Growing up, I was always surrounded by people of various religious backgrounds. I went to a Protestant school, but part of my family was Catholic and most of my friends were Muslims. However, while I did learn about them in school, I never met any Jewish people in my city and later learned the horrifying reasons as to why. Since then I have frequently visited the Jewish monuments that stand in their memory and have had an interest in their culture and history. When Stian from Corrupt Save File reviewed The Shivah a long time ago, I was curious about it and have wanted to try it out for myself ever since.
Rabbi Russell Stone runs a small synagogue on Manhattan Island. A synagogue that has fallen on hard times as of late. With Stone falling into a spiral of cynicism and self-doubt, much of his congregation has faded over the years and debts are beginning to mount. His life work is now facing foreclosure, until one day an unfriendly knock on his door leads into a police interrogation. A man named Jack Lauder has been murdered, leaving Stone and his synagogue a vast sum of money. A lifesaver for sure, but it puts Stone at the top of the suspect list.
Lauder, as it turns out, was a man that the rabbi banished from his congregation 8 years prior, after which both men never spoke to each other again. Stone decides to do a little digging of his own to figure out what truly happened to Jack and why he decided to leave him so much money.
The game is a point & click adventure title that puts its focus on storytelling. Russel Stone is a fascinating character, a man who is rediscovering what it means to be religious and reforming his ideas on morality as he faces an ugly part of his past. The story is rooted deeply in Jewish culture and customs, with even the title referencing the traditional period of mourning that follows the burial of a loved one. There is even an in-game item that lists several Jewish words you might hear in real-life or which are used in the game.
Its gameplay isn’t bad, but it definitely did not get as much attention as the story and presentation. Every location is tiny and accessed from a map of Manhattan Island, with only a few interactive objects per locale. Most of these only give you standard responses and serve literally no purpose. There is no inventory management to speak of and no items that need to be used on anything. The only puzzles stem from the dialogue trees and several guess-the-password puzzles.
I lie. The game does have a mechanic where you receive clues and have to drag and combine these together to get answers and new conversation topics, which is a neat mechanic that goes largely underused. The Shivah is so short and focused that this cool idea gets used like 2 times. I hope the developer got to use it in future games because it’s an interesting concept for these mystery storylines, but it needs some red herrings and more puzzle pieces.
I managed to finish the game in in an hour and 26 minutes, with some of that going to my attempts to troubleshoot it. While the Kosher Edition upgraded the game’s visual and added voice acting for all the characters, it defaults to a preposterously small resolution and doesn’t have any in-game ways to fix that. I ended up with problems whenever I adjusted the sound or brightness of my monitor and the Windows GUI would get in the way and refuse to fade away.
It’s a budget game for sure and it regularly goes on sale, but you get a surprising amount out of The Shivah. It’s a unique game with nice visuals and an hour or two of fun puzzling gameplay, not to mention a deep and meaningful story about religion and conscience. If you’re in the camp arguing that games are an art form, then I implore you to check The Shivah out.