-   -   -   -   -   -   - 

The Shivah
Developer:David L. Gilbert
Publisher:Davegil Games
Release Date:2006
Article Posted:October 2006
System Requirements

A Shivah, which literally translates from Hebrew as "seven", is a period of mourning in the Jewish religion. As you may have already suspected, The Shivah is a game rich in Jewish culture and religion, a subject not entirely common for an adventure game, and for this reason provides a refreshing change from the usual settings. The game's protagonist, Rabbi Stone, is a disgruntled old man who has been gradually losing his faith. He is suddenly presented with a large sum of money from an old acquaintance of his, Jack Lauder, who has been recently murdered. Given his rabbinical teachings and his belief that God only helps those who help themselves, Stone decides to help himself and use the ritual of the Shivah as an excuse to begin his investigation of Jack Lauder's murder.

The Shivah began its "life" as an award-winning freeware game in June 2006. Since then, its creator decided to remake it and release it as a commercial project, with the most notable changes being the character graphics and the audio of the game. Live music and voice-overs were added to the game. The developer also added some new puzzles that make the game slightly longer than the original. Despite these changes, The Shivah still cannot be compared with other commercial games, but such a comparison is unfair in the first place. It is important to note that despite the overhaul, this is still a game that was initially supposed to be over in a month, so the end product still reflects that. It is also important to note that the Shivah does not wish to compete directly against its high-profile contenders, given that it is being sold for only five dollars, a much lower price than the average mainstream game.

The technical aspects of the Shivah are not exactly state of the art, however, that is not to say that the game is technically inept. The graphics are charming in their own way, given that they are well designed for the most part, and the characters themselves have quite a lot of detail and are smoothly animated. Although, it has to be said that if you value graphics and associated technology more than anything else, you might not be able to stomach the retro look of this game. On the other hand, the music is of high quality even when it is held up to regular commercial standards. The themes are mostly moody and contemplative, and as such, fit the atmosphere of the game beautifully. A nice touch to the music is the way one theme blends into another whenever you enter a new area with a new theme.

The voice-overs also deserve special mention, given that they are among the best found in an independent game. While perhaps not as convincing as the ones found in regular commercial games, they are still very well done, as all the actors do a solid job at portraying their characters and none of them overact at any given point. Another nice touch available in this version is a commentary track by the game's creator, Dave Gilbert, offering inside information on certain parts of the game, which is a very welcome addition as it helps to de-mystify the whole game-creating process for aspiring game developers. My favorite insight would be the method that the author uses to choose names for the people that get killed in his games, which I found to be quite chuckle-worthy. The name for the commentary track, "Kibbitz", is also amusing since it stands for "unwanted and intrusive comments."

However, as far as the quality of an adventure game is concerned, most fans would agree that the graphics and sound, while pivotal to portraying a story in a riveting way, still play second fiddle to the gameplay. Luckily, the gameplay found in The Shivah is of excellent quality, even if there is not too much of it to be found, given the game's short length. One radical change that takes place in the game is the complete lack of inventory puzzles, and if you ask me, that is not a bad thing. After all, mindlessly using all your items either together or with everything that can be found in your surroundings has lead to some really poor puzzles in the past.

Thankfully, this is not the case in The Shivah. Inventory items are only there to provide you with hints for certain puzzles, while the actual role of your inventory is played by a second inventory called "Clues", which, as the name implies contains clues about the case that you have picked up during your investigation. These can be used on one another, but not the environment. Combining clues in turn leads to new clues, making puzzles less tedious but still challenging. A word of caution; it is possible for Rabbi Stone to die during the game, so remember to save often.

The puzzles themselves are excellent, and also make perfect sense, which is definitely something we do not get to see very often. Even the trial-and-error sequences near the end make sense when you look at them in retrospect, even the "insult-boxing" sequence at the very end, since you are given hints about it throughout the game (and yes, this may be considered a meta-hint). The only downside to the gameplay would be the fact that the game is really short. It took me about an hour to complete, though I would speculate that it would take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours on average to finish it, depending on how much time you would spend listening to every line of dialog in the game. Still, given the fact that there are several different endings to the game, with subtle hints given when a different path is available, there is a real incentive to replay it.

This brings us to the best part of the Shivah, its story. While stories about disenchanted religious people that have lost their faith are anything but original, Rabbi Stone's tale is so well-written that you will not have to worry about the slightly less-than-original concept. Plus, if it is originality that you are after, ask yourselves, when was the last time you played a game starring a rabbi? Rhetorical questions aside, the story does not shy away from asking some strong questions about the nature of things, and providing us with some possible answers. Furthermore, the plot of the game is really interesting, as it constantly keeps in you on the edge since for every question you answer (Why was Lauder killed? Who did it?) there is always a new question raised. The only negative aspect of the game's story that I could find was the ease with which Rabbi Stone, a man who is not familiar at all with computers, suddenly starts logging on to different computers and accounts during his investigation of Lauder's murder. Not entirely plausible, but nothing too bad either. Furthermore, the main story of the game is characterized by a lack of humor, and that is to be expected given its nature. Still, the jokes in Ravnet (an in-game website where Jewish people commune) kind of make up for that, given that some of them are hilarious.

The aspect of The Shivah that is the greatest testament to the quality of writing is the character development found in the game. Despite spending minimal time with most of the characters, their personalities are really fleshed out through some intense dialogues. Especially in the case of the protagonist, Rabbi Stone, some of his rabbinical replies in certain discussions are bound to get a wry chuckle out of you, as you experience first hand his disassociation with a world that at times seems to have no purpose or meaning. It is also important to note that Stone is a deeply flawed character, even though he is a religious person, someone to whom other people look upon for guidance. He is anything but perfect, yet still that only makes him appear more human and helps us sympathize with him more. The other character that really stands out is the antagonist of the story. For obvious reasons I will not disclose their identity, but it has to be said that very seldom has the personality of an antagonist been explored so deeply in a game, their motives so clearly described. This is a person not simply mentally unstable, nor a delusional megalomaniac or anything like that, their reasons for acting the way they do are quite realistic. In fact, several mainstream movies of recent years would have loved to have a villain with such a deep personality. Again, it has to be said that it is quiet amazing that such a short game, created over such a short period of time is capable of telling such a deep story with characters so believable.

I keep mentioning over and over again the fact that this game was created in a month, but it is really important to keep that in mind when playing it. Not as an excuse because it did some things really wrong, but because it does a lot of things right, and that is an incredible accomplishment. Moreover, at the price that it is being offered, you really get your money's worth, even if its length is a couple of hours at most. This is a game which proves the old motto "Quality over quantity" true. If you are a fan of point and click adventures and do not mind the outdated graphics, you will most likely find the Shivah to be one of the most entertaining games you have played recently.

The Shivah can be purchased from the author's site at www.DaveGil.com

The final grade is: 89/100.


PC System Requirements:
Windows® 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium® 600MHz
128 MB RAM
Video Card Capable of 320x200 in 16-bit Color
Windows Compatible Soundcard
Keyboard, mouse, speakers
(Note: This game may well run on slower machines than listed above)