JACK TO THE FUTURE
'RIPPER,' AN INTERACTIVE MOVIE FEATURING CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, RESURRECTS THE VICTORIAN-ERA FIEND. BUT ITS MURDEROUSLY DIFFICULT PUZZLES ARE THE REAL STARS.
ONE THING I've noticed about interactive-movie games on CD-ROM is that the actors don't seem to know what to do with themselves. In many scenes they either fidget with pleading what's-my-motivation expressions or, more disastrously, overemote their way through bombastic dialogue. This isn't entirely their fault--after all, most of these live segments are filmed on barren soundstages, with digitized sets, special effects, and often, a coherent plotline added afterward. Still, such scenes aren't much fun to watch, and they sometimes make a title like the relatively star-studded RIPPER (Take 2 Interactive, CD-ROM for PC, $79.95) as difficult to sit through as a junior high school production of Man of La Mancha.
Ripper centers on Jake Quinlan (Scott Cohen), a reporter on the trail of a cyberspace Jack the Ripper who attacks his victims--quite gruesomely--by emerging from their computer screens. Quinlan mixes it up with a variety of seedy characters, chief among them corrupt police detective Vincent Magnotta (an unbearably hammy Christopher Walken). The confrontations between Quinlan and Magnotta are supposed to be the dramatic backbone of this game, but they're a hoot: Cohen delivers his lines straight, occasionally resembling a stagehand who's wandered in front of the camera, while Walken, when he isn't chomping on an oversize cigar, bites Actors Studio-size chunks out of the futuristic scenery. (Ripper takes place in 2040, but there appears to have been an intervening fashion apocalypse: With his ill-fitting fedora and garish tie, Walken resembles Night Court's Judge Harry Stone; Cohen's knee-length orange leather jacket perfectly complements his atrocious blond bouffant.) The rest of Ripper's name cast--the niftiest collection of actors ever assembled for an original CD-ROM production, including Jimmie "J.J." Walker, Karen Allen, Burgess Meredith, John Rhys-Davies, Ossie Davis, and Tahnee Welch--don't fare much better. Walker's uncharacteristically low-key as arch-hacker Soap Beatty, and a red-haired Allen, speaking in a sexy rasp, at least injects some gravity into the role of Dr. Clare Burton. But old pro Meredith, who plays brothers Hamilton and Covington Wofford, seems about as comfortable acting in this medium as he would moshing at Lollapalooza. Across the board, the performances consist of an unending display of tics, grimaces, and gesticulations. I haven't seen this many people talking with their hands since my family's last Passover seder.
Of course, there's a lot more to Ripper than these live-action segments. In the tradition of The 7th Guest--which is to interactive movies what Pulp Fiction is to contemporary crime dramas--players have to solve a series of intricate puzzles to advance the plot. Judging from some of the postings I've seen on Usenet newsgroups, I'm not the only one who fell short of the deductive reasoning required by
Ripper. In fact, if Take 2 hadn't supplied me with a walk-through, I might still be stuck in Quinlan's partner's apartment trying to figure out how to arrange the crystals on her night table to reveal a secret password. (Hint: Check out the birthday card, the horoscope poster, and the abstract fish painting.) These brain benders are subtle to the point of insanity--but the "Aha!" feeling when you've finally cracked one compensates for the hours (or days) of your life that you've wasted.
Just when I'd written off Ripper as a cross between a B movie and a Mensa application, it threw me a pleasant curve: Quinlan's visits to the "well," which I can describe only as equal parts The Lawnmower Man, Salvador Dali painting, and Grateful Dead album cover. These dizzying interludes make you wonder why CD-ROM producers are so hot for live actors in the first place--I'd rather spend an entire game spinning around in psychedelic cyberspace than playing gumshoe with Christopher Walken. C+