventure game, but Evidence should still have what it takes to maintain your interest.

It is not absolutely necessary to play the original game in order to enjoy and understand Evidence. The sequel does have a consistent storyline of its own. However, going through Missing before you play Evidence can still help you. Knowing about Jack Lorski's previous investigation and having an idea about the kinds of things the Phoenix is capable of might help you better appreciate the storyline of the new game. Moreover, some of the plot twists will probably be more interesting to players who have played Missing.

When you start Evidence for the first time, you will have to create an account with a valid e-mail address. As you play the game, you will receive e-mails from a number of fictional characters. During the registration process, you are asked whether or not you participated in the previous investigation. How you answer the question has an influence in the e-mails you receive. If you have played Missing, you will undoubtedly recognize some of the fictional characters. If you indicate that you were a part of the first investigation, the characters will 'recognize' you as well.

The e-mails are a big part of creating the alternate reality of Evidence. The fictional characters will e-mail you their observations, theories about the case, and clues on various puzzles. They will also give you access to various tools and help with the development of the storyline. At times the clues you get in the mail can point you in the right direction. The additional information provided by some of the characters might also help you get a clearer understanding of the game's underlying themes.

The progression of the game is very similar to Missing: Since January. At any given point, players are presented with a set of puzzles. You are free to examine and solve them in any order. If you cannot find the answer to one of the puzzles immediately, you can go back to the selection window and try a different one. When you correctly enter a solution, you will be rewarded with a video clip. Besides advancing the storyline, the videos can also contain important clues that can help you solve other puzzles. When you complete all the challenges in a given set, the game will let you proceed to the next one.

While Evidence features a good variety of puzzles, their basic presentation remains fairly consistent throughout the game. You will be presented with a dark screen that may contain one or more images in the background. You will hear ambient sounds and sometimes haunting tunes. The overall tone is very deliberately dark if not downright depressing. There is usually something disturbing about each screen. You do not want to linger on them for too long. The developers seem to have put a good degree of effort into making the puzzles feel as if they are the work of a madman.

You will employ a variety of techniques to find the solution to the puzzles. Some of them can be solved by simply examining the clues presented to you on the screen. You might need to examine certain images closely or pay attention to the sounds. Clues provided in the videos will help you in some of the other puzzles. An important image might be part of a video helping you find the correct answer.

Solving the majority of the puzzles however will require the use of the Internet. In many cases small clues will be presented to you on the screen. Sometimes you may need to do a little bit of work before you can see all of the clues. Once you have some information, you will have to conduct a search to see if you can find the details the Phoenix wants you to find. In many cases, looking up the keywords using your favorite search engine will not be enough. You may need to analyze various Web pages or find closely related topics that will ultimately get you the answer you seek.

Another part of the challenge comes in the form of entering the answers. On a number of the puzzles, finding the solution is actually a lot easier than entering it. The screen might feature various elements you will have to manipulate correctly in order to enter the solution. For instance, in one of the puzzles, you have to use the mouse pointer to guide the letters to make sure they fall into the correct positions and they do not get erased by going over one of two skull symbols. In another challenge, some letters are cluttered at the center. On the left side of the screen, you will see three small circles. Two of these produce wind when you bring them close to the letters. You have to use these circles to isolate individual letters you want to manipulate. The last circle acts as a magnet, allowing you to guide letters into their correct positions.

In general, the puzzles do a decent job of putting your reasoning and research skills to test. It is worth mentioning that Evidence features far less in the way of mini-games than Missing. It should also be noted that a good number of the challenges do depend on sound in one way or another. You might have to distinguish between different tones or combine small sound clips to construct a phrase. You will also have to listen to the dialog in the videos as subtitles are not available.

Just like Missing, Evidence is highly effective in certain areas. Some of the puzzles are quite challenging and rather engaging. They might have you thinking for a couple of days before you piece together the clues and find the answer. Despite the fact that you do not actually explore different places and interact with various characters, the atmosphere is at times pretty strong. There is a clear dark tone and a sense of hopelessness that seems fitting for the game. The storyline has some interesting points and some of the e-mails you receive do actually add some value to the overall experience. However, the game is most certainly not without its problems.

First of all, Evidence suffers from the same feeling of tediousness that plagued Missing. The core of the game ultimately consists of solving various puzzles to watch video clips. While this works fine when you start the game, the exercise can become quite repetitive by the time you overcome a number of the challenges. There is a mild attempt at breaking the cycle by using a couple of the tools you get later in the game. But it is still not quite enough as all you truly end up doing is working on a couple of extra puzzles.

Many of the films in Evidence do seem to be cleverly crafted and they are effective in advancing the plot. However, a number of videos leave something to be desired. While the acting and the storyline itself are fairly decent, some of the footage seems unnecessary. Watching the traffic while Jessica and Sharon are driving down the road or hearing Jack having conversations in a language you may not necessarily know is really not interesting. Despite obvious attempts at creating a certain mood with the use of imagery and music, a number of the scenes feel drawn out and dull. Just like Missing, some of them seem to be created just so there is a reward for solving a puzzle.

A similar problem exists with some of the e-mails. At times it seems like the fictional characters are trying a little too hard to explain everything and the updates do not really provide any kind of true insight. While the game does not exactly send an e-mail every five minutes, the sheer number of messages you receive can also get a little annoying.

The puzzles featured in the game can also be a bit problematic from time to time. Having to apply a variety of techniques and being challenged to combine various elements together is certainly a good thing. However, some of the puzzles do get tedious. For instance, staring at your computer screen until it will grudgingly reveal a series of numbers you need to type into a textbox is not exactly entertaining. Even when you have found the correct source of information and know the answer, entering it can be a little too much work. This gets especially annoying when you do not have the right solution. Some of the online searching can also be tedious. Sometimes you may not even be sure whether you are on the right track or just going after some trivial information that is really not part of the answer.

Viewed as a whole, Evidence most certainly delivers a distinct experience that is not typically found in a video game. Between the game's efforts at creating an alternate reality experience, a number of cleverly constructed puzzles, and a fairly interesting storyline, Evidence can easily be entertaining. Amidst its dark tones and attempts at symbolism, there is something refreshingly appealing about the game. However, Evidence is not a game that can be recommended to everyone. The progression of the game can become tedious, some of the imagery might be too gruesome, and working on a number of the puzzles can get rather frustrating. If you are willing to deal with the game's less than glamorous aspects and if the idea of conducting Web searches to track down clues seems interesting, consider giving Evidence a try. It might be very similar to its predecessor, but it is still vastly different from many of the other games on the market. That alone might make the game worth your attention.


PC System Requirements:
Windows 2000/XP
Pentium III 800MHz Processor
256 MB RAM
8x CD-ROM Drive
32 Bit Video Card
SoundBlaster-compatible Sound Card
2.5 GB Hard disk space
56.6 Kbps or better Internet connection