"The efficacy with which important questions are asked within short spans of time prompts a sense of urgency that is compounded by the questions' complexity."
A re-release of Wadjet Eye's 2006 debut game, Shivah is a tale that begins with a question and conviction. Since they are known for more popular titles such as Gemini Rue and the Blackwell series, Wadjet Eye's decision to re-release and port Shivah for the iOS seven years after its creation stirs some surprise. With completely new graphics and music, does the story hold up to the years passed and the higher standard of quality for games?
A disenchanted rabbi of a crumbling synagogue, Russel Stone struggles with his diminishing congregation and overwhelming bills. The question of "why do bad things happen to good people?" reverberates in the almost empty hall as Rabbi Stone calls his sermon to an abrupt halt — one that lingers till the end of the game as he strives to regain his faith in both religion and himself.
Stone unexpectedly finds himself the beneficiary of a past congregation member who has recently passed away. The nature of their separation years ago — which is unknown to the player — leads him to wonder why such a substantial sum has been left for him. Refusing to take the money for no rhyme or reason, Stone sets out to discover the impetus behind the gift and his former member's passing. As he gathers clues and confronts acquaintances about the mystery, he reveals a web of questions.
Interacting with objects is simple: a right-click prompts a description from Stone, and a left-click prompts an attempt to interact with a person or keep an item, which Stone might reject on grounds of inanity. Dialogues offer different responses that at times may sway the outcome of events. Thankfully, auto and manual save functions exist, so players can feel free to play around with options. At its core, the game is much less about gameplay and more about questions, answers, and more questions — good
questions. Questions that make one reflect on the past, contemplate the future, and analyze the self.
The graphics are certainly a step up from its past iteration; in particular, the close-up portraits are executed with fine detail and shading with vivid facial expressions. Most of the visuals, though retaining remnants of its blocky, pixelated predecessor, appear like photographs with a blur filter.
Accompanying the pensive mood of the game, the music tends to be simple yet heavy. The solo horn or piano often carries the melody with a hint of jazz. Pleasant to listen to, yet at times bordering on depressing, it provides a suitable stimulant for brooding over one's own beliefs while Stone questions his. The voice acting, while not top notch, is emotive and satisfying, embodying the characters.
The brevity of the game and absence of significant gameplay are both a strength and a failing. On one hand, they facilitate an immersion in the story unseen in most games; when one doesn't have to pause to think about finding certain items and combining objects to proceed, the plot can take on a natural progression akin to real life with no interruptions or "time outs." The efficacy with which important questions are asked within short spans of time prompts a sense of urgency that is compounded by the questions' complexity. On the other hand, the lack of interaction may make players feel disconnected at times, and the game doesn't always provide the answers to its numerous questions, which may leave players wanting.
Despite its shortcomings, Shivah is a worthwhile exploration into religion and one's convictions. I quote, "Sometimes the line between salvation and damnation is a mighty fine one. I no longer knew which side I stood on... I'm no longer sure what I'm doing. But I'm fairly sure I know who I am." Perhaps after playing through Shivah, one will discover that believing and acting based on beliefs are two separate things.