Rabbi Stone has a crisis of faith. When was the last time you heard a game described in remotely similar terms?
Shivah is the Jewish mourning ritual. For a week after a family member's death, the family stays at home, receiving visitors, and mourning the deceased.
Rabbi Stone, this game's protagonist, leads a small and declining congregation on the Lower East Side. He receives word that a somewhat disreputable former congregant has died, and left his small estate to the synagogue. Though he himself is close to losing faith in God, he views it as his duty to investigate, and perhaps to comfort whatever family members this man may have as they sit Shivah.
To go farther into the story would be to provide spoilers; let us talk, therefore, about gameplay. Yes, this is a point-and-click adventure--but your "inventory" consists not of items, but of clues, as this is a murder mystery. The puzzles involve combining clues, and using them on other characters and objects--uncovering new clues and ultimately solving the mystery.
One other charming aspect of gameplay; Gilbert has taken the "insult swordfighting" of the Monkey Island series (a game mechanic originally devised by Orson Scott Card--a devout Mormon, oddly enough) and twisted it to match the backdrop of his own game. The Talmudic tradition is traditionally one of questioning and analysis, and by tradition (and stereotype), a Rabbi is likely to answer any question with another question. We don't want a spoiler here, either, so we won't detail this too much, but: why would a Rabbi not answer with a question? Could you maybe then figure out how to win?
The Shivah is an adventure game. It's an adventure game that looks like it might have been implemented in the SCUMM engine, which LucasArts used for its games in the late 80s and early 90s. It isn't; it's implemented using Adventure Game Studio. But it looks like something you'd see on an older PC with 8-bit graphics and a processor in the double-digit megahertz range.
It is a point-and-click adventure, in an old school mold (although it has nice voice acting, so speech isn't purely pixelated text). But the writing, and the story, aspire to the level of art--and there are a number of clever game design ideas that distinguish it clearly from other adventures.
This game is not for everyone; no game is. But if you adore old-school adventure games; are willing to overlook antiquated graphics for the sake of a story with actual emotional impact; or, perhaps, if you are intrigued by the notion of a game that explores territory that no game has entered before--then downloading the demo is a mitzvah.
(Oh, by the way--the game contains a Yiddish dictionary, to explain some of the terms for the goyim among us.)
Despite its retro look, The Shivah has drawn quite a lot of attention, including articles at CNN.com, in the Jerusalem Post, and on Boingboing--and its creator, Dave Gilbert, was nominated for "Best New Studio" at the Game Developers' Choice Awards in 2007. (All the other nominees were 30-man+ studios working on big-budget titles...)
Bubbeleh! Five dollars. This you have to think about?