A crisis of faith is laden with drama. What can be more important than what you believe in? It defines you to the very core of how you perceive yourself.
It is no wonder this is the type of thing regularly mined for dramatic character development in storytelling. It’s something that’s not only relatable, but also provides explanations for a character’s behavior. Of course she’d act that way, we think, because she believes X.
What is a wonder is that this theme isn’t explored more often in games. Wadjet Eye did it with their debut game, Shivah, back in 2006 on PC, but not that many people noticed.
Obviously, Wadjet Eye recognized that they had something that should have been noticed, because they took the time not only to remaster the game (the “Kosher Edition”), but port it to iPad as well.
Wadjet Eye has a large library of games, but had previously only ported Gemini Rue to iPad. I think it is meaningful that they chose to port Shivah before one of their more recent games like Resonance or one of their episodic games like Blackwell. Those are games more likely to draw the attention of the mobile platform game consumer than a game about a Rabbi struggling with a crisis of faith while investigating the death of a former member of his synagogue.
The player follows the story of Rabbi Stone, a long time Rabbi whose congregation has slowly abandoned him over the years as his sermons have become less and less inspiring. He wants to believe that he knows who he is; he says as much in the opening of the game. But how can a man who doesn’t know what he believes anymore know himself?
Rabbi Stone finds himself the beneficiary of the death of someone who used to be a friend and member of his congregation. The reasons for their split are not revealed, but this man has left Rabbi Stone quite a sum of money.
The split between this man and Rabbi Stone clearly still haunts the latter. What happened to his friend? Why leave Rabbi Stone the money? Is this a chance to atone for something? Is there something to atone for?
Where Shivah shines though is its story. Thematically, this is a game that is interested in how the way we treat people affects things in ways we can’t always foresee. It’s a short game that will only provide you a couple hours of actual play, but there are important decision points in the story that can affect the game in dramatic ways. The short duration actually ends up being a great strength for Shivah — it is distinctly devoid of the types of obscure and complex puzzles that typically act as padding in the genre. The plot and gameplay are honed to a fine instrument, with nothing there that doesn’t need to be.
Like Wadjet Eye’s first effort on the iPad, Shivah plays quite nicely. The controls are intuitive and simple. Things that can be interacted with appear with a word saying what they are if your finger wanders over them. Some things can be either looked at or interacted with, in which case a magnifying glass and hand pop up on either side of the object. Touching the top of the screen brings up your inventory or the clues you’ve gathered during the course of your investigation. Interacting with the inventory works the same way that interacting with the environment does, while clues can be dragged on top of each other to combine them into new clues. Clues matter, because having them unlocks more dialogue options with the various folks you will speak with during your investigation.
That’s pretty much it. From a gameplay standpoint, this is your standard point and click adventure game implemented in easy to understand fashion on a touch screen.
The characters are lovingly voice acted, with a special mention needing to go to the cantor, voiced (and sung) by Wadjet Eye founder Dave Gilbert himself. There is real emotion in the voices of the actors and actresses, and even if it isn’t Hollywood level stuff, I did not find myself tapping the screen to skip it.
At $1.99, the only reason I can think of not to play Shivah is if you need that money to avoid starving tonight.