The Shivah: Kosher Edition (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Shivah: Kosher Edition (2013)

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There are two questions guiding the gameplay of The Shivah: Kosher Edition (TS:KE moving forward), the remake of the 2006 adventure game The Shivah.  First question, "Why would former synagogue member Jack Lauder leave Rabbi Russell Stone money in his will?"  The second, "Who killed Jack Lauder and why?"  That first question, which has grave implications for who Rabbi Stone is as a person, forms the intriguing web of long-held grudges and questions about the usefulness of faith in initial acts of TS:KE.  The second question brings TS:KE to the sort of bog-standard conspiracy thriller that feels out-of-place in the grounded struggle with faith that comes before.

While TS:KE is grappling with the first question it's excellent.  I was raised on a steady diet of Sierra adventure games with their varying degrees of punishment for using specific items or information in ways that would prevent a no-win state.  TS:KE is considerably more forgiving than those poorly aging titles, and - to my surprise - if you're studious in surveying the information and items available then you can solve the mystery using logical connections made through one of TS:KE's great investigative gameplay tools.

Early on you're given access to a Rabbinical social media system, a way for Rabbis and their synagogue followers to share information along with a number of cringe-worthy Jewish jokes that nonetheless got a few laughs out of me.  If you're good at connecting the dots, you can search what few clues you have at the beginning and get a broadview idea of what happened to Jack Lauder.  This renders much of the back half of TS:KE moot though, as I was going through the motions with characters confirming what I already suspected, and the sub-Monkey Island verbal duel system for some of the more intense conversations didn't land well because of the sudden escalation of mortal stakes.

The investigations I loved as TS:KE provides the tools to make connections and left me alone to figure out the next point to visit.  Those also lead to the most emotionally loaded conversations of TS:KE, particularly the confrontation with Jack Lauder's widow, where I started to get the idea that Rabbi Stone's approach to the Jewish faith inspires more division than acceptance.  Credit to TS:KE's developer, Wadjet Eye Games, that they didn't take the easy way out with Rabbi Stone and the actions which led to Jack Lauder departing from his synagogue.  With one line of dialogue in an otherwise absurd final encounter with the Big Bad, Rabbi Stone communicates his disgust with inter-faith relationships, and the ending suggests that the reason his synagogue is failing is partly due to his insistence on adhering to an unhealthy tenant of his practice.Shame it had to come after the tonal shift from self-reflection to citywide synagogue conspiracy.  It's the sort of confession better suited to be made for Jack Lauder's widow instead of to the wannabe criminal mastermind behind the murder.  Disappointment aside, there's still a bit of humor in how the cinematic fight between Rabbi Stone and the Big Bad takes the form of Rabbi Stone trying to "out Rabbi" his opponent to get their guard low enough to score a punch or two.  At the same time, when TS:KE starts with Rabbi Stone wrestling with his guilt, then transitions into subway brawls and rooftop showdowns, it sacrifices much of its initial power to provide traditional action setpieces that do little to integrate the better parts of the gameplay (investigation and linking clues) to the powerful subtext (holding on to a specific idea of faith runs the risk of alienating others.)

All that said, it's not enough for me to dissuade anyone from giving TS:KE a shot.  Games that try and take the complexities of religious faith in the modern world are rare bordering on nonexistent, and there's enough interesting investigative mechanics to stay engrossed in the game long before it goes off-rails.  Sometimes a good shakeup to the established order leads the player to some unforeseen dimension of characters and the world they inhabit.  More often, as is the sad case with TS:KE, it's just to add a climactic encounter to a scenario that doesn't call for it.  The strengths are there, but my disappointment stands alongside them.

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Posted by Andrew

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