Nice sense of humour
The Shivah, which calls itself a "rabbinical mystery" is the latest game by Dave Gilbert, the maker of Bestowers of Eternity and Two of a Kind, together with Tom Scary (backgrounds), Shane Stevens (talking portraits) and Velislav Ivanov (music). It was made for the June 2006 Monthly AGS Competition, which unfortunately means the game is rather on the short side - I for one would have liked it to be a full-length game. Nevertheless, it's an excellent game that's well worth a try - even if you can easily solve it within about an hour (or possibly even less).
STORY There are several reasons why The Shivah is an original adventure game, the first being its story: it is a kind of detective story featuring a rabbi as its main character. You are Russell Stone, a cranky New York rabbi who is going through a bit of a personal crisis anyway when he is visited by a policeman. Stone learns that Jack Lauder, a former member of his congregation, has died and unexpectedly left the synagogue an awful lot of money. On the one hand that's good news, because it means that Stone will finally be able to pay off all those bills which have been accumulating lately. On the other hand, however, it is bad news, because Lauder didn't just die, he was shot. Rabbi Stone decides to try and solve the case himself, not only because he doesn't like being the main suspect, but also because he believes he owes it to Jack; there was a reason why he left (or had to leave) the congregation several years ago... The story is dense and compelling and the main character has a surprising amount of psychological depth considering how short the game is.
GRAPHICS AND MUSIC Graphics and music are good, though not spectacularly so - but that can hardly be expected from a game which had to be made within thirty days. The backgrounds and the music set a nice mood, and the animations are fine, although sometimes character do stand rather close when talking to each other. The character sprites themselves are fairly small, but during conversations, "talking portraits" are shown, which are able to express the characters' emotions like surprise or anger. The only minor nitpick I have about those portraits is that one of them doesn't match the actual character sprite.
GAMEPLAY However, the main reason why The Shivah is a rather unusual point-and-click adventure is because it doesn't feature any item-based puzzles, you can't pick up a single item during the game and you don't even have an inventory in the true sense of the word. (However, Rabbi Stone is carrying a card and a little Yiddish glossary, which you might find useful towards the beginning.)
So in this adventure game, instead of having to figure out wacky commands like "use chunk of goat's cheese on priceless Picasso drawing", you will be looking for information, which is partly done through accessing the two computer terminals and partly through talking to anyone who'll bother to give you a reply. When replying, you usually won't be offered a choice of dialogue lines but a choice of conversation modes, including the "rabbinical" mode, which always results in Stone's answering a question with another question.
There are a few nice little extras, like a collection of Yiddish jokes (most of which involve rabbis) that you can access on Rabbi Stone's computer - they're not relevant to gameplay, obviously, but they're funny and fit within the general mood of the game. Another little detail which I found amusing was that the villain looks an awful lot like an evil rabbi version of Steven Spielberg, but maybe I'm just imagining things...
Some people might initially shy away from the religious theme, but there is no reason to do so, really. Judaism does feature somewhat prominently in the game, but The Shivah does not try to convert or to educate its players - if you happen to be a Sikh or a staunch atheist you're not going to enjoy it any less because of that. It's just the world the main character lives in, no more and no less.