The Shivah

Posted by Hamza Ansari.
First posted on 15 August 2015. Last updated on 15 August 2015.
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The Shivah
Rabbi Stone addresses his poorly attended synagogue with little enthusiasm.
The Shivah
A former member of Rabbi Stone's synagogue is found dead.
The Shivah
Rabbi Stone visits another synagogue.
The Shivah
Part rabbi, part detective.
The Shivah
A shady contact warns Rabbi Stone of a nefarious scheme.

The game is available at Desura.

The Shivah: Kosher Edition

The Kosher Edition is a remastered version of the original game featuring improved graphics, a new soundtrack, and re-recorded voiceovers.

Visually, The Shivah harkens back to the classic era of graphic adventures. While the game lacks in visual splendor, the game makes up for it by strong and memorable storytelling. It also features a most unique protagonist. Russell Stone, the player character, is a rabbi. Rabbi Stone is going through a crisis: his synagogue is losing members, his faith is dwindling, and he is nearing bankruptcy. To top it all off, he is now the primary suspect in a seemingly random coldblooded murder of Jack Lauder, a former member of his synagogue. The reason for the rift between the victim and the rabbi appears to be thinly veiled, with several hints and suggestions, but nonetheless esoteric. Obviously, it is up to Rabbi Stone to get the bottom of this mystery and unmask the killer behind this crime.

The title of the game, Shivah, refers to the real life Jewish ritual of a weeklong mourning of the dead. Dave Gilbert, the creator of the game and founder of Wadjet Eye Games, is Jewish himself. Unlike other religious themed games which tend to incorporate preaching of their own gospels and morals (often in an artificial and over-the-top manner), The Shivah does not preach the player to the Jewish faith. Rather, it is a typical adventure game with a Jewish twist.

The story in The Shivah is very short, ergo the experience with The Shivah is very brief. Despite a short length of 1-2 hours only, the game is a rare delight to play. This is, in part, due to a novel 3-tier response dialog system used by the game. Instead of choosing a particular response, the player chooses a particular demeanor with which Rabbi Stone will respond to a question. In fact, it is fun to replay certain moments just to see the changes in the dialogs and the reactions from other characters. Ranging from a pokerface to sarcastic to rabbinical (befitting the protagonist) response, the player can take control of the tone of the conversation apropos to the current scene. Unlike most other adventure games in which the experience is largely focused on the outcome to the player's actions, The Shivah gives the player the freedom to create a personality for the protagonist with which the player uses to reach that outcome. Provided that the player does not make the exact same choices, the player's experience of growing the protagonist as the game progresses will differ each time.

Created using Adventure Game Studio, the game's low-resolution graphics harken back the heyday of the genre and will no doubt let loose a steam of nostalgic memories among fans of classic LucasArts and Sierra adventure games. For example, the game's cursor is in the shape of the character "chai", which in Hebrew means "living". Unfortunately, highlighting an object or interacting with the environment is made somewhat cumbersome with this cursor because it is too big and covers too wide of an area. It is difficult to know the exact position that the cursor is representing when interacting with a specific hotspot on screen.

When engaging in a conversation with another character, a portrait of the active speaker appears on screen showing the corresponding (however few) emotions. The facial expressions at times do not match up to the vocals, creating a jarring and an unintentionally funny effect akin to that from a dubbed foreign film. On the other hand, the voiceovers themselves are praiseworthy. A meaty share of adulation deservedly goes to Abe Goldfarb for his masterful portrayal of the world weary but still likable Rabbi Stone. True, the odd offbeat deliveries still occur. However, when the tone of his voice turns acrimonious (which is often), the mishaps are quickly forgotten. Likewise, Ruth Weber, who is the voice of Rajshree Lauder, is to be commended for her immaculate voice acting. Though her character is supposed to be Indian and her accent comes off as a mix between Irish and Jamaican more than Hindi, this is also easily forgiven in the light of her strong performance. The other voice actors are decent playing their respective roles, though not spectacular.

Notwithstanding its short length, the game features 3 different endings. A critical encounter near the final quarter of the game acts as the pivotal moment. The game conveniently creates an autosave just before that counter, so the player can easily restart from that moment on to witness the game's different endings.

The Shivah was originally released as a freeware game. In 2006, Gilbert reworked the game by improving the game's graphics as well as adding voice acting to the game and re-released it commercially. In 2013, Gilbert reworked the game again and re-released as The Shivah: Kosher Edition. The new remake featured new graphics that matched the visual styling of the later games from the developer.

However, the fundamentals of the game's interface has not changed between the different re-releases. The new remake features re-recorded vocals of the original voice actors, though even keen players may not readily notice the improvements except that the few odd flat deliveries have now been rectified. The enhanced graphics gives the new remake a more tangible and less cartoonish look than in the original. The cumbersome oversized cursor remains unchanged. The new remake features an achievement tracker and blooper outtakes, both of which are absent in the original. The blooper outtakes present a colorful distraction.

In conclusion, The Shivah is a pleasant enough game. Fans of the genre who are willing to see through the somber subject matters will find a brief and well-intentioned, albeit a bit rough, adventure about a rabbi who decides to play detective.

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