Jack the Ripper: Letters from Hell approaches Jack the Ripper from an interesting angle. Instead of playing one of the "good guys" trying to track down the serial killer, you follow the more dubious exploits of John Bert, a reporter who decides that the best way to sell papers is to publish as many sensational details about the Whitechapel murders as he can – even if that means making up fake evidence and sending letters pretending to be written by Saucy Jack himself. It’s unique twist, but unfortunately the rest of this hidden object game is excruciating to play.
Basically, you’ll follow Bert as he slinks around London revisiting the areas where murders have occurred, taking photos of the crime scenes and developing them, posting letters that he’s forged, and having constant run-ins with the police, who quickly grow suspicious since he seems to turn up in all the same places Jack does.
In each scene you have to find a list of hidden objects before you can move on, such as clothes pins, a pencil, glasses, or a cloth. After you’ve found everything, there are usually one or two more things to be done in the scene; for example, the game might ask you to post a letter, which involves finding and clicking on a mailbox.
Unfortunately, the graphics suffer from a washed out look that makes far too many of the objects look indistinct against the drab backgrounds. Either that or they’re just too tiny and blobby. I quickly got tired of searching for tiny knives and clothespins in scenes where the perspective was so ridiculously deep that anything hidden in the "far away" portion of the screen might as well have been invisible.
To make matters worse, you have a severely limited number of hints. As in, nine of them. Not nine per scene or nine per chapter, but nine in total, for the entire game. This is simply not acceptible given how impossible to see many of the items are. When you run out, you can earn one paltry extra hint by finding a star hidden in the scene. That goes for Classic mode, one of two on offer. In the other mode, Timed, you can earn extra time by finding the star. If you run out of time in Timed mode you have to start the scene over again. It’s worth noting that some of the time limits are ridiculous – you get less than a minute for some scenes.
Besides the unique story, one unexpected bright spot is the bit of "choose your own adventure" that the game throws in. When a policeman appears on the scene you can choose to either run away or talk to him. If you run… well, let’s just say you’ll end up somewhere unpleasant. If you stay you’ll face an interrogation that tests your memory – the cop might ask, for example, what the color of the stage coach was that you took to get home in the previous scene.
There are other issues too. The game is full of infuriating, unskippable mini-games. How many of us have stamp collections? Luckily I used to, which was the only way I knew how to distinguish "English stamps" from the rest of the huge pile. Another frustrating one involved having to assemble an old-fashioned camera and tripod by looking only at its shadow, and if you clicked a piece in the wrong place you’d have to start the whole process again from scratch.
The worst was a so-called memory game where you have to put graffiti back onto buildings after having taken it off a few puzzles before. Unless you have a photographic memory, there’s no way to complete this puzzle without random clicking or using hints – but likely you’ll have blown through your hint allotment well before.
Here is where I could make some off-color pun, like suggesting that this title be called Game from Hell instead of Letters from Hell. But hopefully you get the idea.